Jack Paar; Tonight Show
February 11, 1960: Jack Paar walks off a live telecast of the Tonight Show. The day before, Paar told a risqué joke. It was censored before broadcast. Rather than the joke, the network opted to include some news coverage and didn’t inform the star of the change in plans. While the joke does contain some double entendres, they are mild by today’s standards. The times were different and the network acted in what they thought was a reasonable manner. Paar told Hugh Downs, the announcer, before the show that he was quitting. In the middle of the show Paar walked off.
Downs initially thought Paar was kidding and waited for his return. It became obvious it wasn’t a joke and Downs was left to finish the show. Paar left the country to travel and his unusual departure became national news. His friend, Jonathan Winters, a stand-up comedian, encouraged Paar to return. He reappeared, back as host of the show, on March 7. He admitted his impetuousness and hoped to do better.
He was controversial before this. In 1959 he interviewed Fidel Castro and in December of that year asked Mickey Rooney to leave the show when he was obviously drunk. In 1961, he was in Germany as the Berlin Wall was going up. He had some public feuds with some other stars, notably Ed Sullivan and Walter Winchell. Paar had a loyal fan base as well as regular guests such as Cliff Arquette [playing Charlie Weaver], Peggy Cass, and Dody Goodman. He also introduced the idea of a “guest host” and had Johnny Carson relieve him on occasion.
Paar enjoyed the humor and entertainment portion of the show, but also wanted a more intellectual aspect. He had brilliant speakers on such as Peter Ustinov and William F. Buckley, Jr. The show lasted 105 minutes at the time and was broadcast five days per week. Paar was emotional and unpredictable. Putting the show together five times a week was a strain for all involved. He was “bone tired” of the grind, according to TV Guide. He quit hosting the show for good on March 29, 1962 – but in a more conventional manner. He had replaced Steve Allen as host and would be followed by Johnny Carson.
“An English lady is visiting Switzerland. She asks about the location of the ‘W.C.’ The Swiss, thinking she is referring to the ‘Wayside Chapel’, leaves her a note that said (in part) ‘the W.C. is situated nine miles from the room that you will occupy… It is capable of holding about 229 people and it is only open on Sunday and Thursday… It may interest you to know that my daughter was married in the W.C. and it was there that she met her husband… I shall be delighted to reserve the best seat for you, if you wish, where you will be seen by everyone.’” – the infamous joke
“I am leaving The Tonight Show. There must be a better way of, uh, making a living than this.” – Jack Paar, just before walking off the show.
“As I was saying before I was interrupted…” – Jack Paar, on his return
“When I walked off, I said there must be a better way of making a living. Well, I’ve looked… and there isn’t.” – Jack Paar