Wednesday, 3 December 2014

The World Against Jack Paar

To paraphrase the immortal Ralph Wiggum: “Jack Paar fail? That’s umpossible!”

Paar’s attitude was if things didn’t go right, it was someone else’s fault. Film career fizzled? Blame RKO. His big radio show tanked? Blame Jack Benny and the people who owned it. Can’t think of how to talk on the air with a housewife? Blame the housewife and the producers who put her on. Think Fred Allen’s a fast wit? He’s not, and blame the listener who thinks he is. Don’t agree with reporters? They’re the ones to blame.

Jack Paar was a first-class whiner and enormously full of self-pity. It’s no surprise, then, the biggest memory he left behind was when he walked out on his audience. NBC’s picking on poor little Jack Paar by censoring his joke, boo-hoo-hoo, was his attitude.

New York Herald-Tribune columnist John Crosby found the whole thing sad. He appreciated Paar’s cleverness—the thing which got him on the “Tonight Show” in the first place—but seemed forlorn over Paar’s completely unnecessary woe-is-me attitude. Here’s a column from June 23, 1950 when Paar was hosting a game show.

Radio in Review
By JOHN CROSBY

Three years ago, a young ex-G. I. comic named Jack Paar made quite a splash in radio as the summer replacement for Jack Benny. He possessed an appealing personality, a subtle and original vein of humor and self-confidence. These qualities won him a regular winter show of his own, “The Jack Paar Show,” sponsored, by Lucky Strike, and a three-year contract with RKO to make pictures. For a 27-year-old comedian, the future looked rosy. Then the bottom fell out.
“I was the beginning of the Benny capital gains arrangement,” said Paar, now a rather bitter young not nearly so confident as he once was. “Benny had 20 per cent of the show, my agent had 10, the advertising agency had 15. I was split up more ways than Poland. The Hooper didn't justify the cost, so I was dropped.”
Madder and Madder
Things were no better at RKO. Paar made one picture and then sat on his hands for three years, getting madder and madder. He couldn't find any work in radio until recently when he took over the emcee chores on “Take It or It” from Eddie Cantor. Not long ago, he was asked whether he planned to continue on that ancient quiz show the subtle mockery which had won him general critical praise and a great many awards on his earlier show. The answer was negative and savage.
“I'm never going to do that kind of comedy again,” said Paar bitterly, “I want to work. The heck with the awards on my wall. I have a wife and a baby and a house in California. I had a lot of important people on my side. I had my chance and failed. I can't listen to John Crosby or ‘The New Yorker’ any more. You can't do it if there's nobody to listen to it. The pattern in radio is the same thing every week. I say, do a broad format like ‘Take It or Leave It.’ I know it has a mass appeal.”
He ruminated a moment, darkly, and then expressed a few forcible and unflattering opinions of reporters in general. He's convinced that a reporter will lambast him in print unless he agrees with the reporter politically and every other way. Writers, he declared, squat in their ivory towers while actors have to struggle for everything they get. And actors are more sensitive than other people. “I don't care,” he added. “You can't lose me my 13 weeks with Eversharp.” (Sponsor of “Take It or Leave It.”)
Frightened!
He dropped the subject of writers and brooded for awhile about the profession of emcee. “I don't know what I'll do. I keep dreaming of a woman saying, ‘I'm a time I housewife.’ And I just freeze. What do I say then? She's a housewife. It's frightening and I'm frightened. I hope people realize it won't be Jack Paar at his best.
Paar is not entirely happy over the recognition given Groucho Marx for his extemporaneous wit which, he claims, is turned out by three writers and is thoroughly written and rehearsed. “The best things Fred Allen or anyone has done are not extemporaneous. They're written—at 3 in the morning, usually.”
In this mood and with these attitudes, which seem hardly propitious to re-launch a career in radio, Mr. Paar a couple of weeks ago stepped into Mr. Cantor's shoes on “Take It or Leave It” where he is strictly on trial. After 13 weeks, “Take It or Leave It” will take Mr. Paar or leave him. In spite of his fears, he has been a very good emcee indeed. Somewhere between the interview and his first appearance, he has learned what to say when a woman says: “I'm a housewife.” (You jolly them along, flirt a little and laugh a lot.) He has learned to bandy witticisms with Shriners who would have been strictly on the receiving end to the old Jack Paar.
Paar still has a very engaging personality with a bit of the exuberance of Bob Hope, a bit of the winsome, naive quality of Alan Young. Occasionally, you'll find flashes of the dreamy, satiric and strikingly-different comedy which first drew attention to him. Paar can't completely suppress himself no matter how hard he tries. There's no particular point in going into “Take It or Leave It.” You must have heard it. It is one of those quizzes which are neither very hard nor very easy. More ingenuity and hard work is required to dream, up the questions for this quiz than to think up the answers.
Eversharp, I think, made a wise choice in Paar. I hope they keep him on beyond the 13 weeks as long as he wants to stay. Whether Eversharp does or doesn't I find the whole affair a little sad.

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