November 21st, 2006
Jack Paar
About Jack Paar

“I’m complicated, sentimental, lovable, honest, loyal, decent, generous, likable, and lonely. My personality is not split, it’s shredded.”

Television and radio pioneer Jack Paar has been called the most imitated personality in broadcasting. He virtually created the late-night talk show format as the host of THE TONIGHT SHOW, one of televisions longest running programs. Of him, the WASHINGTON POST said, “Jack Paar was genuine, and the footprints he left on the loony moonscape of television are enormous; they will be there forever.”

Jack Paar began his career in broadcasting as a young radio announcer in Cleveland and throughout the Midwest. During World War II, as part of a special services company that entertained troops in the South Pacific, he honed his talents as a monologist. In the early 1950s as an actor and comedian, he briefly tried his talents in the movies, including an appearance in the 1951 film LOVE NEST with then relatively unknown actress Marilyn Monroe. He made numerous appearances on Jack Benny’s radio show and such programs as THE ED SULLIVAN SHOW.

Throughout the early 1950s, Paar made regular television appearances and even hosted a game show, UP TO PAAR, and a morning variety show, THE JACK PAAR SHOW. It was not, however, until 1957 that he became the king of late-night television as host of THE TONIGHT SHOW. Eventually Paar’s popularity prompted NBC to rename it THE JACK PAAR SHOW. While Steve Allen had been THE TONIGHT SHOW’s first host, Paar turned it from a typical variety format to something completely different. With a rare combination of intelligence, irreverence, and intuition, he invented a new genre of programming that would become a mainstay of modern broadcasting.

Paar helped launch the careers of such performers as Carol Burnett, Woody Allen and Liza Minnelli, but his guests weren’t limited to the glitterati. He discussed religion with Billy Graham, visited with Albert Schweitzer in Africa, and talked politics with Richard Nixon, all before the transfixed eyes of the American television audience. He was an engaging and sentimental personality, who gained the immediate appreciation of his audience and his guests. Of him, Bill Cosby said, “I found him to be a very, very wonderful man, and intellectually funny — able to take a moment, realize it, and say something that was absolutely brilliant. He wouldn’t want to ‘play anybody cheap.’ He’s wanted to get the best out of each and every performer.”

Paar’s career was not without turbulence and controversy, however. He was criticized for his interview with Fidel Castro in Cuba, and he caused an international incident when he broadcast his show from Berlin as the wall went up. He had countless feuds with columnists like Walter Winchell and Dorothy Kilgallen, and even quit the show briefly in 1960 after one of his jokes had been edited out without his knowledge. Almost in tears and clearly angry, Paar looked into the camera and said, “I am leaving THE TONIGHT SHOW. There must be a better way of making a living than this.” Though he returned to the show a few weeks later, he remained ill at ease with the executives.

In 1962, Paar left the show permanently. After five successful years, he’d become weary of the grind of nightly television and sniping by the press. Paar wanted to spend more time with his wife and daughter and to branch out and travel. From 1962 to 1965, Paar hosted a weekly prime time variety show that retained much of the famous Paar charm. By the late 1960s, he reappeared once again, this time as the producer of prime time documentaries introducing Americans to the interesting curiosities and cultures of Japan, Africa, Asia, Europe, and more. It was this keen inquisitive nature that made his early shows so great and for which he will long be remembered.

Jack Paar died on January 27th, 2004 at the age of 85.

To order a copy of Jack Paar, please visit the American Masters Shop.

  • Marvin Dickman

    The American Masters page on Jack Paar says the program can be ordered in the Shop, but when I search there, I come up empty. Is this program still available?


  • Douglas A. Walters

    Mr. Dickman,
    It’s been years since I saw the American Masters episode on Mr. Paar, but the title was ‘Jack Paar: ‘As I Was Saying…’ If you’re still hunting, look for ‘Jack Paar: ‘As I Was Saying..& More’. It’s currently available at among other places Barnes & Noble. (It’s the very same documentary that PBS aired, but with a few dvd extras, one of which is the infamous “Water closet” joke.) Happy hunting and best wishes!

  • Jean Fitzgerald

    To this day he is still my all time favorite talk show host. In addition to other talents, he had charm in abundance. Current talk show hosts, while interesting, don’t seem to have the charm.

  • Linda Woolfson

    Could you please tell me in which year the magician Max Raskin appeared on the jack Paar Show?


    Linda Woolfson.

  • Bobby Dias

    Real nice guy on and off stage. I appeared on his tv show 3 or 4 times, I was known locally(California) and nationally as Kissing Bobby., usually ranked higher nationally as an entertainer than the singers and actors of the days of the mid-1950s to early 1960s. First appearance was in an old warehouse while a modern studio was being built. One appearance I was surprised by Jack during a pause for them to insert a commercial by Jack walking off the set and pointing to his seat and papers for me to read about the other guests. That show was good enough for them to offer me a contract to do 32,34 or 38 shows a year, 2 shows each day- years before Johnny Carson was considered . Pay was good $150,000 a year plus expenses which included an appartment in or near Burbank, my choice. I turned them down saying that I had much work scheduled in starting up some lake and coastal recreation places in California. Not really a tough choice between all that money and zero for all those recreation places- for me.

  • Diane Mahnken

    Jack Paar did not start his career in broadcasting in Cleveland; he actually started his career in Jackson, Michigan at WIBM. Apparently something happened in Jackson to push Paar to go to another radio station in Michigan. From the other station in Michigan, he went to work at other mid-western cities including Cleveland.

    My dad was younger than Paar, but I always had the impression he knew Parr. He told me that Paar got himself in to some kind of trouble, and he left Jackson because of it. My dad didn’t go into any detail, but I always felt that my dad knew what happened to make Paar leave. What my dad knew a person, he always kept the details to himself, so that is why I was not told any more.

  • Bud

    I often stayed-up too late to watch Jack’s nightly shows, as he along with his many regular guests was true entertainment. Never realizing how much I missed his extraordinary honesty and great abilities, as Bill Cosby so eloquently stated, until I was able to see documentaries on PBS about Mr. Parr. I’m sure he’s back in his natural environs now, entertaining many in Heaven……..

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