Jack Paar, Original King Of Late Night TV Dies

Discussion in 'TV Shows' started by Peter Kline, Jan 27, 2004.

  1. Peter Kline

    Peter Kline Cinematographer

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    Former 'Tonight Show' host Jack Paar dies

    GREENWICH, Conn. (AP) — Jack Paar, who held the nation's rapt attention as he pioneered late-night talk on The Tonight Show, then told his viewers farewell when still in his prime, died Tuesday. He was 85.

    Paar died at his Greenwich home as a result of a long illness, said Stephen Wells, Paar's son-in-law. Paar's daughter and wife were by his side, Wells said.

    "We're in a bit of a fog," he said. "There were a lot of people who knew Jack and loved him."

    Since the mid-1960s, Paar had kept mostly out of the public eye, engaging in business ventures and indulging his passion for travel.

    But Paar's years on NBC enlivened an otherwise "painfully predictable" TV landscape, wrote The New York Times' Jack Gould in 1962. "Mr. Paar almost alone has managed to preserve the possibility of surprise."

    Johnny Carson took over The Tonight Show in 1962. Paar had a prime-time talk show for three more seasons, then retired from television in 1965.

    Paar had taken over the flagging NBC late-night slot in July 1957; Steve Allen had departed some months earlier. Allen's show was a variety show; Paar's a talk show.

    "Like being chosen as a kamikaze pilot," Paar wrote in I Kid You Not, a memoir. "But I felt sure that people would enjoy good, frank and amusing talk."

    They did. Viewers loved this cherubic wiseguy, someone once referred to as "like Peter Pan, if Peter Pan had been written by Mickey Spillane."

    Soon, everyone was staying up to watch Paar, then talking about his show the next day. Even youngsters sent to bed before Paar came on parroted his jaunty catch phrase, "I kid you not," with which he regularly certified his flow of self-revealing stories.

    Just why he walked away from such a breakthrough career at age 47 would become an enduring source of conjecture, possibly even for Paar. His explanation would have to suffice: that he was tired and ready to do other things.

    But off the air, as on, he never stopped doing the thing he did best: talk.

    "The only time I'm nervous or scared is when I'm NOT talking," he told The Associated Press in 1997. "When I'm talking, I know that I do it well."

    What he accomplished with the spoken word — not only his words but those he wooed from fellow raconteurs like Peter Ustinov, Elsa Maxwell, Hans Conreid and Genevieve — proved irresistible to his audience.

    Paar also played host to Muhammad Ali when he was still known as Cassius Clay, to a pleasantly pickled Judy Garland, and to the outrageous pianist-composer Oscar Levant. Entertainers Paar championed included Jonathan Winters, Bob Newhart, Carol Burnett, Woody Allen and Bill Cosby.

    Paar's circle of guests included leading politicians. During the 1960 presidential campaign, John F. Kennedy made a triumphant appearance — so much so, that a few days after the election, Paar got a letter from Joseph P. Kennedy, the proud father, gushing, "I don't know anybody who did more, indirectly, to have Jack elected than your own good self."

    But Paar was a show all by himself, just talking about himself. "I'm against psychiatry — for me, anyway," he told viewers. "I haven't got any troubles I can't tell standing up."

    A man of boundless curiosity and interests, he was charming, gracious and famously sentimental: He could shed tears, as he put it, just from "taking the Coca-Cola bottles back to the A&P."

    He could also be volatile, pettish and confounding. And never so much as in February 1960, when, making headlines, he emotionally told his thunderstruck audience that he was leaving his show. It was the night after a skittish NBC executive had judged obscene, and edited out, a story by Paar where the initials "W.C." were mistaken for "wayside chapel" instead of "water closet."

    A month later, the network managed to lure Paar back. Returning on the night of March 7, he was greeted with generous applause as he stepped before the cameras. Then he began his monologue on a typically cheeky note: "As I was saying, before I was interrupted ... "
     
  2. Jack Briggs

    Jack Briggs Executive Producer

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    I just read this over the wire. In fact, the report you've pasted here.

    So many warm memories -- of his Tonight Show incarnation (the best) and of his prime-time show. All those monologues. He was the best monologist of the TV area.

    What a personality. He will be so missed.
     
  3. Peter Kline

    Peter Kline Cinematographer

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    Jack,

    Remember when he got the white Jaguar. He drove it to the Manhattan studio every day and when he first got it they showed him driving up in it on the air. Amazing that he drove in from Greenwich, Ct. every day for the show. I really loved him.

    Peter
     
  4. Marty M

    Marty M Cinematographer

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    He is the first host of The Tonight Show that I remember. I also remember watching the prime-time show he hosted after he left the Tonight Show. There was a great documentary on his TV career that aired recently. That show brought back fond memories of his show and his personality.
     
  5. Peter Kline

    Peter Kline Cinematographer

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    Paar indeed was the first host of the Tonight Show, later renamed the Jack Paar Show. Steve Allen and before him, Jerry Lester, had variety shows in the timeslot. Jack brought the desk, couch and incredibly interesting guests and regulars to the nightly show.
     
  6. Scooter

    Scooter Screenwriter

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    Bookends to the day...
    First The Captain
    Now Jack Paar

    I would stay up LATE to watch this show. I recall Judy Garlands last TV appearance before her death on his program.

    His specials about Africa in the 60s/70 were outstanding and would be a nice fit for Animal Planet or Discovery.

    Bookends to the day:

    Good morning, Captain
    Goodnight Jack.
     
  7. Henry Gale

    Henry Gale Producer

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    I feel so fortunate that I was around to watch those shows. Jose Melas was the bandleader, Hugh Downs sat on the couch. I'll never forget the look on Down's face the night Jack walked off the show over the "W.C." censorship.
    The regular guests, including Oscar Levant, Dody Goodman and Dagmar were priceless.
    If you had cut your teeth on this stuff you'd know why I'd really like to slap Leno around.
     
  8. Peter Kline

    Peter Kline Cinematographer

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    I don't believe Dagmar was on the Paar show. She was on the early Jerry Lester version.

    For those not too familiar with Paar, hopefully PBS will re-broadcast the Special. Also tonight Jan 29, Larry King has a tribute to him on CNN.
     
  9. Steve...O

    Steve...O Producer

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    I can't say I saw Mr. Paar in action, but I do remember watching Carson for many years, Tom Snyder in various incarnations, Dick Cavett, etc.

    All of those guys run circles around the current version of "The Tonight Show". Jay Leno is a very talented and quite funny guy, why he allows such crap to be put on the air in his name is beyond me. If he would dispense with the "Let's see how stupid America has become" man on the street skits, that would be a big improvement.

    I wish late night entertainment would stop aiming for the lowest common denominator in humor and put some brains back into action.

    I always enjoyed reading about Mr. Paar; he seemed like a wonderful gentleman. God Bless Him.

    Steve
     

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