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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.
Today in late night Television we have so many choices. Its almost
limitless when you consider digital cable and TIVO.
A long long time ago when late night TV might have consisted of an ever glaring, Indian Head test pattern along with a One Kilohertz Tone, there was The Jack Paar Show. This show evolved from the Steve Allen " Tonight" show which had its source from the Colgate Comedy Show in the early fifties.
Quite unlike any show now or then we have the eccentric character Mr Jack Paar himself. Mr Paar can be seen in a few films of the late forties and was really known for very little else. In 1957, however, Paar launched what was to become a staple of late night TV. He had a cast of regular characters along with some of the most brilliant and witty personalities of the 20th Century!
From authors like Alexander King to the bizarre and brilliant Oscar Levant, all payed visits and just talked with Paar and friends. A Truly amazing show with a sincere following that did not let up till the last show in 1962.
This DVD set show us how fascinating these times were and is a window in time for TV viewers to recall ( if they are old enough) how unique and entertaining one could be by being.....oneself.
Evocative, Timeless and Claustrophobic and when was the last time those three words were used to describe anything on television.
Jack Paar became a big presence in all our lives when I entered high school and got to stay up an extra hour each night. We were living in the Midwest at the time, in the Central Time Zone, so we got the "Tonight Show" on our TV an hour earlier than the East Coast did. 10:30 instead of 11:30 PM. Nightly talk shows were 90 minutes long at the time. --It wasn't until many years later that Johnny Carson shortened it to one hour. We received only two TV channels then, and almost all of the shows on at night were weekly--once a week--and most of them were westerns or detective dramas. But here was a show--with a "cast" of real characters that came on every single night of the week. It was like we were looking into their lives (all of which seemed related to each others')--Hermione Gingold, Mrs. Miller, Charlie Weaver, Alexander King, Robert Merril. These people seemed to live in some universe where they all knew each other and had lives in common and they all talked with Jack on his show. (A 1950s TV show contemporary to Jack Paar's--"WHAT"S MY LINE"--had a similar cast of New York sophisticates who all seemed to hang out together--but it was much more boring--who the hell were Bennett Cerf and Dorothy Kilgallen and Fred Allen?--just talking faces in tuxedos or rather tatty-looking evening gowns.) Maybe none of the people on either of these shows had what producers today would call "TVQ"--personal charisma or appeal on a TV screen-- like the actors on say "Friends" or Dennis Franz on NYPD Blue do. But the people on the Jack Paar show had lives and personalities of sorts, and told lots of anecdotes about themselves. Some of them had written books, which you could go to the library and read--Alexander King "Mine Enemy Grows Older." And Jack's world war two buddy with the Japanese wife who wrote the surrealist humor collections: "My Brother was an Only Child" and "Never Trust a Naked Bus Driver"--kind of like Lenny Bruce colliding with Mad magazine. I think his name was Jack Douglas. In format the Jack Paar show wasn't really all that different from David Letterman today--interviews, skits, Ernie-Kovacs-inspired stunts. Since I grew up in a very conservative household and did not get to go through any kind of "teenage rebellion" I was at home watching Jack Paar each night while some of my more adventurous (or doomed)peers were driving rattle-trap cars around burger joints and trying to get girls' bras off. Maybe that's why my memories of this show are so imprinted in my memory. For decades I thought of Johnny Carson as the "new guy" because the Jack Paar show was such a formative presence in my teenage life. That's another thing that distinguished the Jack Parr show--emotional involvement. In TV/Marshal-McLuhan terms Jack Paar was "hot"--sincere, emotional. While Johnny Carson was "cool"--detached, ironic. Paar, along with other early TV personalities like Arthur Godfrey, had the ability to make you feel like he was talking to you personally through your TV set. This was a mixture of informality and sincerity. Arthur Godfrey for example was such a successful TV character--he had two or three different shows on TV at once sometime--because he spoke into the microphone like someone coming into your living room and visiting you. Not like someone on a stage doing "public speaking" to an "audience."
Me,Bobby Dias AKA Kissing Bobby, had been appearing on the Tonight show and then The Jack Paar Show at the Burbank Studios. Jack had been thinking of traveling a lot and his office was full of travel brochures, mostly Africa and China. A few times Jack would just not feel like going on with the show so others would sub for him, including a few times myself. I was good enough, they thought, for them to offer me a contract to the host of what they would call "The Tonight Show"(in the contract offer. This was before Johnny Carson and others were offered the job. I declined the offer, saying that at 14 I did not want to stay in the so-called "grown-up" world of show business people and millionaires and billionaires and politicians and the like that I had been for the last 7 years. Whatever about that, Jack had stayed off and walked off a few times before- just his time to move on. The final walk-off was one of those times there was not me or anybody else there able and willing to jump in to keep the show going. Two days later he said to me that the censorship had nothing to do with him walking off the set or quitting the show and that he did not care if they sued him for every penny he had for breach of contract. Just his time for whatever else.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Jack Paar was just that - Par Excellence as a talk show host. I quit
watching when Johnnie Carson took over. What made Paar fun was that he
NEVER, ever shut anyone off. If Johnny Winters got wound up one night,
Jack would egg him on for an hour and half if he could. Other scheduled
guests could either wait or come on another night. And no one seemed to
be offended by that. And he was a master at getting Winters or Jack E
Leonard started. I remember one night Leonard was on and fumbled for a
cigarette. Jack offered him a Winston - one of the loyal sponsors - no
thanks, said Leonard and pulled out his pack of Kents. There was a few
seconds of banter over the quality of the brands and finally Leonard
snapped, Well, at least MINE doesn't look like it was DIPPED in
Alas, we are told that of all those hours and hours of fun, NBC claims not to have saved any of it. And so I guess we can only dream of having a 3 or 5 DVD set of highlights. His later programs, which are on one set at least, never measured up to the old Tonight Show.
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