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review added: 3/30/04



The Jack Paar Collection
Various (2004) - Shout! Factory

review by John D. Babcock III, special to The Digital Bits

The Jack Paar Collection Program Rating: A

Disc Ratings (Video/Extras): B/B/A

Specs and Features

384 mins, NR, full frame (1.33:1), 3 single-sided, single-layered discs, custom case packaging, Smart Television: The Best of Jack Paar documentary, 7 video interviews (with The Smothers Brothers, Dick Cavett, Jonathan Winters, Regis Philbin, Hugh Downs, Hal Gurnee and Richard Kennedy), various TV excerpts featuring Paar and guests, 6 complete interviews (with Richard M. Nixon, Cassius Clay, Liberace, Billy Graham, Sen. Barry Goldwater and Attorney General Robert F. Kennedy), 6 complete Paar monologues, 3 complete episodes of The Jack Paar Program (featuring Bette Davis, Jonathan Winters and Gisele MacKenzie [11/16/1962], Richard Burton, Bill Cosby and Arthur Godfrey [5/08/1964] and Judy Garland, Robert Morley and Randolph Churchill [12/11/1964]), program-themed menu screens, chapter access (various), languages: English (DD mono), subtitles: none

"And now, here's Jack!"

There isn't a late night talk show that hasn't been influenced by Jack Paar. He laid the groundwork and created the format that is still used more than half a century later. In fact, any time a television program puts together a host, some guests, a desk and a couch, they're borrowing the idea from Paar. I make this point because his effect on television simply can't be overstated.

Jack Paar began his career as an announcer in radio, and worked for such stations as WIBM, Jackson, MI, WIRE, Indianapolis, IN, WGAR, Cleveland, OH and WBEN, Buffalo, NY. During World War II, he volunteered for the Army and served in the Pacific. Paar's primary roll in the Army was providing entertainment to boost morale. He, along with other GIs, would perform their shows from island to island, playing one-night stands. Paar found he received the biggest laughs from these audiences when poking fun at officers. Most of the time, the officers were good sports. However, during one performance at a Naval hospital, he told a joke that crossed the line - at least to one Navy officer. The show had been delayed until a certain Commodore arrived, and Paar was getting restless. When the Commodore finally showed up, a USO girl had accompanied him. Paar quipped, "You wouldn't think that one man and a broad would hold up five thousand men." The audience erupted in laughter. Paar followed up that comment by saying, "The USO girls were supposed to do the Dance of the Virgins for you, but they went to the Officers' Club last night and broke their contract." Immediately following the close of the show, the Commodore had Paar arrested.

When World War II was over, Jack Paar traveled to Hollywood when a very favorable story about his Army shows by Sidney Carroll appeared in Esquire. He was put under contract with RKO, was a summer replacement for Jack Benny's radio program and made a motion picture titled Love Nest with an up-and-coming Marilyn Monroe. But Hollywood wasn't proving to be very fruitful for Paar. He headed to New York City where he performed in nightclubs, hosted game shows and took over the CBS Morning Show from Walter Cronkite. None of these endeavors proved to be very successful, until finally, in 1957, he was asked to host a nightly show on NBC from 11:15 P.M. to 1 A.M. called Tonight. This was the last chance for the Tonight show before NBC planned to turn the slot over to old "cowboy and indian" movies. Steve Allen had hosted the show prior to this point, but it was more of a variety program and nothing like the late night talk shows we know of now. And that's where Jack Paar changed things.

Fortunately, some of the best highlights of Paar's work are now available on DVD in a 3-disc set from Shout! Factory. The first disc contains the PBS documentary Smart Television: The Best of Jack Paar, which focuses primarily on Paar's eight-year talk show career. It features clips of the people who worked closest with him during those years, including Jonathan Winters, Bill Cosby and Jim Henson's Muppets (it's quite interesting seeing an early Kermit the Frog with a blond wig). There are also great rare moments, including Muhammad Ali (known then as Cassius Clay) reciting a poem while Liberace (known then as Liberace) provides background music on the piano. Other rarities include stand up by Woody Allen, John F. Kennedy (at the time running for President) answering an audience member's question on Communism and Richard M. Nixon playing a song he wrote on the piano. The documentary also includes Paar interviewing Fidel Castro in Havana shortly after Castro came to power in Cuba. I'd seen the clip before, but what struck me upon viewing it this time was the fact that here Paar was, as host of The Tonight Show, interviewing Castro shortly after a revolution in Cuba. I can't imagine David Letterman or Jay Leno traveling to a war torn region to interview anyone. Another thing that struck me about this piece was the honesty and purity of the conversations Paar had with his guests. This format was new at the time. Nothing in Paar's discussions with his guests seems contrived, as opposed to today's talk shows where questions and answers are determined before the show begins taping, and everyone is plugging something. Paar kept his guests on the panel and made sure there was interaction. That's a pretty rare sight these days. As Paar says himself in a clip, "I don't like to be part of an act. It's got to be real."

The second disc contains several complete interviews, as well as some Jack's favorite monologues. The interviews are with Richard M. Nixon (a few months after being defeated in his bid to be Governor of California), Billy Graham, Senator Barry Goldwater (R - AZ, who was running for the Presidential nomination at the time), Attorney General Robert F. Kennedy (less than 4 months after his brother was assassinated) as well as the previously mentioned piece with Muhammad Ali and Liberace. The monologue selections are funny and display Paar's skill and mastery of the art. What I found most interesting here was the Nixon interview. Paar and Richard Nixon were friends, and that's evident in the interview. On display here is a more laid back and humorous side of Nixon that you don't often see.

The third disc provides three complete episodes of The Jack Paar Program from the mid-sixties. Paar's guests on these episodes include Bette Davis, Jonathan Winters, Gisele MacKenzie, Richard Burton, Bill Cosby, Arthur Godfrey, Judy Garland, Robert Morley and Randolph Churchill. These episodes offer a great opportunity to view Paar in action. My favorite was the third episode, which takes place in London and contains Garland's less than favorable opinion of Marlene Deitrich's singing and Morley's defense of pornography: truly interesting talk and a great "slice of life" from an age not so very long ago. As an added bonus, Disc Three contains a rare excerpt of Richard Burton in Hamlet on Broadway.

Overall, I think The Jack Paar Collection is a wonderful set. I recommend it highly to any fan of Paar, or to anyone who might be interested. Each disc in this set contains great moments of not only late night history, but also of political interest, music, art and pop culture. The audio and visual quality is generally very good. There are a few old clips that jump and appear grainy, but that's to be expected with 40-year old footage from the days of black and white television. There's certainly nothing technically that will take away from your enjoying this set. During Paar's interview with Robert Kennedy he holds up a piece of a new technology called "video tape" which, he says, will allow future generations the chance to push a button and see President John F. Kennedy's inaugural address as well as major speeches. Thanks to DVD, those generations will have the opportunity to appreciate Jack Paar on video as well.

John D. Babcock III


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