Helen Kushnick

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Helen Kushnick (August 18, 1945 – August 28, 1996), born Helen Gorman in New York, was the agent of comedians Jimmie Walker, Elayne Boosler and Jay Leno for much of her early career. Leno had been performing stand-up comedy in a variety of venues when she found him, and afterwards, Kushnick was with him all the way to his role hosting The Tonight Show.

Her strong-arm tactics in her role as executive producer of the show created a great deal of conflict with NBC. (For example, she reportedly banned stars from appearing on the program if they appeared on any other talk show.) These practices led to her dismissal only four months into her tenure in that position.[1]


The Late Shift[edit]

A 1996 HBO TV movie called The Late Shift (based on Bill Carter's New York Times bestselling book of the same title) was about the network politics that occurred after the retirement of Johnny Carson from the The Tonight Show on NBC. The film starred Kathy Bates as Kushnick, who received an Emmy Award nomination for her role, and won a Golden Globe and Screen Actors Guild Award. Kushnick sued over her portrayal, and settled out of court for an undisclosed sum.[2]


Kushnick's three-year-old son, Samuel, died in 1983 of AIDS due to an infected blood transfusion.[3]

Her daughter (Samuel's twin sister), Sara, became an AIDS advocate, founding AmfAR with Elizabeth Taylor, and testified before Congress about changing blood supply rules. Former surgeon general C. Everett Koop dedicated a book to the memory of Samuel Kushnick.

Kushnick's husband, Jerrold, died of cancer in 1989.

Helen Kushnick died of breast cancer in Los Angeles, California, aged 51. Her only brother, Joseph Gorman, works for Burson Marsteller, a public relations firm in New York City.


  1. ^ Schwarzbaum, Lisa (1992-10-02). "Not 'Tonight,' Helen". EW.com. Retrieved 2013-08-02. 
  2. ^ "Tom Shales - Tom Shales on the villains in the Leno-O'Brien fiasco at NBC". Washingtonpost.com. January 19, 2010. Retrieved 2013-08-02. 
  3. ^ WILLIAM GRIMESPublished: August 30, 1996 (1996-08-30). "Helen Kushnick, 51, Manager And Producer for Jay Leno - New York Times". Nytimes.com. Retrieved 2013-08-02. 

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