NEW YORK -- Television talk show host Johnny Carson called his first wife's efforts to boost her annual alimony payments to $120,000 from $13,000 a 'baldfaced holdup' and urged a judge Tuesday to reject her demands.
Joan Wolcott Carson, 62, who was married to the celebrity from 1949 to 1963, claimed she has been living like a vagabond and is in danger of become a public ward. She claims she has had to pay stiff medical bills for treatment of physical and mental illness.
'I'm only asking for $120,000. For him, that's like paying car fare,' the divorcee told reporters at state Supreme Court in Manhattan.
Johnny Carson, 64, who has hosted the 'Tonight' show since 1962 and watched it become a national habit for 14 million nightly viewers, earns an estimated $40 million a year. He currently lives in Malibu, Calif., with his fourth wife Alexis Maas Carson, 41.
His first wife, a petite blonde, blue-eyed woman wearing a grey plaid suit, told reporters, 'With men like this, wives are interchangeable. If you have a problem, you just trade it in for a new one, like a car.'
Carson called her efforts to get more money from him little more than extortion. In court papers filed Tuesday, he called her a 'huckster' who pays $5,000 a month rent for her swank digs at the Surrey Hotel on the fashionable Upper East Side, purchased a 1990 automobile and has cash assets in excess of $388,000.
'Simply put, this petition is a baldfaced holdup -- a vehicle to generate unfavorable (and misleading) publicity in an attempt to extort money,' Carson said in court documents.
The mother of Carson's three grown sons -- Chris, 39, Rick, 38, and Cory, 37 -- filed the request for increased alimony in court last month. She asked Justice Phyllis Gangell-Jacobs to boost her annual payment to $120,000 from $13,500.
In court Tuesday, the original Mrs. Carson recalled her celebrity spouse was a neglectful husband and father who was more concerned with his television career than his family.
'Like anybody else on the way up, he was too busy for us,' she said.
He was her college sweetheart when they were married in North Platte, Neb., on Oct. 1, 1949. They separated in 1959 and were divorced May 25, 1963, in Chihuahua, Mexico.
Under a 1959 agreement, Carson paid $7,500 in child support and $15,000 in alimony. If his annual income exceeded $100,000, he was to pay her 15 percent of the excess.
At one point, Carson fell behind in his payments and in 1970 acknowledged he owed her $225,000. He agreed to pay her a total of $765,000 plus $13,500 annually regardless of whether she remarried.
She did remarry in 1970 -- to Donald Buckley. But that marriage also ended in divorce.