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May 23, 2010

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texas scott

It's amazing to me how simple it all is.To hold racist or homophobic thoughts can be traced back to just plain not knowing others of a different race or sexual preference.Gives new meaning to the phrase "Ignorance is bliss".
Nice post,Kliph.

QuizmasterChris

I have a couple of Jack Paar books including this one, and hadn't yet gotten around to reading them. Well, they just got bumped up the list! Bizarre and disturbing.

Fans of the paranoid "faeries and commies" types would enjoy the series of "[Fill in the Blank] Confidential" books by Lee Mortimer and Jack Lee.

QuizmasterChris

Sorry, that's Jack Lait.

Larry Craig

For a guy so willing to publicly excoriate the manhood of certain others, the title of Paar's book, My Saber Is Bent, is rather eyebrow-raising. I see that Wikipedia mentions that Paar was married (twice), but so were Ted Haggard and George Rekers. In the spirit of so many virulently anti-gay blowhards, I'm guessing that ol' Jack's saber did its fair share of, um, dueling

John M

very strange man, very bizarre ideas, but a decided product of his time. when I was growing up during the 60s, making fun of gays in my blue-collar neighborhood was, pardon the pun, par for the course. racism faded faster, in many respects.

I never knew this about paar and always admired his wit and tv presence. this puts a big dent in my opinion of him. as larry craig said above, I have to wonder about the virulently homophobic. people do tend to hate those most like themselves, or those whose qualities they most envy but covertly fear and cover with bravado.

one weird dude, that paar.

Jim

"A product of his time"? I don't think so, John. It's one thing to tell "fag" jokes to your pat-his-ass-while-playing-football buddies at a 1960s bar. It's another to go deliberately aside a full chapter of a book that's an investment of a major publishing house.

Paar obviously concealed deep-seated issues he refused to deal with, whether something happened in the military he doesn't wish to admit, or he felt some kind of gay Hollywood conspiracy was responsible for his numerous career ills (gays, as Kliph suggests, would have been a more palatable target to the mainstream in the '60s than, say, the Jews).

The fact Paar bashed Communists but simultaneously praised Fidel Castro speaks more than I could.

The Paar who was Jack Benny's summer replacement in 1947 uncloaked himself to be a petulant self-martyr who blamed a network for him walking off his show over something that was funny because he decreed it was. And he should know because he was Jack Paar. If you want to know what people really think, give them money and power. They then decide they're in a position to say and do anything they want without impugnity, and can do no wrong.

To paraphrase Maxwell Smart: "If only he had used his considerable intellect for niceness..."

Andrew

Around the time Paar invited the two gay activists on his 1970s show, The Credibility Gap radio comedy team (Harry Shearer, David L. Lander, Michael McKean and Richard Beebe) did a Tonight Show parody ("Where's Johnny," available on the A GREAT GIFT IDEA album) where Johnny Carson invted two gay guests to discuss homosexuality. The skit ended with the arrival of Don Rickles who proceeded to gay-bash to general laughter and appluase.

Larry Howard

I used to watch Paar's ABC series, but gave up before that GAA segment. No matter what his excuses, by that time Paar was sadly past his prime.

There was a documentary, broadcast on PBS I think, about Paar some years ago. Talking about his early radio days, Paar breathtakingly described Jack Benny as "a handsome man." My wife later asked me, "Was Jack Paar gay?" I replied, I don't think so," but I wonder now.

j

Paar's book book seems an expression of the attitudes at the time. Nearly all written references to homosexuality pre-Stonewall were automatically negative.

"... no newspaper column took him to task..." as if something like that might have happened. That would have been unimaginable in the early 1960's.

Read through old literature and you will find countless passages which are unacceptable today.

Writings from the past should be read in the context of their times, not with a viewpoint that has advanced nearly fifty years.

del sol

Very interesting historical piece -- wasn't previously aware of these unfortunate tendencies in Jack Paar's personality and behavior. His b&w television heyday ended a little before my childhood years spent gazing at the tube. Here's some side commentary:

Fidel Castro did not initially tie himself to the Communist label. During his first year in power (1959) he criticized autocratic Communist states and sought American approval for successful overthrow of the hated Batista regime. Ahead of his time in media savvy, he sought to charm the masses through network TV, at one point being interviewed by Ed Sullivan. By 1960 this media campaign clearly failed to get the desired thumbs-up from the Eishenhower administration (annoyed by industry nationalizations in Cuba, Ike began plans for the Bay of Pigs landing), so Fidel quickly switched gears and publicly embraced Khrushchev. I'll bet that, very early on, when Castro personally met with Paar, he treated him very attentively, charming the daylights out of the television host.

Paar's wailing in chapter 14 about how gay film & theater actors in mid-century "got away" with behavior that landed Oscar Wilde in prison several decades earlier speaks, unwittingly, to a noteworthy degree of positive, behind-the-scenes change in social position for pre-Stonewall gays. For blacks, women and gays, social change didn't just suddenly take place in years between 1963-1973. Instead, the "sudden burst" of high-profile activism during these years (along with earlier civil rights organizing) arguably represents a very belated, decades-in-waiting recognition of the slow tectonic movements below the surface of American/European culture. Paar, through the lens of his homophobic paranoia, correctly recognized the changes gradually occurring around him. In parallel to Paar, political organizing by fundamentalist Christian began in earnest during the mid-1970s because they, and leaders like Jerry Falwell and Anita Bryant, understood better than anyone the degree of leftward change that 20th century urban life and the postwar countercultures had brought to the American mainstream
-- their reactionary views had been viewed as mainstream two or three decades earlier.

Also, in this light, "sexism, racism and homophobia" didn't quite "exist more or less unabated" when Paar wrote this book in the early 1960s. The federal decree to integrate the Army in 1948, Brown vs. Board of Education in 1954, and the Montgomery bus boycott of 1955-56 were historical milestones setting the stage for later civil rights achievements in the mid- to-late 1960s. Racism and Jim Crow still thrived in 1960, yet a significant retreat was already underway. As for sexism, abatement surfaced decades earlier when the suffrage movement achieved victory in 1920, at a time when actor Mary Pickford achieved renown as a female entertainment mogul. By the late 1950s, Hollywood denizens such as Lucille Ball and Donna Reed had gained executive control over their own projects (their decision, however, to portray housewives on television tacitly recognized the limits of sexual equality in that era). Meanwhile, as Paar's book first reached book stores, Betty Friedan began writing a book of her own. In comparison to racism and sexism, relief from homophobia occurred more slowly and more quietly.

Jack Paar did not berate the mid-century developments in civil rights, and it appears from what I read here that he openly embraced them. In a limited way, he pokes fun at successful women (in entertainment) but prefers to avoid specifics when so doing and does not seem to challenge these women's right to their own success. Instead, he feels free to slam homosexuality and bisexuality -- as if he were creating the future voice of Archie Bunker. As as result, I do think Paar's attitudes generally reflect his times, although I also agree with the comment that his spending an entire chapter on gay-bashing is pretty striking. A typical "erudite" homophobe would have made no more than a brief, passing comment or two regarding their fears, or else wrote nothing at all about them for public consumption. Don't ask & don't tell was pretty standard for Paar's peers.

Andrew

Johnny Carson wasn't much more enlightened, either, what with his incessant jokes about Wayne Newton (which only ended when Newton stormed into Carson's office past the NBC security and physically threatened him)...

Bobo Hoho

Del Sol, best comment online I've ever read. Yes, I'm commenting on a comment. Interesting article too.

Michael Powers

Paar was much bigger during his Tonight Show reign than Carson ever was, in terms of continuously riveting the country's attention and getting everyone talking the next day, which practically never happened during Carson's comparatively soporific stewardship of the show. Even so, when this book was published, during the lengthy period when Paar's career was white-hot, this chapter garnered little or no extra publicity at all as far as I know, leading one to think that the problem here, sadly, was as much with the culture as a whole as with Paar himself (who was, as mentioned at the outset of this fine piece, nutty as a fruitcake, which in turn made his television programs so utterly compelling). The first installment of Paar's "Tonight" show exists, along with the whole run of his brief post-Tonight prime time series, brilliant conversations which make today's infomercials that pass for talk shows seem unwatchable by comparison. There's also the opening episode of a daytime talk show he did some years before his late night show in which he is the very personification of charisma. I've watched these shows at the Paley Center for Media (formerly the Museum of Television and Radio) dozens of times over the years, and I think some of them have appeared on DVD. This was anything but a politically correct time, though; black people rode in the backs of buses down south and homosexuality was literally a crime for which men were jailed even in Manhattan. As is the case with anything else (Griffith's "The Birth of a Nation" especially springs to mind), we have to judge everything within the context of its time, always shockingly different when you're turning the clock back five or more decades. The chapter in Paar's book is excruciatingly sickening but wasn't seen as especially remarkable upon its high-profile publication, which gives us an unfortunate clue as to what the nation was like at the time.

Larry Grogan

Wow...I always knew Paar was a first class neurotic, but not a homophobe. I also had no idea that one of my all-time fave character actors, Franklin 'Watch the birdie Spanky' Pangborn was a sidekick of his. You learn something new every day!

Mark Allen

Fascinating post Kliph! Great read...

Fbks

Jack Paar was not a reactionary, he understood where he was, and he was reachable. He did listen and he changed his mind. Evidence exists that later (maybe too late?) he realized his own bigotry and sought amends. Johnny Carson changed and by 1985 or so dropped the sneers at Gays and others. I do not believe a bigot can or should be forgiven, but what I do know and understand from my own 60 years on this planet, is that much of the serious change came about because once rock solid racists, homophobes, and other bigots thought it over and decided to change. If Paar were here today and given a chance he'd refute his past statements. Would it be opportunistic? I admit I am not sure. My guess Paar hated cruelty and viciousness; he shied away from dogma and resisted absolutes. Watching him from afar I sense a reasonable man. Had he defended "fairies" in "My Saber is Bent" would have destroyed his career. Better he said nothing, perhaps.

unclesmedley

"He obviously worked very hard to cull a series of quotes from other respected pop culture figures (Kovacs, Levant, Nathan and King) [who], at some point, made a disparaging remark about gays."

C'mon... Do you really believe that this sort of talk was unusual back in those days? This was the cultural default setting--and to smugly dismiss an historical reality, instead of expressing gratitude for the advances made since then, is unseemly, juvenile and derivative.

We're talking fifty years ago. Jack Paar was to television what Les Paul was to recorded music, or Chaplin to film. Observe your enlightenment through the prism of a half century, and then speak to us of your own accomplishments and rectitude. In the meantime, look to some real, live bad guys, and leave the well-meaning and departed alone.

Michael Powers

From the previous comment, by UncleSmedley: "Jack Paar was to television what Les Paul was to recorded music, or Chaplin to film." That's perfectly true and exquisitely well said. I'm wondering if this poster is any kin to Smedley Butler, the author of "War Is a Racket."

Michael Powers

Unclesmedley is exactly right about Paar's book chapter being the "cultural default setting" of that time. Brilliantly well said, and exactly what many of the rest of us had been groping for in our comments.

Michael Powers

One more thing that someone needs to say at some point: Jack Paar was, with the arguable exception of Dick Cavett, the most entertaining and informative television talk show host ever. The quality of the Tonight Show fell so far so fast when Johnny Carson took the job over that it was miserable to live through. And, again with the scintillating exception of Cavett, it was all downhill from there.

Proud White Het

Paar appeared on the Tonight Show with Carson, exactly once, in the 1980s. Johnny's first question, of course, was why Paar gave the show up. What I remember most was Paar telling a story about how he had inadvertently splashed the front of his pants a little with water while using the sink, and three gay makeup men with blow driers were needed to get his pants back into shape. Johnny wasn't convinced that the source of the wetness wasn't Paar himself, but I remember thinking it was curious that Paar needed to comment on gayness.

Judy Carodine

As we can see Paar was right. The homosexuals have infiltrated movies and television. I sincerely wish, wiTH ALL of my heart that they had stayed in closet.

ebrown2

"A typical "erudite" homophobe would have made no more than a brief, passing comment or two regarding their fears, or else wrote nothing at all about them for public consumption. Don't ask & don't tell was pretty standard for Paar's peers."

Posted by: del sol | May 25, 2010 at 01:58 PM

Speaking of Alexander King, he had this to say shortly before he died in 1965:

"King moves on to a discussion of his book, noting that the word "fruit" in the title refers to homosexuals, whom he believes many women date and marry. Although he reveals that he is puzzled by this practice, he assures Griffin that he is not in favor of banning homosexuality..."

http://www.paleycenter.org/collection/item/?q=homosexuals&p=2&item=T:06239

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