Monday, March 06, 2006

Dead Celebrity of the Month, March 2006: Jack Paar

The early 1960's was the era of Jack Paar, departing from the drab elements of the 1950's by adding a dash of class and sophistication yet retaining a large degree of formality that brief moment of American history is exemplified in this man who was among its most popular talk show hosts. Born in Canton Ohio in 1918 Jack Paar served as a noncombatant solder in World War II whose primary task was to entering troops as the MC of USO-type shows when no big star was available. A magazine article about his war time activities combined with sevral years work on the radio (he was Jack Bennys summer replacement in 1947) helped Jack land an interview at 20th Century Fox in the late 1940's. The studio at first had plans to build Jack up as 'the next Alan Ladd' but in the end he only made a handful of movies, perhaps the most significant of these being Lovenest a 1951 film in which he played the boyfriend of the then relatively unknown Marilyn Monroe.

After his contract at Fox expired Jack turned to the new medium of television, hosting a number of game shows for CBS and even taking over the networks morning program when its host Walter Cronkite was transferd to the evening news. In 1957 Paar moved to NBC replacing the departing Steve Allen as host of The Tonight Show. With Hugh Downs serving as his announcer Jack hosted Tonight for five years, vastly improving its ratings. He transformed NBCs now iconic late night program from sketch/variety to stand-up routines and interviews with celebrities, even developing the classic 'talk show set' of a desk and several parallel chairs or sofas.

In 1962 upset that the network had edited the punchline for one of his jokes out of the previous nights broadcast (the punchline was the harmless seeming "water-closet"), Jack reamed the network then walked off his show live, leaving poor Hugh to finish up the nights program and paving the way for Johnny Carson to be Jacks replacement. After taking a month or two off NBC apologetically approached Mr. Paar asking him to come back and offering him his own prime-time once a week talk show. The Jack Paar Show aired Friday nights on NBC for three years, until Jack pulled his own plug in 1965 so as to not 'outstay his welcome' with audiences. After retirement Jack wrote books and continued to do periodic television specials for NBC from the 60's into the late 80's. In 1975 Jack returned to regular TV as one of three alternating hosts for ABC's short-lived Wide World of Entertainment. Jack Paar died in January of 2004 at the age of 85, he was survived by his 2nd wife Miriam and only child daughter Randy.


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