Jack Paar

TV host, Producer, Actor
Though often less cited in the history of television talk shows than Johnny Carson, his successor to the host chair on "The Tonight Show" (NBC, 1954- ), Jack Paar was perhaps the most influential figure in the ... Read more »
Born: 04/30/1918 in Canton, Ohio, USA

Filmography

Actor (24)

Regis Philbin: Made For TV 1998 - 1999 (TV Show)

Actor

Jack Paar: As I Was Saying... 1996 - 1997 (TV Show)

Actor

But... Seriously 1993 - 1994 (TV Show)

Actor

One on One: Classic Television Interviews 1993 - 1994 (TV Show)

Actor

JFK -- That Day in November 1988 - 1989 (TV Show)

Actor

Jack Paar Is Alive and Well! 1987 - 1988 (TV Show)

Actor

Jack Paar Comes Home 1986 - 1987 (TV Show)

Actor

The 38th Annual Emmy Awards 1986 - 1987 (TV Show)

Actor

This Is Your Life 1986 - 1987 (TV Show)

Actor

NBC's 60th Anniversary Celebration 1985 - 1986 (TV Show)

Actor

Take One Starring Jonathan Winters 1980 - 1981 (TV Show)

Actor

Jack Paar Tonight 1972 - 1974 (TV Show)

Actor

The Jack Paar Special 1966 - 1967 (TV Show)

Actor

The Jack Paar Program 1962 - 1966 (TV Show)

Actor

The Tonight Show 1956 - 1962 (TV Show)

Actor

Jack Paar Presents 1959 - 1960 (TV Show)

Actor

The Jack Paar Special 1959 - 1960 (TV Show)

Actor

The Jack Paar Show 1953 - 1956 (TV Show)

Actor

Bank on the Stars 1952 - 1954 (TV Show)

Actor

Down Among the Sheltering Palms 1953 (Movie)

(Actor)

Love Nest 1950 (Movie)

(Actor)

Walk Softly, Stranger (Movie)

Ray Healey (Actor)
Other (2)

Celebrate the Dream: 50 Years of Ebony 1996 - 1997 (TV Show)

Film Clips

The Wizard of Oz: 40 Years on Television 1995 - 1996 (TV Show)

Acknowledgment

Biography

Though often less cited in the history of television talk shows than Johnny Carson, his successor to the host chair on "The Tonight Show" (NBC, 1954- ), Jack Paar was perhaps the most influential figure in the development of the medium. From 1952 to 1956, Paar offered a smart, witty and frequently live-wire alternative to the staid promotional parade that comprised talk and variety shows of the period. A relaxed presence at his desk or on his trademark stool, Paar invited audiences to join him in discourse with leading figures from entertainment, society and politics, all of whom treasured his intelligence and, more importantly, willingness to listen rather than orchestrate the conversation. However, Paar suffered mightily for his efforts: a deeply emotional man, he quit "Tonight" in tears over network censorship, which earned him a reputation as overly sensitive, at best - at worst, potentially unstable. After leaving "Tonight" in 1965, he would return to network TV twice more in the late 1960s and early 1970s, but left both with disinterest in pursuing complacent, content-free programming. His contributions to talk shows and the medium as a whole was paid fitting tribute in the years prior to his death in 2004, and his reputation as a non-conformist who made television fit to his vision remained untouched in the years that followed.

Jack Harold Paar was born May 1, 1918 in Canton, OH, the son of Howard Paar, a division superintendent for the New York Central Railroad, and his wife, Lillian. He was raised in Jackson, MI, where his childhood was marked by a series of personal adversities, from the deaths of an older brother and best friend to a bout with tuberculosis at the age of 14. Paar also stuttered, which road blocked his dream to become a radio personality. He cured his speech impediment by putting buttons in his mouth and reading aloud, and rebuilt his strength after recovering from tuberculosis by working on a railroad gang. By the time he was 16, Paar had left school and was ready for his life as an adult. He began working in radio in the 1930s, serving as a disc jockey and comic at stations throughout the Midwest and Northeast. In 1942, Paar was drafted into the Army, where he was assigned to Special Services, a non-combat unit that provided entertainment for troops. Stationed in the South Pacific, he earned notoriety as a clever emcee with a knack for impersonating ranking officers.

After his demobilization, Paar returned to radio, where he worked as a fill-in for the popular "Breakfast Club" program. His first big break came in 1947 when Jack Benny selected him to serve as the summer replacement for his top-rated Sunday night comedy show. Audience response to Paar was so strong that Benny's sponsor, the American Tobacco Company gave him his own show in the fall. However, in a move that presaged numerous events throughout Paar's career, he refused to accept their suggestion for a weekly running gag, citing it as the sort of tired humor practiced by Fred Allen or Benny himself. The sponsor cancelled the show, which branded Paar as the sort to bite the hand that fed him, a reputation that would dog him throughout his professional life.

For a brief period, Paar was a contract player for Howard Hughes and RKO Pictures. He made his debut as the emcee in "Variety Time" (1948), a collection of vaudeville acts, and performed similar duties for another show of that ilk called "Footlight Varieties" (1951). His film career was brief and undistinguished save for a turn as Marilyn Monroe's boyfriend in the 1951 comedy "Love Nest." He was soon back on radio, hosting "The $64 Question" for a period before making the leap to television in 1952 with the short-lived quiz shows "Up to Paar" (NBC, 1952) and "Bank on the Stars" (CBS/NBC, 1953-54), as well as replacing Walter Cronkite on "The CBS Morning Show" (CBS, 1954). Pundits noted his string of failures with some dark glee, but Paar's tenacity eventually paid off with a replacement job for Arthur Godfrey on his top-rated "Arthur Godfrey and His Friends" (CBS, 1949-1957) series. The following year, he reached the apex of his career when NBC asked him to become the host of their variety show "Tonight" after the departure of Steve Allen.

Under Paar's stewardship, "Tonight Starring Jack Paar," as the series was soon known, became not only one of the top-rated shows on television, but also something of an event due to primarily to Paar himself. He strove to push the talk show format into intelligent and entertaining discourse rather than a string of acts in vaudeville style, and did so by paring down the format to simple discussion with interesting and entertaining guests. Instead of the usual parade of actors promoting their latest effort, viewers would tune into Paar's show to see the likes of President John F. Kennedy, Richard Nixon, William F. Buckley and Muhammad Ali. Paar would also, on occasion, display a mischievous streak by pairing the likes of Ali and Liberace on the same broadcast, or Jayne Mansfield with Zsa Zsa Gabor and then sit back and watch their abundant personalities take over the show. He also surrounded himself with fascinating regulars like actor Peter Ustinov, the brilliant but deeply neurotic Oscar Levant, and comic Cliff Arquette in his folksy "Charley Weaver" character. Paar also gave such talents as Woody Allen, Bill Cosby, Mike Nicholas and Elaine May, and Carol Burnett early exposure to a national audience, and featured the likes of Dick Cavett, Garry Marshall and humorist Jack Douglas on his writing staff. Such an abundance of quality earned "Tonight Starring Jack Paar" back-to-back Emmys for Outstanding Variety, Music or Comedy Series in 1957 and 1958.

But Paar was also a controversy magnet, due in part to his own personality. He drew brickbats early in his tenure for granting a 1959 interview to Cuban leader Fidel Castro, and feuded publicly with such entertainment sacred cows as Ed Sullivan and Walter Winchell. But it was his abrupt departure from the show in 1960 that earned the most headlines. On Feb. 10, 1960, NBC pre-empted a portion of the show during which Paar told a mild joke about a "W.C" (water closet) that the network considered offensive. They failed to inform Paar of their decision, and the following evening, he tearfully announced that he was leaving "Tonight" and abandoned his seat in mid-broadcast. He traveled the country for the next few weeks while his disappearance made national headlines. Finally, on March 7, he returned to the show with apologies to his audience for his "childish" decision. Though his popularity continued to remain high, audiences began to tune in to the program to see if and when Paar would next break down.

Paar would remain with "Tonight" for another two years before he announced that he could no longer handle the workload of a nightly program. NBC quickly offered him his own weekly show, "The Jack Paar Program" (NBC, 1962-65), which brought him back to his roots as a vaudeville emcee by presenting acts and personalities from around the world, from Albert Schweitzer in Africa to clips of the Beatles that aired one month before their history-making turn on "The Ed Sullivan Show" (NBC, 1949-1971). He would remain with the show for three years before again announcing that he was leaving television in 1965. He would remain a sporadic presence on specials for the next half-decade, but was, for the most part, semi-retired thanks to the proceeds from the sale of a television station he owned in Maine.

He was briefly lured back to primetime in 1973 as a host for "Jack Paar Tonight," which was part of "ABC's Wide World of Entertainment" (ABC, 1973-76). It lasted just a year before Paar quit over its frequent time schedule changes, as well as his inability to relate to newer acts and personalities. He would remain an infrequent but favored guest on talk and variety shows for the better part of the next two decades before emerging to receive a long-overdue tribute from the Museum of Broadcasting in 1984. NBC would fete him two years later with "Jack Paar Comes Home" (1986) and "Jack Paar Is Alive and Well" (1987), a pair of primetime specials that featured kinescoped clips from "Tonight" and his weekly series. The "American Masters" (PBS, 1986- ) series produced two specials on Paar, 1997's "Jack Paar: As I Was Saying " and "Smart Television" (2003), which featured interviews with many of the celebrities whose rise to fame was helped by appearances on Paar's shows. After the NBC specials in the 1980s, Paar remained largely out of sight. His health was in decline following triple bypass heart surgery in 1998. In 2003, he suffered a stroke that further hampered his well-being. The following year, Paar died at his Connecticut home on Jan. 27, 2004.

By Paul Gaita

Relationships

Lillian Paar

Mother

Andrew

Grandson
born c. 1984

Miriam Paar

Wife
married in October 1943 second wife

Howard Paar

Father

Randy Paar

Daughter
born c. 1949

EDUCATION

dropped out of high school in Jackson, MI after contracting tuberculosis

Milestones

1997

Subject of "American Masters" (PBS) documentary "Jack Paar: As I Was Saying . . ."

1989

Suffered a heart attack

1986

Returned to NBC after 15-year absence for the special "Jack Paar Comes Home"

1973

Hosted "Jack Paar Tonight", a 90-minute ABC talk-variety show co-hosted by Peggy Cass appearing under the umbrella of "ABC Late Night"

1957

Host of "The Tonight Show" (later renamed "The Jack Paar Show"), 105-minute nightly talk show on NBC

1954

Co-hosted CBS' "The Morning Show", a two-hour news-talk show

1954

Followed Jack Smith as the host of "Place the Face" (NBC), a game show in which contestants tried to identify someone from his or her past

1953

Hosted "Bank on the Stars", a half-hour game show in which contestants based their answers on film clips they viewed; show started out on CBS, then moved to NBC in 1954

1953

Drew upon his real-life experience as a GI in the Pacific for "Down Among the Sheltering Palms", a 20th Century Fox comedy with Jane Greer, Mitzi Gaynor and Gloria DeHaven and songs by Harold Arlen

1952

Hosted "Up to Paar", an NBC-TV game show which featured contestants answering questions based on current news stories

1951

Co-starred with Marilyn Monroe in "Love Nest"

1951

Last film with RKO, "Footlight Varieties"

1950

Appeared in "Walk Softly, Stranger" with Joseph Cotton

1949

Featured in "Easy Living", an RKO vehicle starring Victor Mature

1948

Film debut, "Variety Time", first picture under contract to RKO

1947

Hosted his own "The Jack Paar Show" on NBC Radio

1946

Worked as a summer replacement for Jack Benny on radio's "The Jack Benny Show"

1938

At age 20, announced the Cleveland Symphony with Artur Rodzinski for Cleveland's CBS radio station (date approximate)

1934

Started as a radio announcer at the age of 16 (date approximate)

Served in US Army, Special Forces, during World War II

Spent countless hours in his parents' basement reading aloud with buttons crammed in his mouth in hopes of curing his stutter, readying himself for his dream of becoming an announcer and comedian

Went primetime with Friday night talk-variety show "The Jack Paar Program" (NBC)

Bonus Trivia

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"At first, 'The Tonight Show' was live. We were an hour and 45 minutes, and we had two writers. I wanted it to be 11:30 at night. I wanted to talk softly--the feeling of people in bed. I protested when the audio levels of commercials were raised. When tape became an option after a couple of years, the networks wanted to tape the shows early. I said 8:15 pm is as early as I'll do the show. The other guys began taping in the afternoon, which is something that I think caused a great cultural difference. Who do you draw in the afternoon? You draw kids who should be in high school. And eventually, you end up trying to please them. They wouldn't care for Peter Ustinov, these kids." --Jack Paar, press release for "American Masters" presentation of "Jack Paar: As I Was Saying . . ."

.

"Down deep, I feel that I was misunderstood to a great extent, never given credit for the contributions I made. You know, I never won an Emmy [though recently honored for his work by the Museum of Television and Radio]. When I tell people that, they say they don't believe it. And I say, 'Would I make up something like that? I'm telling you--I never won an Emmy!' I guess the reason I never won one is that I'm allergic to bull. I've never been a joiner." --Jack Paar quoted in TV GUIDE, May 3-9, 1997

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