What Did My Parents Ever See in Jack Paar?

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What Did My Parents Ever See in Jack Paar? - Gara LaMarche, 1973I WATCHED “Jack Paar Tonite” for its entire premiere week, and I don’t know why I kept coming back again each night. I guess I could put it down to that better part of my nature which makes me root for the underdog, but I suspect it goes beyond that. I think it has something to do with the peculiar quality, of generosity or loyalty which makes me stick around to see if a bad performance gets better. At today’s prices, a theatergoer feels dutybound to remain in his seat until the end of a play or movie. But a television viewer who sits through all 90 minutes of an often embarrassingly bad show must have a soft spot in his heart someplace.

In Paar’s case, he is the culture hero of over a decade ago trying to make it again with a fresh new generation. Kids for whom Jack Paar is only a legend are watching him to see why their parents thought him so different, so funny, so controversial I am one of them. And I kept tuning in long after most of my friends had given up on Jack Paar because I want to see him make it again and prove our parents right for a change. I’m afraid I’m going to be disappointed.

In the first place, Jack Paar is the prototypical talk show host. His comic influence is evident in his “Tonight Show” successor, Johnny Carson, and certainly in his friend and prot6ge Dick Cavett. And the desk ‐ couch ‐ sidekick talkstandup comic ‐ talk ‐ movie plug‐more talk‐commercial after commercial after commercial ‐ “tomorrow night our guests will be . . .” format, so novel at the advent of the talk show “genre,” is familiar and dreary to most viewers by now. Paar is due great credit for establishing good wit and conversation as a viable television entertainment, but if he is going to wow ’em the second time around he is certainly not going to do it with an exciting and inventive format. Likewise, his sense of humor and his apinterviewing have been so widely Imitated that often it seems he’s stealing for Cavett.

In the end, Paar’s biggest problem remains himself. It does no good to say he’s obnoxious or egotistical or arrogant—that is a part of Jack Paar he can’t change. You either love him or leave him, but it’s always been that way. No, the greatest disappointment upon rediscovering Jack Paar after his 10‐year absence from the screen is that he seems stuck in time, to borrow Kurt Vonnegut’s phrase. He could have spent the last 10 years marooned on a South Sea island or frozen in a block of ice on the northern coast of Greenland, because he doesn’t seem to have experienced the sixties along with the rest of us. Jack Paar is still fifties

Paar’s frequent tirades on long hair, jeans, nudity, marijuana and other popular topics of conversation at the corner bar or American Legion Hall may win over the Al Capp fans, but they’re an immediate turnoff for anyone with a healthy consciousness — the type of audience I presume he aims for. The amazing aspect of it all is that Paar doesn’t just exploit superficial issues like pot and long hair for their comic value. He looks upon these fleeting trends in fashion, life‐style and mores with an incredulousness I find upsetting for a man of his apparent intelligence and perception.

Where has he been these past 10 years? Hasn’t he been to movies or plays, watched television, read the papers? On his third or fourth show, Paar expressed great surprise at having gotten that far without a libel suit or a censorship problem. How can a man who stormed off television 12 years ago in a dispute over network censorship of his use of the phrase “water closet” expect to raise any eyebrows in 1973? After “Hair”? After “The Graduate”? After “All in the Family”? The media have changed a lot in the past decade. Nothing is too touchy for discussion, if not for display.

Jack Paar doesn’t seem able to cope with the seven ties. He gives the impression of a dazed man visiting the future who can’t quite believe his eyes and ears. A crash course in consciousnessraising might help, but I’m not sure. Perhaps all those years with the tigers in Africa have gotten to him.

But maybe he deserves a better deal from me. My young sensitivities were assaulted when he couldn’t get past calling Goldie Hawn a “cute, sweet thing” and treat her like a human being. Or when he cut off Peggy Cass’s remarks about “Last Tango in Paris” (a lot of nudity and sex in the new Bertolucci film) saying he’d heard all he wanted to hear. But I don’t suppose he strikes everyone the way he strikes me.

After all, he was a great celebrity for several years and a major factor in his success is that the people who love him love him enough to put up with things they would tolerate in no one else but Jack Paar. Who else could get away with showing home movies each night? (And of tigers, no less?) Could another host drop names the way Paar does (“Young John Kennedy was in this film, but his mother asked me to leave him out . . .”) or call every guest his “great good friend”? I don’t think so. There is a bewildering sincerity in Paar that makes it all seem credible. He must be doing something right.

Now I’m finished with my assessment of “Jack Paar Tonite” and I’m beginning to feel cocky and a bit presumptuous. A little guilty, even. Who am I to be critical of a “television giant”? (Will I arouse the ire of the Kennedys too?) Why, I was still in diapers when he was keeping my parents up late and postponing my brothers and sisters. Well, it will do no good to hesitate. I’m going to type this up and send it in before I think better of it, because it is an honest assessment. And a generous one at that going to tune in for a while longer —Paar’s second week starts tomorrow night — and see how Jack Paar adjusts to 1973. But I’m not so sure about my friends. For many, of them, Jack Paar has already been relegated to a place in their parents’ reminiscences along with coonskin coats, swing music and . . . tigers, I guess.