'Tea Time Movie' skit actress Teresa Ganzel is next Carson Lecturer

Teresa Ganzel with Johnny Carson in a Tea Time Movies with Art Fern sketch on "The Tonight Show." Courtesy photo.
Teresa Ganzel with Johnny Carson in a Tea Time Movies with Art Fern sketch on "The Tonight Show." Courtesy photo.

'Tea Time Movie' skit actress Teresa Ganzel is next Carson Lecturer

calendar icon21 Sep 2017    user iconBy Kathe C. Andersen

Teresa Ganzel
Teresa Ganzel

Lincoln, Neb.— Teresa Ganzel, a comedic actress and recurring cast member of The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson who starred as the Tea Time Lady and other characters in many other popular skits on the show, will present the next Carson Lecture on Friday, Oct. 6 at the University of Nebraska–Lincoln’s Johnny Carson School of Theatre and Film.

Ganzel’s lecture will be at 3:30 p.m. in Howell Theatre, which is located on the first floor of the Temple Building at 12th and R sts. The event is free and open to the public, but a free ticket is required for entry due to limited space. Reserve your free tickets at https://go.unl.edu/mrnt.

The biennial Carson Lecture Series has been created to celebrate the contributions of entertainment icon and Nebraska alumnus Johnny Carson.

“We are thrilled to welcome Teresa Ganzel as the Carson Lecture Series guest this October,” said Johnny Carson School of Theatre and Film Director Harris Smith. “We look forward to having our students and the Lincoln community learn about her experiences were informed and shaped by Johnny Carson’s influence.”

Ganzel replaced the late Carol Wayne as the Tea Time Lady on the Tonight Show in 1984. She got her recurring role on “The Tonight Show” sketches, not by a regular audition, but by being a favorite guest on the show. She had a role on a television series titled “Teachers Only,” with Jean Smart, Lynn Redgrave and Norman Fell, which was produced by Carson Productions. She came on to the show one night to show a clip from the show.

“The series only lasted 13 weeks, and then it was cancelled,” Ganzel said. “I was very flattered when I got a call to come do the ‘Tonight Show’ again as a guest, and I said, ‘I don’t have anything to promote.’ And they said, no, Johnny just thinks you’re funny. He just wants to talk to you.”

That led to recurring visits to the show.

“He had me on several times,” Ganzel said. “And then one time, during a commercial break, he said to me, ‘Would you like to do sketches with me?’ And I said, ‘Are you kidding me? I’d love that.’”

She said Carson enjoyed doing the sketches on the show.

“I loved doing the sketches so much because I saw the joy Johnny was having,” Ganzel said. “By the time I did ‘The Tonight Show,’ he’d already been doing it for 20 years. A lot of actors, after they’ve been doing the same role for five years, are just not into it as much. But I promise you, Johnny Carson until the very last time we did these sketches was having a great time, so that joy was infectious. We just couldn’t wait to do it with him because he was having so much fun.”

Ganzel said her favorite sketches were not necessarily the same as the audience.

“I think the audience favorite was the Tea Time Movie with Art Fern sketches,” she said. “I loved doing the Home Shopping Network ones [as Sheila McShallow]. That was the one I loved so much, just with all the gadgets and everything, like the Jamie Farr Orange Juice Squeezer or stuff like that. We thought those were hilarious.”

Ganzel has also had roles in the films “The Toy” (1982) with Jackie Gleason and Richard Pryor and “National Lampoon’s Movie Madness” (1982). She also appeared in the 1985 film “Transylvania 6-5000.”

She was also a frequent game show celebrity in the 1980s, appearing on the $25,000 and $100,000 incarnations of “Pyramid,” and from 1986-1989 on “Hollywood Squares.”

More recently, she has had several voice-over roles on cartoons, animated movies and series, including “Cow and Chicken,” “The Emperor’s New School,” “Monsters, Inc.,” “Inside Out” and “Despicable Me 3.”

She has also done lots of theater, including “Viagara Falls,” a 3-character comedy that has been performed in New York, Arizona, Florida and Canada. She is currently doing a play titled “Heartbreak Help” with Melissa Peterman and Tony Award-winner Marisa Winokur.

Ganzel said that versatility is an important lesson for students.

“In my 20s and 30s, I did lots of film and television, and I loved it,” she said. “And then in my 40s, I did lots of voiceover work, and then getting into my 50s, it was more theater. So it’s important to just keep finding another avenue to do what you love to do, and it’s all great and it’s all creative.”

Her lasting memory of Carson comes from attending the taping of his final show in May 1992.

“I’m so glad I did that because I had anticipated that there would be tons of celebrities there that had been his guests on the show and whatnot, and actually it was all his crew people and their families that he invited,” Ganzel said. “It was such a feeling of family and love. Seeing Johnny sitting there so vulnerable on that stool alone on stage, you saw it, of course, on television. But somehow being in the actual studio audience that night was just so sincere and beautiful.”          

Johnny Carson was born in Corning, Iowa, on Oct. 23, 1925, and grew up in Norfolk, Neb. He served in World War II in the Navy as an ensign before enrolling at the University of Nebraska in 1947. He received a bachelor of arts degree in radio and speech with a minor in physics in 1949.          

He hosted The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson for 30 years, from 1962 to 1992. Carson earned six Emmy Awards, a Peabody Award and was inducted into the Television Academy Hall of Fame. He was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 1992 and received Kennedy Center Honors in 1993.          

The University of Nebraska–Lincoln has received more than $32 million in donations to the University of Nebraska Foundation from Carson and the John W. Carson Foundation, including support for theatre, film, broadcasting and emerging media. The University’s Department of Theatre Arts was renamed the Johnny Carson School of Theatre and Film in 2005. The Johnny Carson Center for Emerging Media Arts is scheduled to open in the fall of 2019.

Previous Carson Lecturers have included Wil Shriner, Pat Hazell and Bob Uecker, as well as Tonight Show Writers Anthony DeSena, Darrell Vickers and Andrew Nicholls and Carson Entertainment Group President Jeff Sotzing.