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Talk-Show Pioneer Jack Paar Dies

Talk about a lengthy retirement: the guy basically hung it up 40 years ago:

    Paar, the smart-alec comic who pioneered late-night talk on “The Tonight Show” in 1957, died Tuesday at his home in Greenwich, Conn., after a long illness, said his son-in-law, Stephen Wells. Paar had suffered a stroke last year. He was 85.

    ….After a young comic named Johnny Carson became host in 1962, Paar had a hugely popular prime-time talk show for three more seasons, then abruptly retired in 1965.

    ….It was in July 1957 that Paar took over the flagging NBC late-night slot, some months after Steve Allen left with his variety 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.”

    Soon, everyone was staying up to watch Paar, then talking about his show the next day. Even youngsters sent to bed before Paar’s show parroted his jaunty catch phrase, “I kid you not.”

    Just why Paar walked away from TV at age 47 would become an enduring source of conjecture, possibly even for Paar. He offered the explanation that he was tired and ready to do other things.

    ….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.”

    A man of boundless curiosity and interests, Paar 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, in a headline-making outburst, 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. He was greeted with generous applause, and he began his monologue on a typically cheeky note: “As I was saying, before I was interrupted … ” [AP]

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