“Dick, did you ever think that Jack was maybe deep in the closet?” - Jonathan Winters asking Dick Cavett about Jack Paar
I've always been intrigued by Jack Paar. Regarded as an immensely important cog in Tonight Show history, his name was referenced heavily in 'Late Night' news items at the start of 2010. However, few during the last forty years have seen an episode of his show from beginning to end and even less understand why he was special. He had wit, class and a great ability for conversation. Many concede that it was Paar who truly put the 'talk' in the idiom 'talk show.'
He was also a nut.
One of Dick Cavett's first jobs in show business was working for Paar. "He was uniquely neurotic in a way that made [one] addicted to watching him," recalls Cavett. "Kenneth Tynan said ... in effect ... about Jack's electric, dangerous on-camera personality, 'No matter who's on camera - if it were ... the President or Cary Grant ... you still can't take your eyes off Jack for fear of missing a live nervous breakdown.' And it was true."
While reading Jack Paar's second book, My Saber is Bent (1961, Pocket Books), my mouth froze during chapter fourteen. I assumed the page heading, Fairies and Communists, was a tongue-in-cheek title that one needn't take seriously. This is, after all, a book written by a top television comedian. Instead, what it fed me was hitherto overlooked information about Jack Paar. Granted, this was the early sixties; an era when social mores allowed sexism, racism and homophobia to exist more or less unabated. That being said, there were several people that rejected such offensive conventions and the arts were often far more accepting. This is what makes the stance of Paar, by most accounts an erudite man, all the more difficult.
Paar was known for his many feuds. He sparred with columnist Dorothy Kilgallen, actor Mickey Rooney and fellow TV host Ed Sullivan. But perhaps Paar's greatest feud was one that has been completely ignored - his vocal hatred of and decade-long fight with - the homosexual community. In the pages of My Saber is Bent, Paar writes without apology about his disdain for gays in show business. He obviously worked very hard to cull a series of quotes from other respected pop culture figures that at some point made a disparaging remark about gays. Ernie Kovacs, Oscar Levant, George Jean Nathan and Alex King are all dragged into Paar's essay to further his cause. This is the bizarre chapter, Fairies and Communists, reproduced in its entirety. It is followed by a brief story on a confrontation that transpired between Jack and the gay community a few years later.