In Memoriam: Jack Paar
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JIM LEHRER: Before we go tonight, remembering Jack Paar, who died today. He was the man who essentially invented late night talk on television. He was the host of NBC’s “Tonight Show” from 1957 to ’62. And some of his most memorable segments came in the election year of 1960 when he brought on several leading politicians of the day.
Here is an excerpt of an “American Masters” documentary recalling that period. The program is called “Jack Paar: As I Was Saying.”
PAUL KEYES, Writer/Producer: Jack reached out and offered John F. Kennedy, would he like to come on for … as a guest interview, and he told him he would be inviting also Richard Nixon. John Kennedy, rest his soul, he accepted. He was charming. He was wonderful. He was funny. He was breezy. He was one of the most important men in the world. It opened up a new thing for Jack.
JACK PAAR: May I ask you so that I don’t look too naive, a tough question right off the bat?
JOHN F. KENNEDY: Whether I’m a Democrat or a Republican? ( Laughter )
JACK PAAR: Would it be rude of me if I called you John?
JOHN F. KENNEDY: That would be fine.
JACK PAAR: Because if you make it, it would be nice for my daughter to know that we have this arrangement, you know. ( Applause )
JACK PAAR: We had the best audience we’ve had here in for a long time.
BARRY GOLDWATER: It’s the best show you’ve had for a long time.
HUGH DOWNS: Paar did not have a political or ideological ax to grind, but in exposing all of these persuasions, he educated the people more than they are now educated by television with these phony debates which aren’t really debates, and the paid political announcements which are an abomination. I long for the “Tonight Show” with that atmosphere. I think the public learned more about politicians then than they are able to now and Jack was responsible for a lot of that.
JACK PAAR: Mr. Nixon plays the piano. I heard from a friend of his that he wrote a composition. Would you bring a piano out here, if we can do this? We had Mrs. Nixon, Pat, had a tape recorder going one afternoon and she quietly said to Mr. Nixon, “Why don’t you play an old piece?” She recorded it. That’s okay. Mr. Nixon is aware of that. This is not one of those trick surprises.
But the funny thing is we have hired about 15 Democratic violinists to fill out the… ( laughter ) we’re spending more money for this orchestra than we’ve ever spent in our life. And Jose has made a concerto arrangement of this hinky-dinky song you wrote. Would you play it for us?
RICHARD NIXON: Let me say this.
JACK PAAR: Do you have a title?
RICHARD NIXON: Oh, no. You asked a moment ago whether I had any future political plans to run for anything. If last November didn’t finish it, this will, because believe me, the Republicans don’t want another piano player in the White House.
JIM LEHRER: Jack Paar was 85 years old.