Jack Paar: The Forgotten Middle Child of “The Tonight Show”

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Today is the birthday of Jack Paar (1918-2004). I’ll admit to you right here and now that my exposure to him has been nearly nil. His time as the “middle caretaker” of The Tonight Show between Steve Allen and Johnny Carson (1957-1962) was before my time. So was Steve Allen’s but somehow Steve Allen always remained very present before the public and even his old clips were always in circulation. Paar was  always well respected. It’s not hard to find critical praise for him; many people consider him more important than Carson. My dad always spoke of him as someone he liked to watch. Dick Cavett had been one of his writers. But Paar had stopped being a regular fixture on television in 1965, and only returned sporadically. And when he did, he was always low key and self-effacing. You gotta toot your own horn in this business, baby!

Paar had gotten his start in radio. In the late 40s and early 50s, he appeared in a very small handful of movies, mostly as emcees in filmed vaudeville format movies. He broke in as a stand-up on the Ed Sullivan show in the early 50s, and hosted CBS’s Morning Show in 1954 before taking over the Tonight Show.

And now, here’s an episode from 1960, with the guests Shelly Berman, Charlie Weaver and Hermione Gingold:

To find out more about the variety arts past and presentconsult No Applause, Just Throw Money: The Book That Made Vaudeville Famousavailable at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and wherever nutty books are sold.

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And don’t miss my new book Chain of Fools: Silent Comedy and Its Legacies from Nickelodeons to Youtube, just released by Bear Manor Media, also available from amazon.com etc etc etc

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