The first host of The Tonight Show , as well as an actor, radio personality and star in his own right, Jack Paar was an early TV pioneer who brought Americans many of the century's most fascinating guests: President John F. Kennedy, Judy Garland, Bill Cosby, Woody Allen and other entertainers and public figures who graced his stage. 3 DVDs. 1957-1965/color-b&w/6 hrs., 40 min/NR/fullscreen. Jack Parr kept a low public profile after turning over the reigns of The Tonight Show
to Johnny Carson in 1962. Thus, his passing in January 2004, did not receive nearly the attention it deserved. The Jack Paar Collection
restores the legacy of the talk-show pioneer who brought the art of conversation to the barren landscape of late-night television. But, I kid you not, it is an indispensable time capsule that preserves appearances and performances by politicians, personalities, and entertainers who shaped the 20th century. And Robert Goulet, too. Disc 1 of this three-disc set is an appreciation of Paar that combines vintage clips with reminiscences and insights from the likes of Regis Philbin, Hugh Downs, who served as Paar's announcer, Dick Cavett, one of his writers, and the Smothers Brothers, who were among the legendary performers who made their earliest TV appearances on the Tonight Show
stage (there are hilarious clips featuring Woody Allen, Bill Cosby, and, from 1964, Kermit the Frog, then just a tadpole in local television).
As Paar demonstrated when he quit The Tonight Show after one of his jokes was censored, anything could happen. In one hilarious clip, he fouls up a Goulet-Judy Garland duet by mixing up their cue cards. Washington Post TV critic Tom Shales observes that, unlike predecessor Steve Allen and successors Johnny Carson and Jay Leno, Jack Parr's Tonight Show combined "the edge of journalism and sparkle of showbiz." Then-Sen. John F. Kennedy was one of the first politicians who ventured into this more informal, unpredictable setting. There is amazing footage of guest Richard M. Nixon playing piano. Discs 2 and 3 present the master at work. Disc 2 contains complete monologues and guest interviews with Nixon, the boxer formerly known as Cassius Clay, Liberace, Billy Graham, and Robert Kennedy. Disc 3 offers three complete broadcasts, including a 1964 program with Cosby and Richard Burton (an added bonus is an embedded clip of Burton's towering performance as Hamlet). Forgive the obvious pun, but to watch Jack in his prime is to see why today's hosts are just not up to Paar. --Donald Liebenson