You won't hear much talk on the network talk shows these days--not much real conversation to broaden the mind or upset the rigid format. In TV's robust youth it was different, in large part because of JACK PAAR, who died last week in Greenwich, Conn., at 85.
Though his tenure as host of The Tonight Show lasted only five years, from 1957 to '62, the former disc jockey and B-movie actor made late-night TV both a habit and an event. He was a hot wire in a cool medium. Many a coffee-break chat would begin with "Did you see what Paar did last night?" He visited Cuba to talk to Castro, and Berlin when the Wall went up; he drew fresh notions from politicians and film idols when such figures were not ubiquitous TV presences. More often, Paar made news by being himself--a softy quick to anger, quick to cry--and by keeping his audience guessing what mood Jack would be in tonight. One night, annoyed by the NBC censor's cutting of a mildly ribald anecdote, he walked off the show. And a month later, he walked back.
After quitting the show for good in 1962, he was host of a weekly hour in prime time that had some inspired guest pairings (Cassius Clay and Liberace) and was the first U.S. network program to feature a Beatles performance. But in May 1965, at 47, he said a last NBC farewell, picking up his trademark stool and walking into the mists of legend. Jack Paar a legend? We kid you not. He was so good that few talk shows since have been up to Paar.
--By Richard Corliss