The University of Nebraska-Lincoln has received more than $11 million in total philanthropic support from Johnny Carson, a 1949 graduate of the University.
In November 2004, the University announced a $5.3 million gift from Carson to support the theatre and film programs in the Hixson-Lied College of Fine and Performing Arts. Of that gift, $4.3 million is for renovation and expansion of the Temple Building at UNL, home to the theatre program and where Carson studied radio. Another $1 million created an endowment to keep performance spaces current with latest advances in lighting and sound technologies.
In July 2005, the University received a $5 million gift from the estate of Carson for endowed support of programs in theatre, film and broadcasting. The bequest establishes the Johnny Carson Fund for Theatre, Film and Broadcasting. Annual income from the endowment will provide support to the Johnny Carson School of Theatre and Film in the Hixson-Lied College of Fine and Performing Arts and the broadcast program in the College of Journalism and Mass Communications.
In November 2011, the Foundation announced another $1 million gift to create the Johnny Carson Opportunity Scholarship Fund. The permanently endowed scholarship fund will annually benefit students in the Hixson-Lied College who are graduates of high schools in Nebraska, with preference being given for students in the Johnny Carson School of Theatre and Film.
As a memorial to Carson and his generosity to his alma mater, the University has renamed the Department of Theatre Arts the "Johnny Carson School of Theatre and Film."
Throughout his successful career, Carson maintained a strong relationship with his university. In the 1970s he established an endowed scholarship to assist outstanding Nebraska high school graduates. In 1988, he provided a gift toward construction of the Lied Center for Performing Arts. The black box theatre adjoining the main stage was renamed the Johnny Carson Theater in his honor.
"I got my start in the Temple Building and have never forgotten the impact of my academic studies at the University of Nebraska on my life and career," Carson said in November, just over two months before his death on January 23, 2005. "It is my hope that this gift will enable future generations of theatre and film students to learn their craft . . . which will enable them to pursue their goals, just as I did."
John 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.