Wednesday 14 December 2011

Past Paarticiple

Jack Paar was a whiner.

I’m not referring to how he walked out on his late night TV audience because NBC censored his joke about a water closet. I’m not referring to his spat with Ed Sullivan, where he called Mr. Toast of the Town “a liar.” No, I’m going back even further.

Paar came out of the Army and was handed a network radio career by Jack Benny, who saw him overseas. But in almost every newspaper column I can find from his radio days (his first TV appearance was in 1951), he’s complaining about something. He’s complaining about poor Jack Paar and how everyone’s doing him wrong.

Want an example? Here’s one from the United Press from 1950 where he, basically, says his audience is stupid.

Comic Jack Paar Returns to Radio
With Lower I. Q., Down to Earth Gags
HOLLYWOOD, July 26.—(UP)—Comic Jack Paar confessed today he was a flop in Hollywood until he lowered his I. Q. and didn’t go in for “intelligent” gags any more.
Paar, once heralded as the funniest guy in show business, is back on the radio after two years of being “broke and hungry.”
He hadn't had a pay check since he left R. K. O. where he sat for three years, with pay, doing practically nothing. And he hadn’t had a radio job since he made a hit with the critics as a summer replacement for Jack Benny’s show three years ago.
+ + +
“I’VE STOPPED trying to make people think while they laugh,” he explained. “I’ve quit being clever or new.
“People don’t want new gags. You can’t change show business. They want to hear the same old thing. They feel inferior if you make them think too much. If you give them something different they say it’s corny.
“Before, I was cold and satirical. Now, on the radio I talk about my baby, and they die laughing.”
Paar originally was discovered when, as a buck private entertainer, he verbally ripped Army brass with insults other GIs just thought about. After the war R. K. O. signed him before he got his Army boots off. Then he sat home and cashed a pay check every week for doing nothing.
“THEY WOULDN’T even let me park my car inside the studio,” he complained.
Once he was so sure the studio was going to drop him he insulted top movie brass at a studio party.
“I said the publicity chief ran a forest lawn with typewriters,” he said.
Dore Schary, then R. K. O. production chief, thought Paar was so funny he signed him up for another year.
Paar finally got in a movie, “Weep No More,” which he says is awful. He also landed the plum job of subbing for Benny.
He won every show business magazine award that year as the best comic on the air.
“Those awards were the kiss of death. I never worked again,” he said. “My wife’s family is well-to-do and they kept us going, or we wouldn’t have eaten.”
He finally got a foot back in the door and replaced Eddie Cantor on NBC’s “Take It or Leave It.”
“I discovered what the critics like isn’t what the people like,” he said. “I’ve stopped acting intelligent.”

An example of his “intelligent” humour? Well, one joke involved him looking at a photo of Paulette Goddard in a brief evening gown, then remarking “It that dress were a book it would be banned in Boston.”

It seems strange that someone like Jack Benny would hand his top-rated show to someone like Paar, but that’s what happened on June 1, 1947. Benny had his cast insult him. Paar insulted everybody but Paar. Sure, Don Rickles has insulted people for years. But he always made it known he wasn’t serious. That isn’t the impression one gets from Paar. Here’s a column from a couple of weeks after he debuted on the Benny show.

By Erskine Johnson
NEA Staff Correspondent
HOLLYWOOD, June 17—Hollywood’s newest comedy sensation, Jack Paar, landed in the movies because, as a GI entertainer during the war, he insulted army brass hats from one end of the Pacific to the other.
To a base command officer: “The only way you'll ever get the purple heart is if you get caught between two desks coming together.”
The tens of thousands of men Jack entertained in the Pacific will be happy to hear that he is now insulting the brass hats in Hollywood.
To Producer Sid Rogell: “I just saw a trailer of your latest picture. If you haven’t made it, don’t.”
But the Pacific veterans will be unhappy to hear that Hollywood hasn’t figured out what to do with Jack Paar. Sure, he’s a hit on the radio now as Jack Benny’s summer replacement.
“I’ve got enough money to last for the rest of my life. If I commit suicide at noon tomorrow.”
But after eight months under contract to R-K-O, Jack Paar still hasn’t appeared in a movie.
Jack, 29, who describes himself as “an aging Donald O’Connor,” did some film tests by himself.
“They were terrific,” says Jack, who has as much self-assurance as he has jokes. “Then they gave me a director and that mixed me up. He started talking about shading and reading my lines with tempo and stuff like that.
“I haven’t got any shading I’ve got four speeds—fast or slow or soft or loud.”
Some people refer to Jack as a “young Fred Allen.” Jack likes that. Fred is his idol. In fact, someone was trying to embarrass him in front of Fred at a New York cocktail party.
"You know, Fred, this Paar fellow worships you like a god.”
To which Fred replied, “What a shame. Five hundred churches in New York and he’s an atheist.”
It was Jack Paar’s irreverence to brass hats, as we said, and of just about everything else out in the Pacific during the war, that brought him to Hollywood’s attention.
Jack was a radio announcer in Cleveland and Buffalo when he was drafted into the army. It soon got around that he was a very funny fellow. He was sent around eastern camps to entertain troops. Then he was assigned to a special service unit of GI talent. For months he and his troupe toured the Pacific foxholes.
Jack became a hero to heroes. He got bigger writeups in the army papers than stars like Benny or Hope or Jack Carson. Paar was just one of the boys—a GI with enough nerve to insult the brass hats.
To a lieutenant who kept talking out loud during one of his shows: “Lieutenant, a man with your I.Q. should have a low voice, too.”
To a commanding officer: “My dear sir, and you are none of the three.
To a noisy captain: “You be quiet or I’ll take your shovel away and you won’t have any fun at the beach tomorrow.”

13 years later, NBC told him to be quiet or they’d take his water closet joke away. He didn’t think that was funny, told his audience they’ve have to do without him and left the studio to let announcer Hugh Downs somehow follow an act like that and fill the rest of the show. Paar may have idolised Fred Allen, who never concealed his dislike for network executives, idiotic sponsor decisions and inane radio programming, but Allen never walked out on his audience because of it. Paar did.

Fred Allen’s remembered, at least by those who still remember him, as a clever analogist and a benevolent man. Paar isn’t. And if he were still with us, he might just whine about that.

1 comment:

  1. Allen's work was sardonic and cynical -- it was a darker style of comedy than others on radio at the time, and a style that was closer to the "been there, done that" ethos of comedians that really started showing up by the end of the 1960s and continues to this day (Fred Allen, the original hipster?). Jack Parr on the other hand was always interested in showing you how clever Jack Parr was; it was like crossing the conversationalist comedy/interview style of Dick Cavett with the anger of Bill Maher (though I assume if Parr were on HBO today, he would probably be allowed to do the water closet joke).