Paar is one of television's most intriguing and enigmatic talk show
hosts. He served as the host of the Tonight Show from 1957
through 1962 and headed his own NBC variety series from 1962 to
1965. Both series were stamped with Paar's volatile and unpredictable
personality and often a haven for witty, literate conversation.
Paar is considered one of the key talents uniquely suited to the
cool medium of television, he worked extensively in other areas
of show business. Leaving school at sixteen, he first worked as
a radio announcer and later a humorous disc jockey. During World
War II, Paar entertained troops in the South Pacific with his wry
impersonations of officers, sometimes in concert with his Army colleague
Jackie Cooper. After the war, he returned to radio, serving as a
fill-in for Don MacNeil on the Breakfast Club and panelist
on The $64 Question. In 1947 he was the summer replacement
for Jack Benny, a comedian whose mannerisms Paar would later emulate.
Paar was signed to a contract at Howard Hughes's RKO Pictures and
debuted in Walk Softly, Stranger (1950) with Joseph Cotten.
In 1951 he made Love Nest for 20th Century-Fox, playing the sexy
boyfriend opposite an emerging starlet, Marilyn Monroe.
was first employed in television as a host of game shows, notably
Up to Paar (1952) and Bank of Stars (1953). In November
1953 he hosted his own daytime variety series for CBS and assembled
a cast of regulars, including Edith Adams, Richard Hayes, Jack Haskell,
and pianist Jose Melis. In August 1954 he took over the Morning
Show from Walter Cronkite and became a competitor of Dave Garroway
and the Today show. During this morning experience, Paar
developed his conversational skills and an appreciation for a relaxed
program with no rigid guidelines. When CBS again changed formats,
Paar was given another variety series, this time in the afternoon.
of several well-received guest appearances on NBC's Tonight,
Paar ascended to the permanent host slot on 29 July 1957. For several
months before, the late-night series had floundered when original
host Steve Allen moved permanently to prime time. Paar was given
free rein to restore the show's luster and assembled his own freewheeling
staff, including writers Jack Douglas and Paul Keyes, to give the
show an extemporaneous quality. The new creative team emphasized
the importance of the opening monologue as a vehicle to transmit
Paar's singular, often emotional view of the world. Unlike any other
host of The Tonight Show, Paar had no talent for sketches,
so his writers created a persona through his words, always leaving
space for the host to verbally improvise.
a "bull in his own china shop," he gained notoriety by creating
feuds with the show business community, including Ed Sullivan, Walter
Winchell, William Paley, and most television critics. To salve his
often bruised ego, he surrounded himself with a salon of eccentrics
whose ranks included pianist and professional hypochondriac Oscar
Levant, the outspoken Elsa Maxwell, the irreverent Alexander King,
and British raconteurs Robert Morley, Bea Lillie, and Peter Ustinov.
He resurrected the careers of performers on the entertainment fringe,
inviting back on a regular basis the folksy Cliff "Charley Weaver"
Arquette, music hall veteran Hermione Gingold, French chanteuse
Genevieve, and acerbic Hans Conreid. More in keeping with the Tonight
ethos, Paar also nurtured young comic talent, and among his discoveries
were Bob Newhart, the Smothers Brothers, Dick Gregory, Godfrey Cambridge,
and Bill Cosby.
also removed the talk show out of the controlled studio and begin
to intermingle politics and entertainment. He and author Jim Bishop
journeyed to Cuba and prepared a special report, "The Background
of the Revolution." Paar's unexplained embrace of Castro was vehemently
questioned by Batista supporters and even the United States House
of Representatives. Paar also became friendly with the Kennedys
and invited Robert Kennedy as chief counsel of the Senate Labor-Management
Relations Committee to discuss his investigation of organized crime
in the unions. The head of the Teamsters, Jimmy Hoffa, responded
with a million dollar lawsuit against Kennedy and Paar, which was
eventually thrown out of court. Paar was also the first entertainer
to originate a program from the Berlin Wall, which he did less than
a month after its construction at the height of Cold War tension.
became the most successful presence in late night, expanding his
affiliate base from the 46 stations with which he started out to
170. In 1957, the title was changed to The Jack Paar Tonight
Show and the next season the show was taped early in the evening
instead of broadcast live. Beginning July 1959 Paar broadcast only
four nights a week; Friday night became "The Best of Paar," inaugurating
a tradition of Tonight reruns. At the height of his fame,
he battled NBC censors over a joke about a water closet, a British
euphemism for a bathroom. Incensed, he walked out at the beginning
of a show, leaving announcer Hugh Downs to finish the program. His
walk-off and subsequent disappearance dominated news for five weeks
until he returned after an extended stay in Hong Kong.
rollercoaster ride on Tonight continued until 30 March 1962.
He retired from late night, having hosted more than 2,000 hours.
In September 1962, Paar returned to the variety format and produced
a weekly Friday night series, borrowing the most successful elements
of his talk show. Each telecast was ignited by a monologue and the
core of each program was an in-depth conversation with some of Hollywood's
most voluble personalities, including Judy Garland, Tallulah Bankhead,
Richard Burton, and Jonathan Winters. Paar also spiced the series
with home movies of his family trips, with wife Miriam and daughter
Randy also becoming celebrities.
continued to make headlines with newsworthy segments. He ventured
into Gabon, Africa to interview Nobel Prize recipient Dr. Albert
Schweitzer. Richard Nixon made his first public appearance after
his defeat in the gubernatorial race in California and entertained
Paar's audience with a piano solo. He also presented the first footage
of the Beatles in prime time, a performance he openly derided as
the downfall of British civilization.
retired from the network grind in 1965 to manage a television station
in Maine. In March 1975, Paar was persuaded to return to late night
to compete against the inheritor of the Tonight mantle, Johnny
Carson. This time he was reduced to one week every month, part of
the ABC Wide World of Entertainment. The format that he had
fostered had changed considerably and Paar retired five months later,
this time for good.
was an integral part of a new generation of television personalities.
Unlike an older generation trained in vaudeville and Broadway, Paar
and such 1950s contemporaries as Garry Moore, Arthur Godfrey, and
Dave Garroway had no specific show business talents. They could
neither act, sing, nor dance. They were products of a intimate electronic
technology that allowed for a personalized connection with the audience.
As a talk show and variety host, Paar created a complex, unpredictable
character, whose whims and tantrums created national tremors.
Photo courtesy of Jack Paar
PAAR. Born in Canton, Ohio, U.S.A., 1 May 1918. Married: 1)
Irene, late 1930s; 2) Miriam Wagner, 1943, child: Randy. Served
as a noncombatant soldier in the United States Army with the 28th
Special Service Company during World War II. Actor in motion pictures,
1950-53; appeared in radio and television shows including The
$64 Question, Up to Paar, and CBS Morning Show, 1947-57;
star of NBC's Tonight Show, 1957-62, and of various other
Up to Paar
1953 Bank on the Stars
1954 The Jack Paar Show
1957-62 The Tonight Show (renamed The Jack Paar Show,
1962-65 The Jack Paar Program
1975 ABC's Wide World of Entertainment
1960 Jack Paar Presents
1967 A Funny Thing Happened On the Way to Hollywood 1967
Jack Paar and a Funny Thing Happened Everywhere 1969 Jack
Paar and His Lions
1970 Jack Paar Diary
1986 Jack Paar Comes Home
1987 Jack Paar Is Alive and Well
Variety Time, 1948; Easy Living, 1949; Walk Softly,
Stranger, 1949; Love Nest, 1951; Footlight Varieties,
1951; Down Among the Sheltering Palms, 1952.
I Kid You Not, with John Reddy. Boston: Little Brown, 1960.
Saber Is Bent, with John Reddy. New York: Simon and Schuster,
Three On a Toothbrush. Garden City, New York: Doubleday, 1965.
Jack Paar. Garden City, New York: Doubleday, 1983.
Terry. Tonight! Garden City, New York: Doubleday & Company,
Henderson, Amy. On the Air: Pioneers of American Broadcasting
. Washington, D. C.: Smithsonian Institution Press, 1988.
Robert. The Tonight Show. New York: Playboy Press, 1980.
also Talk Shows;