Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Jack Paar Uncensored

Jack Parr is best known for his tenure as the host of the Tonight Show. He did a short run guest-hosting the Jack Benny Radio program in 1946 and NBC thought he was their man. They offered him a job as host of the Tonight Show in 1957. Like every other host of that program, he'd done his time in radioland.

Even though it was Quiz shows that made his career and paved his transition into Television Paar scorned them repeatedly. Paar thought more highly of comedy than trivia. He wrote in the autobiography I Kid You Not:
"I couldn't compete with the big quizzes, passing out loot with the abandon of a dying tycoon with a guilty conscience. What concerned me more, though, was that the big money quiz shows began killing off some of the few good comedy shows."
Paar was born in Canton, Ohio in 1918. The broadcasting industry as we know it didn't even exist. His first job in radio was at WIBM-AM in Jackson Michigan. WIBM signed on in 1927. Paar's part-time gig as an announcer wasn't until 1934. He was 16, and they paid him $3 a week to do a news program called The Town Crier. He was fired for getting snarky on air. Paar moved on to WIRE-AM in 1935. He had a short tenure there and at a number of other stations including WJR-AM, WGAR-AM, WKBN-AM, and WBEN-AM.

He got to Cleveland in 1938 to start work at 1220 WGAR-AM. He was the youngest announcer in the CBS network. The station was based in the Statler Hotel. In the basement of the Statler was Otto's Grotto a genuine rock n' roll club which would gain much fame later on. It was on Paar's shift that Orson Welles radio play "War of the World's first aired. Paar fielded the panicked calls and chose to take it off air. His PD ordered it to resume. Paar has to assure people that the world was not coming to an end. He stayed on for 4 more years. He then went to WBEN in Buffalo but was drafted after only two years. After returning from WWII he got his big break filling in on the Jack Benny Radio program. But that wasn't a shoe-in. NBC had a plan and it wasn't for a steady gig. In 1950 he was the emcee of "Take It Or Leave It" another radio game show replacing Eddie Cantor. He worked simultaneously as a substitute on The Breakfast Club filling for Don McNeill. RKO cut him and he ended up on unemployment.

he did another quiz show for CBS called "Bank on the Stars". In 1952 he got his own TV game show "Up to Paar". That was followed by his own variety show "The Jack Paar Show" in 1953, and strangely replaced Walter Cronkite on the CBS morning show in 1954. They canceled that on him too. But it was all well in the end as he took over the Tonight Show in 1957.