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Arts & Life

If You've Ever Looked For Faces In Your Potato Chips, Thank Myrtle Young

ARUN RATH, HOST:

Here's another name you might not recognize - Myrtle Young, who died this year the age of 90. But if I say potato chip lady, I bet many of you flashed back to a classic moment on "The Tonight Show" with Johnny Carson.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "THE TONIGHT SHOW")

JOHNNY CARSON: Well, we have a - we have a little more time left here. Now, what are some of your prize ones on this?

MYRTLE YOUNG: Well, I have a dirty sweat socks.

CARSON: Potato chips, folks, if you just joined us.

YOUNG: Yes.

RATH: Myrtle was a potato chip inspector from Fort Wayne, Indiana. She had amassed a collection of unusually shaped chips - potato chips that looked like animals, fruits, celebrities.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "THE TONIGHT SHOW")

YOUNG: I have Rodney Dangerfield.

CARSON: Hold it. That's it. Look at that. We can get a shot.

YOUNG: Rodney Dangerfield.

CARSON: There's Rodney Dangerfield.

(LAUGHTER)

RATH: When she appeared with Johnny Carson to show off her collection, it had all the makings of a pretty hokey, forgettable talk show segment.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "THE TONIGHT SHOW")

YOUNG: Here's a camel - a camel.

CARSON: That sure is. There's no doubt about that.

YOUNG: And the pair is rather perfect.

RATH: But Carson knew how to make memorable TV. Myrtle was being set up.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "THE TONIGHT SHOW")

YOUNG: I have a lot of apples and pears and pumpkins - potato chips.

CARSON: Potato chips, OK.

RATH: We're about to see Carson display skills he'd acquired as a magician. Ed McMahon, able sidekick, supplies the misdirection.

ED MCMAHON: Look at this one, John.

RATH: Myrtle looks away. And on the offbeat, as magicians say, Carson slips his hand away from her collection, reaches behind his desk to switch in a normal potato chip and pops it into his mouth.

(LAUGHTER)

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "THE TONIGHT SHOW")

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "THE TONIGHT SHOW")

RATH: You can tell right away he's scared he's gone too far.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "THE TONIGHT SHOW")

CARSON: No, I didn't...

RATH: Carson turns on a dime from prankster to comforter.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "THE TONIGHT SHOW")

CARSON: Gee, poor Myrtle thought I was eating her collection.

(LAUGHTER)

CARSON: No, they had a bowl back year of just regular chips, and I had one of those. I wasn't...

RATH: Myrtle's immediately in on the joke and laughing with everyone.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "THE TONIGHT SHOW")

CARSON: Excuse me. You really had a start there, didn't you?

YOUNG: Yes, I heard that crunch.

CARSON: You heard that crunch, and you thought I was eating your act. OK.

RATH: Such a beautiful human moment that even though Myrtle Young died in August, she long ago achieved television immortality. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.