Jane Clayson Johnson was at top of illustrious career, then family came along

Published: Saturday, Nov. 20 2010 11:00 p.m. MST

Julie Chen, left, Jane Clayson, Bryant Gumbel and Mark McEwen, right, participate in the premier broadcast of "The Early Show" from New York City on Nov. 11, 1999.

Craig Blankenhorn

SALT LAKE CITY — So this is what Jane Clayson Johnson traded fame and fortune for. She traded them for casseroles, car pools, Cookie Monster, laundry, ballet lessons, a house in the suburbs, a minivan, five children and a husband.

"Let me get my 4-year-old situated," she says almost as soon as she picks up the phone. "Can you wait a minute?"

You remember Clayson, don't you? She was co-host of "The Early Show" on CBS. She interviewed the powerful and hobnobbed with glitterati. She

was making millions. She had an apartment in Trump Tower and later the Gimbel's building. A limo carried her to work every day. A BYU graduate, she reached the top of her profession.

Then she threw it all away, or rather traded it, for a family and the morning car pool.

"The difference between my life then and now is actually comical," she says.

In her old life, CBS sent a limo to her apartment before dawn every morning and whisked her down Fifth Avenue to the studio, where makeup and hairstylists and wardrobe people would ready her for the morning show as she studied newspapers and notes.

"Now I drive a minivan," she says. "I clean my toilets. I drive the car pool — I show up with no makeup and drive the kids to school."

She left CBS in September 2003, three months after she married Mark Johnson, a graduate of the U.S. Naval Academy and Harvard Business School. She moved to Boston to join him, and they set up house with an instant family that included three of Mark's children from a first marriage, and Jane gave birth to the couple's children — Ella, 6, and William, 4.

She responds with one of her favorite replies to the obvious question: "There have been occasions when I would be cleaning up yet another mess in the kitchen and I would look at the TV and see an old friend or someone I had known at CBS or ABC, and see them globe-trotting or covering a big story or interviewing someone interesting, and I would be there on my hands and knees and wonder, what have I done?"

She continues. "I wouldn't trade it, and I would make the same choice in the same way at the same time. No regrets."

Her peers said she was crazy, of course — who passes up million-dollar offers and a national TV forum? But the truth is that her journalism career was a big accident anyway. In a Lennonesque twist of fate, the career happened while she was waiting for something else to happen — namely, marriage and kids and exactly what she got in the trade.

She was an English major at BYU, then switched to elementary education before she tried journalism. "I still felt that I was merely filling time until my 'real' life kicked in," she writes in her book, "I Am a Mother."

When she entered BYU, she formulated The Plan. She would graduate in four years, marry that summer, have a baby 18 months later, and then have more children every two or three years until she had five of them. She even had a list of baby names and her wedding dress picked out — McCall's pattern #7847. "I had my wedding colors picked out — peach and teal," she says. But no husband. She became disillusioned as she watched a procession of friends walk the aisle and start families.

"As these things often do, the timing was wrong, the matches weren't right," she says. "It wasn't for lack of trying."

The only thing that went according to plan was her graduation in April four years later. Her parents took her to dinner to celebrate that evening. They were at a stoplight by Liberty Park in Salt Lake City when it hit her like a bucket of cold water: Now what am I going to do? The Plan had been derailed, and she had no full-time job and no prospects for a husband.

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