Sunday, February 26, 2006

I Kid You Not

This was a rare Sunday because I didn’t play Frisbee-golf. So this afternoon I happened across a television program about Jack Paar (1918-2004) I wouldn’t ordinarily have seen. "Jack Paar: Smart Televison," was a PBS collection of highlights from his programs in the 1950s and '60s, plus some interviews with his associates and people who worked with him. It was fascinating listening to his voice, his timing and use of language.

Paar, probably more than anyone else, designed the television talk-show when he hosted the live broadcasts of NBC's Tonight Show (after Steve Allen, before Johnny Carson). Few of TV’s talking heads since the urbane Jack Paar have used mere unscripted conversation to such advantage. His guests were frequently smart, quirky show biz folks who liked to talk, such as Oscar Levant, Judy Garland, Elsa Maxwell, Robert Morley, Groucho Marx, Peter Ustinov, Hermione Gingold and Hans Conreid. (I’ll leave it to the reader to Google the names on that list you don’t recognize.)

Paar also used his show to introduce us to edgy comics such as Bill Cosby, Woody Allen, Bob Newhart, Dick Gregory, Jonathan Winters and the Smothers Brothers. Fidel Castro was a guest, too. Paar had Robert Kennedy on to talk about a Senate investigation of the connections between organized crime and trade unions. Consequently, Teamsters boss Jimmy Hoffa sued Paar and Kennedy for a million bucks. Hoffa lost. Paar thrived on his feuds with columnists and critics, including Ed Sullivan and Walter Winchell. Once, to protest network censorship, he suddenly walked off the show, while it was on the air.

In watching those old black and white clips and then reading more about Paar on the Internet, it made me laugh to think how far the license he minted for the talk-show format has evolved, or perhaps devolved. Rather than write a lot about Paar, and his unique style, which I remember fondly, I’m going to just supply the reader with three good links to information about a one-of-a-kind impresario, Jack "I Kid You Not" Paar.

Museum of Broadcast Communications
The Jack Paar Show

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