Closeup Jack Paars Walk Off The Set Of The Tonight Show February

Here is Paar's own account of his "walk" off the set of The Tonight Show after the censorship of one of his jokes:

One night, in February 1960,1 read something that I thought was funny in an earthy, outhouse genre, yet rather sophisticated in its double entendre. I told a harmless story, the kind of story that could practically be read at a Wednesday-night church social. [The joke played on the use of "W.C." in England to stand for "wayside chapel" as well as ''water closet," or toilet.] An NBC censor ordered the three-minute segment cut and re placed it with news bulletins. I never knew the story was cut until I got home and watched the show.37

At that point Paar was outraged when he saw the censorship that had taken place, without his consent, on his show. He was even more angered when he read press accounts that the joke that had been taken out was "obscene." He was under a lot of pressure at the time, and he blew up at the network hierarchy itself.

I called NBC's president and asked him to review the tape. He did, said it was harmless, and that I was to forget it. I insisted that since he felt it was harmless or mildly questionable, I should be allowed to rerun the edited portion the following night I was told by Bob Kintner, the president of NBC, not to be so thin-skinned and sensitive. He said it was a mistake to cut it in view of the trouble it caused, but their decision would have to stand. ... I knew the only thing to do would be to explain my position to the audience that night and then walk off the show.

And that's what Paar did—to front-page headlines. Hugh Downs, Paar's announcer and sidekick, was as stunned as everyone else when Paar left the show after only three minutes. Downs later said that he thought Paar would reappear, and was surprised that he had to continue the show alone.This show too, like the one in which the "water closet" joke had been edited, had been taped "as-if live" before an audience, and immediately the question arose as to whether or not the network would allow the show to air.There was a tense standoff afterward, as Downs recalls the meeting:

It was seriously discussed to run a movie and not to run that tape and I said that if you don't run that tape, I quit. It would be like going out to cover a blizzard and freezing two fingers off and not having them run the recording.38

Whether it was Downs' self-proclaimed forcefulness or other factors that tipped the balance, the network decided to run the tape.

The rest of the story is not so well known, though Paar recounted the aftermath in his memoirs.

For days my home was surrounded by press cars, television crews, and police to protect the property Bob Hope and Jack Benny called and said it was the damnedest publicity stunt ever in show business. This really hurt, as there was no thought of publicity. .. .The truth was that I became quite ill. My wife knew we had to get away somehow, but for two days we could not open our front door.39

The Paar family managed to suppress news of the host's breakdown and whisked him off by private plane to a secluded hotel in Palm Beach. ''I wanted to watch the Tonight program but was kept so sedated that I could never stay awake,'' Paar says. In all, it was ''the most melancholy experience" he had ever had in television.40

After days of frantic searching, network officials were tipped off to his whereabouts. Paar tells the story of his discovery:

I was sitting out by the empty pool, wondering what I was going to do with my life, when I saw a large limousine pull into the driveway. I thought it was the press and began running down the road. Two men got out of the car and yelled, ''Jack, we want to talk to you."

I recognized the two men as Bob Kintner and Bob Sarnoff, the top two men of the National Broadcasting Company. I felt very foolish, since I liked both of them, and walked back. Either Bob (Kintner or Sarnoff) explained that the National Broadcasting Company was not going to release me from the contract. I had become an important personality to the network . . .They then said something that I did not know: Miriam [Paar's wife], whom everyone loves, had phoned them and told them where we were hiding and that she was worried about my emotional state. They wanted me to go away for a while and forget the program. They did not want me back in New York for a few weeks. But then I had to return and fulfill my commitment.41

Paar and his wife went to Hong Kong for a two-week vacation. He returned to the United States and his show approximately a month after he had gone off the air. He returned with the line, ''As I was saying," and that night The Tonight Show garnered the highest ratings it had ever had.

Jack Paar remained host of Tonight until March 1962, when he decided he was finally worn out by the network's constant interference. By this time not only had the thin-skinned, ever-surprising Jack Paar established late-night talk as a site of intimate late-night conversation with a range of celebrities and performers, he had also—inadvertently perhaps—demonstrated ''star power'' in television talk. It was a lesson others, Johnny Carson principal among them, would heed.

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