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In the early days of television in northern Arkansas about the only channel my family could get, even using the advanced all-channel antenna which was rotated by hand from outside the house, was Channel 4 out of Little Rock, KARK. For a time syndicated shows such as "Man Against Crime" were shown after the l0:00 pm news, sports, and weather until sign off at midnight when the National Anthem was played followed by a test pattern before the screen went snowy. Then like magic for us late nighters there started appearing the Tonight Show with Jack Paar. What a series of guests for this eccentric egotistical personality who was also charming with charisma to spare.
There were comics I admired such as Charley Weaver (Cliff Arquette) who showed Jack how to turn a corner on one foot. He also read corny yet hilarious letters from Mama. Then came Jonathan Winters, one of the funniest men on earth or maybe it's Mars. I recall him telling about the spacemen coming to earth and attempting to communicate with "Ne Ne Na Na Na Na Nu Nu." One night when Jonathan didn't appear as scheduled, Jack Paar told the audience that Jonathan was caught climbing a light post in San Francisco to reach the moon and was taken away by men in white. When Jack informed his fans that he was quitting the show, his first choice of a replacement was Jonathan Winters. NBC decided on Johnny Carson instead. The rest is history.
One special show stands out in my memory, the night Mimi Hines and Phil Ford appeared. Toward the end of their interview Mimi touched her husband Phil's hand, looked into his eyes, and sang "Till There was You" from the hit Broadway production of "The Music Man." The viewer could almost feel the love in the air between the two. Jack Paar was so taken that he began to cry. He had the comic couple on again from time to time and would have Mimi sing "Till There Was You," but it was never the same. That one night the moment of love's rapture was captured as never before or since on the tube.
Other interesting guests I remember were: Fred Demara, The Great Impostor, about whom a film starring Tony Curtis was made at the time; Alexander King who informed Jack that he had only one organ left of all body parts that come in pairs. Jack jumped in with a euphemism that indicated King also only had one testicle. In those far off puritan days any line of conversation that went in the direction of taboo subjects brought outrageous laughter from the audience; the rather peculiar women guests such as Dody Goodman, Genevieve,Zsa Zsa Gabor, Hermione Gingold, and Peggy Cass who talked different from any women I had ever heard; and the regulars including Hugh Downs that I knew from "Concentration" and "The Today Show," and band leaders Skitch Henderson and Jose Melis. Jack would also have his daughter, Randy, on from time to time. He talked often about his wife, Miriam, but I don't recall that she ever appeared on the show.
I was watching the night he walked off. He had talked about the word water closet being censored by NBC and told the audience that he might take his family and go to Africa or somewhere far away. Then he abruptly got up and left the show. I didn't watch "The Tonight Show" again until he returned a few weeks later. There were other times when he voiced his discontent with the big-wigs at NBC. He seemed fearless in the face of runaway authority.
I thought "The Tonight Show" would end when Jack Paar retired from it. Johnny Carson had a difficult task before him. I had enjoyed watching Johnny on TV earlier and was happy with the decision for him to replace Jack Paar. He turned out to be even more successful than Jack Paar. He was much funnier, more talented, but Jack Paar still had something extra that no other TV personality before or since possesses. I kid you not.
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