THE NIGHT JACK PAAR BLEW OFF HIS GIG
If you're reading this blog then chances are you don't need to be told that Jack Paar was the second host of 'The Tonight Show', following Steve Allen. Paar was a marvelous anecdotalist and a suave and witty interviewer of the kind that just doesn't exist anymore. Indeed, his interviews were more like conversations and mid-century America was delighted to see the famous faces of entertainment and news behave in a relaxed and casual manner. Even Nixon came off as charming and low-key in his Paar interview. (He also played a lousy piano piece).
But Paar was also nuts. He was thorny, sensitive and self-important and it frequently showed in even his nicest, most casual moments. He broke down in tears on-air, carried on feuds with various other show-biz luminaries and in general acted something like a 'dry drunk'--at once seemingly clear-headed and self-possessed while also being quick to self-righteous anger and accusatory, hard-to-back-down-from stances.
Above I've posted the audio of Paar's most notorious moment on the show, the night he walked off in protest of NBC having cut a joke from the previous evening's show which it considered in bad taste. (Apparently it contained the term 'water-closet' in it). The censoring of the joke and NBC's failure to inform Paar of their actions so outraged the host that he chose to quit the show while on-air, leaving poor Hugh Downs to fill out the remaining hour and twenty minutes. The first three minutes of the show give no hint as to what's coming and when Paar finally gets around to the subject at hand he does so with lots of dodging and weaving about how much he dislikes anything in bad taste (which seems to be largely confined to women in suggestive outfits and--weirdly--a reference to Christine Jorgensen). Once he gets going, though, he circles NBC and their actions with delicacy of a spider tickling a soon-to-be-ex-fly. The climax is the tearful breakdown, as Paar recounts how hard his public life and the treatment of him by the press and NBC is on his wife and daughter. "There's got to be a better way to make a living than this," weeps the TV maestro as he exits, stage left.
Five weeks later, Paar was back on the air with the famous lines: "Five weeks ago I said there had to be a better way to make a living. Well, I've looked..." The below clip actually does contain picture as well as audio of just the very last moments before the walk off as well as his return. Go to 51 seconds to enjoy the spectacle.
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Posted by Raymond De Felitta at 9:53 AM