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CNN LARRY KING LIVE
Jack Paar's Friends, Colleagues Remember Talk Show Pioneer
Aired January 29, 2004 - 21:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
LARRY KING, HOST: Tonight, remembering Jack Paar, the broadcasting legend who changed television forever. Joining us, Ed McMahon, Jack Paar's friend and long-time sidekick to Johnny Carson, who followed Paar as the host of "The Tonight Show"; Merv Griffin, long-time talk show host who not only idolized Jack Paar but became his good friend; Phyllis Diller -- Jack Paar gave her career a huge boost with frequent "Tonight Show" guest spots; Mike Douglas, another veteran talk show host who knew and admired Jack Paar; Randy Paar, Jack's only child, in her first interview since his death on Tuesday.
With us by phone, Regis Philbin, good friend, avid fan of Jack's; and Hugh Downs, Jack Paar's "Tonight Show" sidekick; plus Betty White, the actress and comedian who was a frequent guest; comedy giant Bob Newhart, another frequent guest of Jack Paar; Pat Sajak, who calls Jack Paar his boyhood hero and became his good friend; and Dick Cavett, who wrote for Paar and continued his tradition of smart late- night talk with his own show.
They're all next to remember a TV giant, Jack Paar, on LARRY KING LIVE.
Let's start first with Randy Paar in New York, Jack's daughter, her first interview since his death. The condolences of everybody here on the panel, Randy.
RANDY PAAR, PAAR'S ONLY CHILD: Thank you.
KING: What was the end like?
PAAR: Well, the end was difficult, as it would be with any parent or someone that you loved who died. But mother and I were both with him. Mother is, of course, you know, devastated by losing Papa. But he had a wonderful life. I mean, he met terrific people. He had great experiences. And so I think that's the right thing to focus on.
KING: Was he ill for a long time, Randy?
PAAR: He had had a stroke about 11 months ago, and that had, you know, had a certain effect on him. But he certainly was still as sharp as ever. And there were problems that happened as a result of the stroke, but...
KING: Well, he adored Randy Paar. And before we talk to our other guests -- and Randy will be with us for a long time tonight -- here's a clip of Jack Paar talking about Randy. Watch. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP - "JACK PAAR: AS I WAS SAYING")
JACK PAAR: We arranged the seating, and she sat next to Mr. Kennedy. And she sat there, and she was talking very well about "Profiles in Courage." I was so proud. And she was eating a shrimp cocktail, as kids always do if you take them to a good restaurant. And We're so proud, Mr. Attorney General. And then I heard this, and her mother and I said, Oh, my -- she said, Mr. Attorney General, I have two shrimp left. Would you like them?
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KING: And he was talking about young Randy Paar.
All right, what do you remember most about him, Merv? What was special about Jack Paar?
MERV GRIFFIN, LONGTIME FRIEND, ADMIRER OF JACK PAAR: Oh, everything! I mean, he was -- he was the No. 1 hero. We were all in the talk show -- or we were in the talk show business because of him. He took the format -- not to discredit Steve Allen, but he did a different kind of show. He did a lot of skits and sketches and man- on-the-street. But Jack took small talk and just made it fascinating. You couldn't take your eyes off the set with him there.
KING: He elevated it.
GRIFFIN: He elevated all of it, yes.
KING: Mike Douglas, what did he mean to you?
MIKE DOUGLAS, TALK SHOW HOST, KNEW, ADMIRED JACK PAAR: Oh, it was -- it was -- he was our teacher, Larry, really, our teacher. I watched carefully, and I especially enjoyed the guests he had, like Hermione Gingold and Genevieve and Charlie Weaver, and so on. They were so different, and they had something to say. You weren't just having someone on to plug a movie. It was fresh. It was -- well, we did everything we could do to copy everything he did.
KING: Phyllis Diller, he did a lot for your career, right?
PHYLLIS DILLER, CAREER BOOST FROM PAAR'S "TONIGHT SHOW": Everything. I owe him my career.
KING: How did he find you?
DILLER: I got a part on the show. I finally got on the show, and he -- from the very first time, it worked very well, and...
KING: You did a bit on his show and then he invited you back and...
DILLER: Yes, and he invited me back over and over and over and over again and even asked me to write for him...
DILLER: ... sometimes. And I...
KING: So he made your career, in a sense.
DILLER: Oh, definitely. Definitely.
KING: Ed McMahon, did you know him well? I know you were with Carson, who followed him.
ED MCMAHON, FRIEND, ADMIRER OF JACK PAAR: Yes. I didn't know him that well, but he was a neighbor. He lived up the street from me in Bronxville, so I would see him. He loved electronics, you know, anything to do with electronics or in the hardware store I would see him. Bronx is a little, tiny town, as you know, outside of New York, and the center is very small. So I would run into him, you know? But he was kind of shy. He was a shy person off the air. And he would give me kind of a nod, you know, like a knowing nod like, You're doing OK, kid, you know? Like, It's OK what you're doing. But I never really got to know him very well.
KING: But he sure meant a lot to the industry, as Merv said.
MCMAHON: Oh, indeed. He invented something else, "Take this job and shove it."
MCMAHON: You remember when he walked -- who would walk off a show? He didn't like what NBC did, and he just walked off the show.
KING: Regis Philbin's with us on the phone. I know you were not only a fan of his Regis, but you got to be a good friend, right?
REGIS PHILBIN, GOOD FRIEND, AVID FAN OF PAAR: That's right, Larry. For the last, I'd say, 14, 15 years, we became good friends, and I shared many dinners with him out and at his home and actually became a great friend. And I told him so many times that when he came on "The Tonight Show" in the beginning -- I mean, I had been a page at NBC, a stagehand at Channel 13, and I was driving around San Diego in a little wagon, covering the news at 5:00 o'clock in the morning, wondering what I could do on television.
And when I saw Jack Paar come out and stand there and not deliver a streak of jokes but sit on the edge of his desk for an opening and talk about what he had seen, what he thought about what was going on in his life -- my gosh, I'd never heard anything like it. And I thought, Well, maybe -- I wasn't a comedian. I wasn't a singer. I wasn't even a disk jockey. But I thought, maybe, just maybe I might be able to do in some way what he was doing. And that's what I pinpointed myself for, and that's how I wound up doing the opening that we see every morning. And that's what I've been doing for the last 40 years. And I've told this over and over again to Jack Paar, I owe it all to him. KING: You know, Merv, I never thought of that, but Regis is doing just what -- "My day." That's what Jack did.
GRIFFIN: That's right.
KING: Here's what happened to me today.
GRIFFIN: That's right.
KING: Personal journalism.
GRIFFIN: Well, everybody forgets that "The Tonight Show" at that time was an hour and 45 minutes. The first 15 minutes went to just a couple of stations, but the hosts always worried about the first 15 minutes because it was all monologue. And they would worry about that and not what happened at 11:30, when they went to the complete network.
And Jack used to -- he used to fret about that. He worried about that. He had a wonderful, very interesting kind of paranoia.
GRIFFIN: I used to -- I remember walking on the sixth floor of NBC. I'd see him before I was going to be on the show, and he'd say, Come on, walk down the hall with me. And he would say, Oh, there's that he guy! And I'd say, Who is it, Jack? He said, I don't know. He's been here three nights in a row. Do you know him? And I said, Well, it's your saxophone player.
GRIFFIN: OK, pal. You got it.
KING: Regis, he -- I know he -- he was close with Godfrey, wasn't he, because Godfrey did that kind of television, didn't he, Reeg?
PHILBIN: Yes. Jack, you know, replaced Walter Cronkite early morning on CBS in the middle '50s. And I'm sure he and Arthur knew each other quite well, as a matter of fact, because they were both CBS hands at the time.
KING: And he also replaced summertimes on the Jack Benny radio show.
PHILBIN: Oh, how he loved Jack Benny and just -- he would tell stories about how kind Jack was and what it meant to him because Jack saw him work, I guess while Jack was doing his bit in World War II, and Benny would go over to the Pacific area, saw Jack, remembered him, and sure enough, let him replace him for a summer. And that was everything to Jack, and that got him started.
KING: I know, Regis, you have limited time, so we're going to let you go. But how's he going to be remembered...
GRIFFIN: Is he working?
KING: ... because we've got a lot of guests here tonight.
GRIFFIN: You're kidding!
KING: Regis is a big man. He's got "Who Wants to Be a $10 Million Millionaire."
GRIFFIN: I thought I canceled that.
KING: Hey, Regis, you're going to come on to talk about that, right?
PHILBIN: I'll be on. And it is (UNINTELLIGIBLE) I want just to tell you guys one thing, that on Christmas Eve day, I went to see Jack. And that was the last time I saw him because (UNINTELLIGIBLE) vacation time began. But I remember the nurse came to the door and said, Oh, Regis, you're here. You know, Jack and I were watching you, and you made Jack laugh. And it made the nurse feel good, and I can't tell you what it meant for me to know that I made Jack Paar laugh.
KING: Thank you, Regis. Wonderfully said.
PHILBIN: (UNINTELLIGIBLE) wonderful show. I wish I could be with you. But I'll see you soon, Larry.
KING: OK, Reeg.
PHILBIN: (UNINTELLIGIBLE) talking to Randy (UNINTELLIGIBLE)
KING: I think one of the great -- thanks, Regis Philbin. One of the great compliments in my life was a letter from Jack Paar just, you know, complimenting the show. I framed it. He's a legend.
We'll be back with more. We thank Regis for joining us. Back with more -- Randy Paar, Mike Douglas, Phyllis Diller, Merv Griffin and Ed McMahon. Lots more to come as we remember a legend. Don't go away.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP - "JACK PAAR: AS I WAS SAYING")
JACK PAAR: (UNINTELLIGIBLE) bad cold. You have to be careful. They dry your sinuses. And you know -- and your, what are these things, sinuses? Not adenoids. What are these?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Fingers.
JACK PAAR: Fingers, yes.
Here is an English hunting stool, $248. Take it wherever you want, and sit on it, you see, like that, $248. For rugged individualists, they have this here thing right here, you see? It is almost impossible to dislike me because I do nothing. Oh, you do know me!
(END VIDEO CLIP)
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP - "JACK PAAR: SMART TELEVISION")
JACK PAAR: Since I've had this almost primetime show, I've been able to afford all kinds of reference equipment, almanacs, maps, encyclopedias, files, clippings. In the old days, we had none of those, but we had something just as good. We had Hugh Downs. Here's one of the most charming men I've known in the television business. And despite anything you might have read over those five turbulent, frightening years, Hugh and I never, no matter what anyone wrote, ever had an unkind word between us. I'm proud to be able to introduce him after five years of him introducing me. Ladies and gentlemen, Hugh Downs.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KING: And with us by phone from somewhere in the South Pacific -- he's on a cruise -- is Hugh Downs, who was Jack Paar's sidekick on "The Tonight Show." All right, we were all asking that question. What was he like to work with?
HUGH DOWNS, PAAR'S "TONIGHT SHOW" SIDEKICK: Well, you know, I'm on the other side of the world from you now (UNINTELLIGIBLE) seven seas voyager. But it's a different time of day and everything. I'm ahead of you. I think the reason that they ask why is Jack -- What is Jack Paar really like is because he broke the mold. I never considered him a standard comic. He was a true wit (ph). But people ask what he was like because he violated some old principles about the "Pagliacci" idea that the clown is supposed to laugh, even if his heart is breaking. Jack was too honest for that. If his heart was breaking, he cried. And people couldn't believe that they saw that kind of reality, but he was fracturingly honest.
KING: What was he like to work with?
DOWNS: Well, I really enjoyed working with Jack because it was -- you know, it was a program that anything could happen and did every night, and it was like riding a bronco. And it made most other television that I did seem tame by comparison. But I really enjoyed working with him because it was true ad lib, and there was nothing phony about it. And I think that was the pleasure of working with Jack.
KING: And he said you never had a bad moment between you. True?
DOWNS: No. We had a couple of disagreements. I disagreed with him once about something he said Irv Kupcinet (ph), and I had a feeling it might have hurt him, but he was gracious enough to acknowledge that I might be right. And we never had any kind of quarrel or any friction. And I enjoyed those five years. KING: Hugh, I thank you very much for helping us out here tonight. We're sure glad we were able to reach you. You can't do a Jack Paar show without Hugh Downs.
DOWNS: Thank you, Larry. I mean, he put -- he created a great spotlight and did a lot -- some of it spilled over on me and did a lot of good for me.
KING: Enjoy your cruise. Hugh Downs by phone from the South Pacific.
Randy, what kind of dad was he?
PAAR: Well, he was a great dad, and it was a lot of fun to be in the family that he headed up. I mean, living in my family was like being in "The Tonight Show" all of the time.
PAAR: We had great dinner parties, which he ran almost like "The Tonight Show." He would set up a guest, and he knew how to get them into a story and have them score with whatever joke that they had. He was great at thinking, you know, Let's go find Albert Schweitzer, and then suddenly, in a couple of weeks, you'd be off trying to find Albert Schweitzer. Or he'd say, Let's go find the Ben Keevu (ph), the man that saved Jack Kennedy. And then he'd go rent a 36-foot sailboat and sail around and try to find Ben Keevu. That kind of spontaneity and belief that he could do whatever he thought of, and even when people said you couldn't do it, he would go ahead and do it anyway. So that was a privilege to be in a home that he ran. I loved him very much.
KING: Did you get to know him well, Mike Douglas?
DOUGLAS: Yes. Not really, but he was a very generous man. And the thing I admire most about him was his honesty. And he was very generous. He was -- one night he was talking with -- now, mind you, I was a guy just starting out. I was a kid. And he looked at the television to Joey Bishop, and he said, There's -- they were talking about the young talk show hosts and upcoming people. He said, There's a young man in Philadelphia, which I liked him for. There's a young man in Philadelphia that you're going to hear a lot from. He said, My mother is crazy about him. I never forget that, and I wrote him and thanked him for that.
KING: Yes. How did you...
DOUGLAS: And he was just -- he was just -- and another night, he said some -- made some disparaging remarks against Randy, and he lost it on the air. He just put Walter Winchell away completely. I never heard of Walter Winchell after that night.
KING: Yes, he was vicious! How did you meet him, Merv? GRIFFIN: Very strange set of circumstances. I had a morning show on NBC, it was live, called "Play Your Hunch." And it was from Studio 6-B, where the Paar show came from at night. And we would do it in the morning. Paar never knew anything about it. Paar didn't come in during the day. This day he came in because he had a dentist's appointment. I'll never forget it. And so he walked from his office, which was on the sixth floor, to go to "The Tonight Show" office, which was on the seventh, to use the theater.
At that moment, I had said to the contestants, Now, think it over. And it was very quiet. And Jack Paar, at the peak of his popularity, walked through the curtain. And thus came my first great ad lib. The audience was just stunned, and they started to scream and everything. When they quieted down, I said, What do you want?
GRIFFIN: What are you doing here? And this funny conversation went back and forth. And he went to his agent, who was Marty Kummer (ph) all those years, and he said to him, Who's that kid? He's funny. And they gave me the following Monday night that he took off. And that...
KING: Oh, you hosted for him?
GRIFFIN: I -- oh, yes. And the ratings went great.
KING: Was Hugh Downs your announcer?
GRIFFIN: Oh! The producer would go crazy because I'd forget about the guests and sit and talk to Hugh because he was so interesting. But then they gave me the following Monday night. They said, Maybe he only has one show in him. And they gave me the following Monday night, and then they gave me the following Thursday night.
KING: So that led to you doing...
GRIFFIN: And while my career is doing great, he announced he was quitting. I said, How can you do this to my career?
GRIFFIN: And he quit. So I took over most of the summer, before Johnny. And then we came from the same studio, 6-B. I taped at 12:00 noon, and they taped at 6:30.
KING: And Phyllis has a list of people who Jack Paar sort of made famous, right?
DILLER: Really, really...
KING: This is extraordinary. DILLER: Well, it is incredible. Cliff Arquette, who was Charlie Weaver, Joey Bishop, Peggy Cass, Hans (ph) Connery, Genevieve, Hermione Gingold, Dodie Goodman, Buddy Hackett -- Pat Harrington, Jr., he invented -- Florence Henderson, Betty Johnson (ph), Alexander King, Elsa Maxwell, Rene Taylor (ph), Betty White's on here, and my God, he invented me!
GRIFFIN: Well, somebody had to.
MCMAHON: How about Johnny Carson? I mean...
KING: What did Carson think of Paar?
MCMAHON: Oh, he loved him. He -- you know, he filled in for him several times.
KING: Oh, he did?
MCMAHON: Oh, yes. He -- that's how he got his -- NBC started to look at Carson when he was on there so often, and finally, he did a week. You know, and Johnny couldn't start until October 1, 1962 and Paar said good-bye that spring. So for six months, they had guest hosts. You did it for a while. Everybody did. Jack Carter, if can you imagine, hosted that show for a week.
GRIFFIN: Donald O'Connor.
GRIFFIN: Sure. Donald O'Connor. But Carson came in there a couple of times, and of course, he got the job. It was wonderful.
GRIFFIN: Oh, no, Ed. They had signed him long before.
MCMAHON: Oh, I know that, but I mean...
GRIFFIN: But they kept it quiet.
MCMAHON: But I mean, he came in as a guest, like you did, on a Monday night or a Thursday night, and hosted the show.
GRIFFIN: Oh, yes.
KING: Why did Paar walk off?
GRIFFIN: The water closet joke.
GRIFFIN: He did a simple -- can you imagine? -- a little innocent water closet, not even a toilet...
KING: And they took out...
GRIFFIN: ... which you can say now.
MCMAHON: Yes, it was supposed to be like a wedding chapel. And they -- the guy misunderstood that he was talking about a water closet, which is a toilet.
GRIFFIN: A WC.
MCMAHON: He thought it was a wedding chapel. And so they -- he -- they censored him. Some guy, one of those vice presidents of NBC...
MCMAHON: ... had been there for 15 minutes, you know, censored it out of the show. Paar came in that next night. He was so furious, he told the story, They censored me, he said, There must be another way to make a living. And he walked off the show.
GRIFFIN: And who took over?
MCMAHON: Hugh Downs.
GRIFFIN: Orson Bean.
MCMAHON: Oh, that's right.
KING: Randy, you remember that?
PAAR: I remember that. I remember the commotion that it caused at our house in Bronxville. And we had, you know, press outside, and we had the fence closed, and -- you know, and they had to sneak out the back through the bushes, you know, to get out of the house. And I remember it very well.
KING: We'll be back with more of this panel, and then lots more to go on this special edition of LARRY KING LIVE saluting Jack Paar. Don't go away.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP - "JACK PAAR: AS I WAS SAYING")
JACK PAAR: You can see that this is a girl who's really got a little -- this is real laryngitis
BETTE DAVIS, ACTRESS: Oh, I'm so embarrassed!
JACK PAAR: No, it's a good (UNINTELLIGIBLE)
DAVID: You know, it makes everybody else feel hoarse, I know, anybody tried to speak, they'd be like -- yes, it does do it to you.
JONATHAN WINTERS, ACTOR: No, it doesn't! It's something -- you'd be surprised. I've been -- I've been doing the same thing, and it's -- I've been having to plug my picture, Jack. I just walked around the various theaters. No transportation at all, Bette.
DAVIS: You go to hell!
(END VIDEO CLIP)
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP - "THE TONIGHT SHOW STARRING JOHNNY CARSON")
JOHNNY CARSON, HOST: I would guess that people would think you and I would feel a little awkward kind of embracing.
JACK PAAR: No.
CARSON: But it didn't feel awkward at all.
JACK PAAR: I wish that I had never given you the show. I wish I had rented it to you.
CARSON: You could have leased it, huh?
JACK PAAR: Or I wish I had married you, if I really wanted to...
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KING: Boy, he was great there.
KING: You remember that night, Ed?
MCMAHON: I sure do. That was a great night!
KING: Here's another great clip we have to show you. This is on Merv's show. as Jack Paar guests. Watch.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
JACK PAAR: I plan to do nothing else, and so the next thing that'll happen to me is I'll die.
GRIFFIN: And do you know what your epitaph will be? I mean, do you know what it's going to say? Have you picked out your saying for your...
JACK PAAR: For my tombstone?
GRIFFIN: Yes. I have mine.
JACK PAAR: I have two. One is, "You had your chance, now he's gone."
JACK PAAR: And the other one is, "Keep the line moving."
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KING: He was that kind of...
GRIFFIN: And mine was, "I will not be right back after this message."
KING: He was funny
GRIFFIN: Oh, he was funny.
KING: Let's give credit where due.
KING: Mike Douglas, this was a funny guy.
KING: He was funny -- when you think about Jack Paar, the first thing you should think is funny, right?
DOUGLAS: Oh, definitely. Definitely.
DOUGLAS: And I'll tell you somebody that we're all forgetting. Jonathan Winters was on that show. It's interesting that Jack was from Ohio, so was Jonathan. Everybody from the Midwest did all right.
KING: You're not kidding. In fact, Phyllis will peddle this. Of Ohio comics...
DOUGLAS: That's right.
KING: ... Bob Hope, Danny Thomas, Martin Mull, Jamie Farr, Paul Lindh, Dean Martin, Drew Carey, Phyllis Diller, Jack Paar, Jim Backus, Tim Conway, Erma Bombeck, Jonathan Winters, Jack Reilly (ph), Pat McCormack (ph), Kaye Ballard (ph) and Dodie Goodman.
GRIFFIN: What an exodus that must have been!
KING: Did they get out of that town! How's he going to be remembered, Ed?
GRIFFIN: I'm moving tomorrow.
MCMAHON: I'll remember the fact that he was so -- so real. There was nothing fake about him. He was -- what you saw was what you got. That was him.
DICK CAVETT, WRITER FOR PAAR: Larry, can I ask you something?
KING: Yes, Mike, quickly. Go ahead.
CAVETT: No, it's Cavett.
KING: Oh, no. You're on in a little while, Dick.
CAVETT: Oh, I am? I just...
KING: We haven't brought you on yet.
CAVETT: Oh. I wondered if I'd been hogging the show.
KING: We thank Mike Douglas and Ed McMahon and Phyllis Diller for being with us. Betty White and Bob Newhart will be coming in. Cavett will be coming shortly. You've already heard from Cavett. Sajak is coming. Don't go away.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP - "JACK PAAR: AS I WAS SAYING")
JACK PAAR: I suppose some of you see "The Tonight Show" with some regularity, and you're surprised to see me in person because you watch me in bed through your feet, and you're under the impression that I'm a tall, thin guy with 11 noses.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
JACK PAAR: I hope to hell you know what you're doing. We have the best audience we've had in here in a long time, Barry.
BARRY GOLDWATER, FORMER PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: It's the best show you've had in a long time.
JACK PAAR: Can Kennedy be defeated in '64?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Well, which one?
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KING: God, what a show. He had them. Let's reintroduce our panel. In a little while, Pat Sajak and Dick Cavett will be joining us. Right now Merv Griffin remains, the longtime friend of Jack Paar, and now joining us in Los Angeles, Betty White, a regular guest on Jack Paar's "The Tonight Show," Bob Newhart who appeared on Jack Paar's show early in his standup career and staying with us in New York is Randy Paar, Jack's only child. Here first interview since his death. By the way, Randy, is there going to be a memorial service?
RANDY PAAR: I don't know. I just heard the Museum of Broadcasting in New York contacted my husband at home and asked whether or not they could do something like that. I hope that it happens.
KING: I sure hope so, too. Bob Newhart, how did you meet Jack Paar?
BOB NEWHART: I met Jack -- the record had just broken.
KING: The button down mike.
NEWHART: The button-down mike. I came into New York to do the Gary Moore show, and Joe Hamilton produced it. And Jack called him and said could we use Newhart before you do because we're not prime time. Joe being the gentleman he was said yes. So they told me to stand backstage and they said walk out, there would be a mike there and you stand there and then do your routine. And you just stand there, and Jack may invite you over.
KING: Or maybe not.
NEWHART: Or he may just applaud and then you leave. I'm a year and a half out of the "Man on the Street" show, local show in Chicago, and so I stood there, I did the routine. I have no idea which routine I did. I stood there for what seemed an eternity, and then Jack said, phew!
KING: You sat down with him. Everyone aspired to the chair. Sit down on the chair.
NEWHART: He was so colorful. There was an act called Ford and Hines. Remember Phil Ford and Mimi, and they were a USO act, they made $1,500 a week or something. They made one appearance on Paar and then they went to $10,000 a week.
KING: That's how big he was. Betty, how did you meet him?
BETTY WHITE, ACTRESS: First of all, before we do anything, I just want to send my love and dearest wishes to Miriam and Randy.
RANDY PAAR: Thank you.
WHITE: I would go back and forth -- I lived in Los Angeles but I would go back and do game shows.
KING: No kidding!
WHITE: So I was subbing for Polly Bergen for about eight, nine months while she was ill. So I'd go back once a week and commute. He asked me if I would do the show so I'd be on every week. I did over 60 shows with him and we had such a good time. His one aim in life was to get me married. He thought it was just ridiculous, and he would try to set me up with people and he did. He set me up with the brother of his producer and it worked very well for a long time.
KING: It did? Didn't marry him?
WHITE: I didn't marry him. Phil Cochran. He was Flip Corkin in "Terry and the Pirates."
KING: Was he a nice guy?
WHITE: Oh, as far as I'm concerned, he was the best. When he went off after the water closet thing, then when he came back, you loved him so much. I don't make a lot of trips voluntarily to New York, I flew back just to be there while, not on the show but just in the audience.
KING: Was he easy to be around, Merv?
GRIFFIN: Wonderfully and very amusing. Very smart without intending to be. I talked -- Randy, I talked to your mother at Christmas time.
RANDY PAAR: Oh, yes.
GRIFFIN: And it was wonderful. And we started reminiscing things like, when I took, I used to do the tennis tournament, Princess Grace and Prince Rainier, and the second year of it, I took your mom and dad over and, because they loved to play tennis, and they were wonderful on the trip but it happened to be your father's birthday, so we had a big cake at the tennis club and all the players gathered around, and then came Grace and Rainier. They were so thrilled. I still have pictures of that and we reminisced and suddenly Miriam got teary-eyed. She was telling me about his stroke. She said Merv, here's a man who talked for his living and he can't say a word to me. That was the end of my -- I couldn't.
KING: You couldn't speak at end of it. Bob, what was he like to be a guest?
NEWHART: Well, he pulled for comedians. He pulled for everybody. The secret of the talk show was to make the guests look good. And Johnny did the same thing and Merv, they would never let you look back.
WHITE: But you managed, right?
NEWHART: I still was able to do it. One time, I was talking to Jack and he said, I have to fly out to the coast tomorrow. He said, I have to do the "Hope" show and there's no ending for it. They don't have a blowoff for the sketch. He said, but you know the "Hope" show, he'll just open up the door and go, John Wayne, and that's the blowup.
KING: You had a line about him with Oscar Lavant?
NEWHART: Oscar, on his show, the two funniest things I ever saw him say or heard him say on the show, one to Elsa Maxwell, when she walked out, the greatest party giver in the world. And he said to her, Elsa, your stockings are wrinkled. She said, I am not wearing any. And he looked embarrassed.
And Oscar Lavant was on the show, I used to have them. Most of Jack's people came with me after he left the show, everybody did, and Oscar was there, he had all of the strange movements like this, and I said to him, do you go to the movies? I go to the movies. I saw a movie the other night. It was so bad. I went out and made a citizens arrest to the cashier. He was so whacked out of his head.
KING: Paar loved to laugh?
WHITE: Oh, he loved to laugh.
KING: Comics were probably his favorite.
WHITE: I remember I was on the first night Phyllis Diller ever did the show and her hair was bright green and I couldn't believe it.
GRIFFIN: Probably had just grown in.
WHITE: Exactly. But you never knew, you came on the show -- these days you do a talk show and there's a preinterview and they sort of ask questions and give the host some kind of an idea, areas to explore. Not in those days. You walked out cold and you had no idea where you were going and following him and all the convoluted roads that he would take was a joy.
KING: Randy, do you have children?
RANDY PAAR: Yes, I have one terrific son who is a freshman at WPI in Massachusetts. He's studying physics.
KING: Was Jack a good grandpa?
RANDY PAAR: A doting grandpa. Both my son and my father loved to do electronic things and to wire and build radios and work with computers, and so they had a very close relationship.
KING: Randy, thanks for spending this time with us.
RANDY PAAR: Thank you for having the show.
KING: Our condolences to you and your mom and we're so honored to be able to present this. Thank you, Randy.
RANDY PAAR: Thank you.
KING: When we come back, Merv Griffin remains with us, so will Betty White and Bob Newhart and we'll be joined by Dick Cabot who wrote a great piece in the "New York Times" today and Pat Sajak, also a good friend of Jack Paar's in Jack's later years. Don't go away.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) JACK PAAR: Good evening to those of you in the studio and at home, and to Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton at that hotel in Toronto. Happy room service!
Do you recall when she made "National Velvet" and we all thought she was going to become America's sweetheart and we didn't realize it was going to be one by one, did we?
Why is it women who wear stretch wants stretch more than their pants?
We have a wonderful show coming up for you. I don't know of the exact date but eventually...
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
JACK PAAR: Good evening, ladies and gentlemen.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Hold it, Jack. It's time for the first commercial.
JACK PAAR: Already? I just got started.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It will only take a moment. Ladies and gentlemen, this is a 17-jewel shock proof water proof wrist watch. Now, watch this remarkable demonstration. There you are. This hammer can be purchased at your local...
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KING: Funny, funny.
Still with us, Merv Griffin here in Los Angeles.
Betty White, who was a regular guest on "The Tonight Show."
And the wonderful Bob Newhart, another regular guest.
Joining us in Washington is Pat Sajak, the host of "Wheel of Fortune," hired by Merv Griffin to host that show. He just told Merv during the break the show was still on.
PAT SAJAK, HOST "WHEEL OF FORTUNE": I don't know if he sees much television.
GRIFFIN: No, we watch you all the time.
KING: He's good. He's good, this kid.
And Dick Cavett, who was a writer for Jack Paar, who was a writer for Merv Griffin, who worked for Merv Griffin, later hosted his own late night talk show and had a brilliant tribute to jack in today's "New York Times."
Pat Sajak how did you come to know Jack Paar?
SAJAK: When Jacks, was doing "The Tonight Show" I was probably 11 or 12-year-old and for some reason there was something electric on the screen that appealed to me. I used to sneak out of bed at night and, you know, kids watch the adults movies on HBO. I sneak out and turn Jack on, and in many ways he's the reason that I got into this business. It looked like an appealing and fun way to make a living, and it turned out that's the way it was. But I was working in local TV in Los Angeles, and I got a little chatty note from him one day.
I had never met the man. Turned out he was visiting a friend in Palm Springs equally legendary High Everback (ph). And High said there's this kid on local TV, you ought to see him. Jack just wrote me a chatty note saying, hey I think your terrific. You have a great future. And we struck up a correspondence and he became a good friend over the last 10 or 12 years. And I value it so dearly.
KING: If can you get a hold of today's "New York Times," get it, Dick Cavett wrote a great piece about Jack Paar.
Dick, you met him how?
CAVETT: He doesn't know it but I first met him hanging outside his stage door. I was a groupie for the Paar show back when I was in college. I remember -- then I would run around after sneaking into the show and see him get into the limo, which really appealed to me. And one night, a guy grabbed him Jack dodged through the autograph people the way Katherine Hepburn did. But this guy cornered him and said Jack would you sign -- OK. And he starts and the guy says, "could you put to Aunt Ellen and all of the women down at the (UNINTELLIGIBLE) place?" And Jack said, "I don't do custom work kid," and signed it.
KING: You work as a writer for him?
CAVETT: A writer. Essentially I saw a column that said Jack worried about his monologue, and I was starving as a copy boy at "Time." I took a monologue and gave it to the hall in the pre bin Laden days you could walk anywhere in the RCA building. Jack took and used some of the lines on the show and eventually got me in and I just loved every second of it. People ask, can Jack adlib. People would ask if Bob Hope could adlib.
Example, fat Jack Leonard, remember, came on one night. And he was huge, and Jack said to me back stage, Jack comes out, I'm just not going to say anything. When he throws a line I'll give him silence. When I throws a line I'll give him silence until he goes crazy. Well, it worked perfectly. Leonard was breathing hard and sweating and gasping, and finally Jack gave him just one last chance to speak. And all Leonard could do was to think of some fact out and he said, you know, my wife's an acrobat, and Jack said, "she'd have to be."
KING: You Merv, hired Cavett?
KING: You put him on the air.
GRIFFIN: Yes, my first talk show. And then put him on the air and he had a funny routine. He did one appearance. You talk about people discovering in one night. He did one appearance with me. The next day Jack O'Brien who was really the hottest and toughest columnist, and did an entire column on Dick Cavett. "Television has found a new, great, young, brilliant humorist to star."
And it went that fast, didn't it, Dick?
CAVETT: What a memory. It had a pun, remember, Dick, it's a fine columnick.
KING: Why did he like do you think -- Bob, we'll go around this, to like comics, to help comics so much?
A lot of comics are envious of other comics.
NEWHART: He was that secure. When I was standing back stage waiting to go on, terrified of course, because I knew I was in over my head, and I was about to be discovered and then everybody would stop buying me albums. That was 44 years ago, but I was convinced that was going to happen. And I thought to myself, wait a minute, when I was an accountant I used to stand by a water cooler and we would talk about what Jack Paar did the night before, and here, I am about to walk out on "The Jack Paar Show." It was like...
KING: Pinch me.
NEWHART: Yes, unbelievable.
KING: He liked to help people.
WHITE: He liked to help people but I think he liked comics because he loved to laugh and with comics, I think all of us who loved to laugh. With comics you throw something over the fence and you get something back. And with a lot of straight guests, you know, they'll take you very seriously but I think he loved to play that ping-pong game.
KING: As a broadcaster, Pat, what did he mean to the industry?
SAJAK: People forget this era of 24-hour a day celebrity coverage, you forget there was a time, boys and girls, when we just knew movie stars as movie stars. I mean, when Jack sat down and had a conversation with Richard Burton being Richard Burton, that was unique stuff. We only knew him as a character on the screen. He really was doing something no one else was doing. He wasn't an interviewer as much as he was a conversationalist, and that was his secret. You might just as well have been at a dinner party as well as on a television show. He got extraordinary things out of the people because they didn't feel as if they were being interviewed. And again, it wasn't happening anywhere else. You were seeing people as themselves for the first time.
GRIFFIN: You know what that killed off?
It killed off the beginning of his show and then through all of ours, it killed off the powerful gossip columnists. The headers, the (UNINTELLIGIBLE), all of them because they could tune in and see the star talking for themselves
NEWHART: Plus the fact you couldn't afford to miss the show. Because you never knew what was going to happen.
KING: Was it difficult to write for, Dick.
Was he difficult to write for?
Was he demanding?
CAVETT: Some days he was, and some he wasn't. And one time I remember going in and he had a card he wanted to do his so-called blue card from the audience, and it was, have you heard that the Russians blew off a bomb today equal to 20,000 tons of TNT, and he said, what can I say to that?
I mercifully said why don't you say how do we know it wasn't 40,000 tons of TNT. Well, this put you back in time when we were -- to give you some idea.
Can I tell one quick one in which I come off well?
KING: Let me take a break and come back and you'll tell it. We'll be right back with the remaining moments of our tribute to Jack Paar and we'll begin with Dick Cavett clapping himself on the back after this.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
JACK PAAR: How did you hear you were going to have a baby?
BUDDY HACKETT, COMEDIAN: How did you hear you was going to have a baby?
I'd hate to get it in the mail, I'll tell you that.
I'm the voice of spring. I bring you some little goodies from the park.
JACK PAAR: It's a new...
JACK PAAR: Were you this rough on fisher? Are you (UNINTELLIGIBLE).
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I don't drink. Everybody thinks I drink.
JACK PAAR: What are you on?
You've been there and back.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
JACK PAAR: And you feel that you possibly could...
MOHAMMED ALI, BOXER: I'm getting ready to fight the roughest and the toughest man in the world.
JACK PAAR: Sonny Liston.
JACK PAAR: And you feel you have a chance?
ALI: If he dreamed he beat me, he would apologize.
JACK PAAR: You really feel that strongly about it?
ALI: That's right. Sonny Liston rather take off his sport coat, soak it in gasoline and run it through hell before he'd fight me.
JACK PAAR: I notice he's backing away all the time.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KING: Great stuff. All right, Dick Cabot, we only have a few minutes left, what's the story where you come out good?
CABOT: Jane Mansfield was on the show, it was a huge booking in those days. Jack was thrilled. And he kept telling all of the writers to write introductions for Jane Mansfield. He didn't like any of them. And he didn't like the next batch.
On the third trip, I just thought the hell with it, I'm going to write one line and if he doesn't like it. He took it, went out on the show and beautifully delivered and said it was a great thing to have this woman on, but I didn't know how to announce her -- how to introduce her and I worked on it all day. And I finally thought how to do it, brevity is the soul of wit. Ladies and gentlemen, here they are, Jane Mansfield.
CABOT: You're going to work for me for at least another month, kid.
SAJAK: The clip that we saw coming out of the commercial told you a lot about why Jack worked and that show was so electric. I mean, look who was on the panel, you had Liberace and Muhammad Ali. It was combinations like that.
CABOT: Together again.
SAJAK: When Jack walked off the "Tonight Show," we talked about that earlier. When he came back -- one of the last things he said when he left the show, there must be a better way to make a living than this. When he came back some months later, he looked in the camera and he said, when I left, I said there must be a better way to make a living then this. Well, I looked and there isn't.
KING: And you followed that same tradition, Merv, right, of having on disparate guests and going more conversationally.
KING: And looking for guys like Jack Kennedy with Liberace.
GRIFFIN: The trick was to get them in the chair and better view them and they moved on to the couch and kept moving on down and you never saw them again, but I loved the whole panel effect include them in the panel in the conversation.
WHITE: And you would keep everybody involved in the conversation which made it fun and dangerous.
GRIFFIN: Because I didn't feel like working.
KING: In about 30 seconds each, how is he going to be remembered?
WHITE: Oh, as probably the dearest, kindest man in the world. Kind.
KING: Kind. Bob?
NEWHART: Maybe the most innovative talk show host ever.
KING: Set a new pattern.
NEWHART: I saw him -- I did a date in Connecticut, Jack came, before his stroke, and he came back stage and was just as generous as he was the first time.
KING: Pat, how is he going to be remembered?
SAJAK: I said the other day the world is poorer because he's gone but in heaven the conversation has gotten a lot more interesting.
KING: Well put. Dick?
CABOT: He's an immense, giant talent that was not duplicatable in any way, and whatever his neurosis and quirks were, they were great entertainment for us and I hope they weren't too painful for him.
GRIFFIN: And you have to remember, he brought to television its only art form that belonged to television. Talk shows never were on radio. People would be interviewed but not the kind of talk show. So he gave television to this day, its only and you call it, art form. So we all benefit from the format he delivered to all of us.
KING: All comics, you owe him a break, everybody who appeared on the show tonight also...
KING: Thank you all very much for this tribute to Jack Paar.
I'll be back in a couple of minutes to tell you what's coming up.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
JACK PAAR: This is in no sense a valedictory. In fact, if it's anything it's more of a valentine and network and profession that have been very good to me. I hope I've given them a good run for their money, and who knows, someday I may re-enter the lists with a new sabre, either broken or bent and plow off the field all over again.
So now thank you. Good-bye. Good night.
Come on, Lyka, we're going to go home. Come on! Come on!
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KING: By the way, most of the video you've watched came to us through the courtesy of Eagle Vision Incorporated and American Masters. If you want to see more click to www.eaglevisiontv.com on the Internet.
We thank our floor director Kelsey Myers for putting a lot of this together too.
As we wrap up the special remembrances of TV pioneer Jack Paar, we want to note a milestone for a great lady tonight, another broadcasting original, Oprah Winfrey turned 50 today, terrific person, a very good friend to this show. Happy birthday Oprah. And remember, the first half century is the hardest, because the best is yet to come.
Speaking of the best is yet to come, hey, it's time for "NEWSNIGHT," and Aaron -- was that a good segue? Jack Paar to Oprah Winfrey to Aaron Brown, three giants in one swoop.
Mr. Brown, go.
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