1/4/17

JACK PAAR COMES HOME



In 1986, twenty-four years after Jack Paar left the Tonight Show, NBC aired a one-hour special called 'Jack Paar Comes Home'. Hosted by Paar himself, the special is a lovely time-capsule of mid-century entertainment--not just a compendium of acts but a sampling of moments and of the very specific aura and style that Paar specialized in. Paar hosts the show in much the same way he hosted the Tonight Show, casually offering up stories and anecdotes while sitting on a stool and engaging the audience not merely as viewers but as cohorts. It's an excellent way to get an overview of Paar for those of you who've yet to experience his very special brand of talk/humor/anecdoting.

On the other hand, Paar was batshit crazy and would involve himself in bizarre and unnecessary feuds with other celebrities seemingly at the drop of a hat. Read this 1959 article from the Chicago Tribune on an absurd (and nationally followed) tussle he had with Ed Sullivan. It all had to do with the fact that performers worked for scale on the Tonight Show but Sullivan had to pay the same performers higher rates. This naturally irked Sullivan but this, in turn, annoyed Paar, who sensitively pointed out that on his show the guests had time to offer routines, talk and for audiences to get to know them, instead of being "squeezed in between the dance act and the performing seals" (as they presumably were on Sullivans show). A live debate about the matter was actually planned between the two men on TV with Bennett Cerf moderating. Paar dropped out of the debate when Sullivan understandably refused to have the debate in front of Paar's studio audience. Was it all a big gag? Did these guys chortle and plot together in order to get headlines and ratings? Somehow I don't think so. The self-importance of televisions first celebrities was a real and vivid thing. This was the first time people got nationally famous for appearing in people's living rooms. Something about this seemed to inflate their righteousness. It was only a few years before that Arthur Godfrey fired Julius La Rosa on the air for 'lack of humility'. I'll get to that one soon...

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