Tonight Starring Jack Paar

Tonight Starring Jack Paar
Also known as The Jack Paar Tonight Show
The Jack Paar Show
Presented by Jack Paar
Starring José Melis (19571962)
Narrated by Franklin Pangborn (1957)
Hugh Downs
Country of origin United States
Location(s) Studio 6B, RCA Building
Running time 105 min. (with commercials)
Original network NBC
Picture format Black-and-white (19571960)
Color (19601962)
Audio format Monaural
Original release July 29, 1957 (1957-07-29) – March 30, 1962 (1962-03-30)
Preceded by Tonight! America After Dark
Followed by The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson

Tonight Starring Jack Paar (in later seasons The Jack Paar Tonight Show) is an American talk show hosted by Jack Paar under The Tonight Show franchise from 1957 to 1962. It originally aired during late-night.

During most of its run it was broadcast from Studio 6B (formerly the home of Milton Berle's Texaco Star Theater series) inside the RCA Building (now called the GE Building) in New York City. The same studio would also host early episodes of The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson, Late Night with Jimmy Fallon and The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon. Its theme song was an instrumental version of "Everything's Coming Up Roses", and the closing theme was "So Until I See You" by Al Lerner.


In July 1957, after the failure of Tonight! America After Dark (a news-oriented program first hosted by Jack Lescoulie and briefly by Al Collins), NBC reverted its late-night show, Tonight, to a talk/variety show format as it had been during Steve Allen's tenure as host. Brought in to host the reformatted Tonight was Jack Paar; Paar was, at the time, working for CBS and hosting the station's morning shows before he agreed to jump networks and take over Tonight. Under Paar, most of the NBC affiliates which had dropped the show during the ill-fated run of America After Dark (or who had never picked it up) began airing the show once again. Paar's era began the practice of branding the series after the host, and as such the program, though officially still called Tonight, was marketed as The Jack Paar Show. A combo band conducted by Paar's Army buddy pianist José Melis filled commercial breaks and backed musical entertainers. When Paar was on vacation, the show was presided over by guest hosts; one of these early hosts was Johnny Carson. Other guest hosts included Jonathan Winters, Orson Bean, as well as the show's announcer, Hugh Downs.[1][2] Starting in 1960, it was one of the first regularly scheduled shows to be videotaped in color, with the show recorded very early in the evening and broadcast from 11:15 P.M. to 1 A.M. Eastern time that night. Only a handful of complete Jack Paar "Tonight Show" episodes exist. All of them are black-and-white kinescope recordings; no color videotapes of any complete Paar "Tonight" shows are known to exist. Paar hosted the program from 1957 to 1962.

Paar's original announcer was actor Franklin Pangborn, but he was fired after only a few weeks for not showing enough "spontaneous enthusiasm". His replacement was Hugh Downs, who stayed with Paar to the end.

At first, the show was called "Tonight Starring Jack Paar"; after 1959 it was officially known as The Jack Paar Show (or The Jack Paar Tonight Show, a phrasing which led to the name "The Tonight Show," as opposed to simply "Tonight," being adopted permanently after Paar's departure). On September 19, 1960, the series became one of the first regularly scheduled videotaped programs in color. Only a few minutes of video of Paar's talk host career in color are known to exist today; NBC's policy at the time was to preserve programming on black-and-white kinescopes, but this policy only applied to live or videotaped prime time programming, and as such, the videotapes of most of Paar's Tonight Show appearances were taped over and no longer exist, a policy that continued through the first ten years of Johnny Carson's subsequent hosting of the same series.

Senator John F. Kennedy, then a candidate for president, as a Tonight Show guest, 1959.

It was during Paar's stint as host that The Tonight Show first became an entertainment juggernaut; Paar generated the most obsessive fascination and curiosity from press and public of anyone who ever hosted the show. Paar strove for compelling conversation as well as humor; his guests tended to be literate raconteurs such as Peter Ustinov or intellectuals such as William F. Buckley, Jr., as opposed to just actors or other performers selling their current work, while Paar himself earned a reputation as a superb storyteller.

He also surrounded himself with a memorable group of regulars and semi-regulars, including Cliff Arquette (as the homespun "Charlie Weaver"), author-illustrator Alexander King, Tedi Thurman (NBC's sultry "Miss Monitor") and comedy actresses Peggy Cass and Dody Goodman. Paar's oft repeated expression, I kid you not (something Humphrey Bogart as Capt. Philip Queeg uttered often in The Caine Mutiny), became a national catchphrase. In 1959, Paar's gag writer Jack Douglas became a bestselling author (My Brother Was an Only Child, A Funny Thing Happened to Me on the Way to the Grave: An Autobiography) after his regular appearances with Paar. Douglas' Japanese wife Reiko often appeared, as did Hungarian beauty queen Zsa Zsa Gabor, French comedian Genevieve and several British performers appeared as well; Paar enjoyed conversing with foreigners and knew their accents would spice up the proceedings.


In 1959, he was criticized for his interview with Cuban leader Fidel Castro; Paar's on-location interview would be the last time any American late-night show would film in Cuba until Conan O'Brien, who himself briefly hosted Tonight, visited the country in 2015 for an episode of his current show, Conan.[3] Later that year, during the show's regular swing through the West Coast, Paar again made the front pages of the national newspapers by asking a visibly inebriated Mickey Rooney to leave the program during the December 1 telecast. Two years later, he broadcast his show from Berlin just as the Berlin Wall was going up. Paar also engaged in a number of public feuds, one of them with CBS luminary Ed Sullivan, and another with Walter Winchell. The latter feud "effectively ended Winchell's career", beginning a shift in power from print to television.[4] Paar famously introduced actress Jayne Mansfield with the line "here they are, Jayne Mansfield!" (a reference to Mansfield's breasts); the writer of the joke was Dick Cavett, who later went on to host his own show on ABC several years later.[5]

Highly emotional

Paar was often unpredictable and emotional. The most salient example of this kind of on-screen behavior was demonstrated on the February 10, 1960, show, when one of his jokes was cut from a broadcast by studio censors. The joke in question involved a woman writing to a vacation resort and inquiring about the availability of a "W.C." The woman used that term to mean "water closet" (i.e., bathroom), but the gentleman who received the letter misunderstood "W.C." to mean "wayside chapel" (i.e., church). The full text of the joke[6] reveals multiple double entendres that are tame by today's standards, but too much for the network to bear in 1960:

An English lady is visiting Switzerland. She asks about the location of the "W.C." The Swiss, thinking she is referring to the "Wayside Chapel", leaves her a note that said (in part) "the W.C. is situated nine miles from the room that you will occupy... It is capable of holding about 229 people and it is only open on Sunday and Thursday... It may interest you to know that my daughter was married in the W.C. and it was there that she met her husband... I shall be delighted to reserve the best seat for you, if you wish, where you will be seen by everyone."

NBC censors replaced that section of the show with news coverage and failed to inform Paar of their decision. On February 11, 1960, Jack Paar quit the show. As he left his desk in the middle of the program, he said, "I am leaving The Tonight Show. There must be a better way of, uh, making a living than this. You have been....peachy to me always." Although Paar had earlier told his announcer Hugh Downs of his intention to quit the show, Downs at first thought Paar was joking. He expected the host to return to the stage,[4] but the abrupt departure left Downs to finish the broadcast himself.[7] While Paar traveled outside the country, his disappearance became a national news event.[4] The entire broadcast of this episode exists on audio tape.

Urged to return to the show by his friend Jonathan Winters,[4] Paar reappeared on March 7, 1960, strolled on stage, struck a pose, and said, "As I was saying before I was interrupted..."[7] Luis de León said something similar on the first day after returning from four years' imprisonment with the words Dicebamus hesterna die ("As we were saying yesterday...."). After the audience erupted in applause, Paar continued, "I believe my last words were that there must be a better way of making a living than this. Well, I've looked... and there isn't." That line that produced a burst of laughter from the audience. He then went on to explain his departure with typical frankness: "Leaving the show was a childish and perhaps emotional thing. I have been guilty of such action in the past and will perhaps be again. I'm totally unable to hide what I feel. It is not an asset in show business, but I shall do the best I can to amuse and entertain you and let other people speak freely, as I have in the past."[6]

Paar's departure

Jack Paar left the show in March 1962, citing the fact that he could no longer handle the load of putting on an hour and forty-five minute show a night, four nights a week. Fridays were "Best Of Paar" repeats. To fulfill the rest of his NBC contract, Paar hosted a prime-time variety series, The Jack Paar Program and aired weekly, on Friday nights, through 1965.

As for Tonight, Johnny Carson was chosen as Paar's successor. At the time, Carson was host of the weekday afternoon quiz show Who Do You Trust? on ABC. Because Carson was under contract to "Trust" through September (they held him to his contract until the day it expired, prompting him to make occasional wisecracks on Who Do You Trust? about the situation- "I'd like to welcome you to ABC...the network with a heart"), he could not take over as host until October 1, 1962. The months between Paar and Carson were taken by a series of guest hosts, including Groucho Marx, Jerry Lewis, Jack Carter and Mort Sahl. The show was broadcast under the title The Tonight Show during this interregnum.

As the years passed, Carson too became weary of the show's length and struggled to fill so much airtime, so as local newscasts expanded, Tonight was shortened to 90 minutes, and then to the current 60 minutes after Carson renegotiated his contract in 1980. Carson also arranged for the use of guest hosts and reruns during the week so that he only had to appear three times per week and sometimes during sweeps, four times a week (a practice that has since been abandoned in the Leno and O'Brien hosting runs, due to increased competition). Thus, by 1982, Carson had 180 minutes of airtime to fill in a week compared to 525 minutes Paar had to fill, reducing the work load by nearly two thirds.

See also


  3. "Conan O'Brien Just Filmed an Episode in Cuba". Variety. February 15, 2015. Retrieved February 15, 2015.
  4. 1 2 3 4 "Late Night". Pioneers of Television, January 9, 2008.
  5. Thomas, William (April 10, 2014). The great comeback quip: leave it to the pros. Ellicottville Times. Retrieved April 28, 2014.
  6. 1 2 "Jack Paar's Water Closet Joke". Censorship & Scandals. TV ACRES.
  7. 1 2 Susman, Gary (January 27, 2004). "Tonight Show icon Jack Paar dies". Entertainment Weekly. Retrieved October 15, 2009.
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