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On May 20, David Letterman will preside over his last episode of “Late Show”. It has been a long and successful run for Letterman who, as he retires, is being compared to the likes of Jay Leno and Johnny Carson.

Someone whose name is missing from the conversation but who should be included is that of Jack Paar, whose 96th birthday would have been today.

Jack Paar (May 1, 1918 – January 27, 2004) was an author, radio and television comedian and talk show host, best known for his stint as host of The Tonight Show from 1957 to 1962.

NBC asked Paar to succeed Steve Allen as host of The Tonight Show, which had been renamed and replaced with various failed series in the interim after Allen had left the show for prime time. Paar hosted the program from 1957 to 1962 during the peak of the series’ national attention. At first, the show was called Tonight Starring Jack Paar; after 1959 it was officially known as The Jack Paar Show. Paar was often unpredictable, emotional, and principled. When network censors cut a joke about a “water closet” (the British term for a toilet), on February 11, 1960, he received national attention by leaving the show and did not return until three weeks later after the network apologized and he was allowed to tell the joke. Paar’s emotional nature made the everyday routine of putting together a 105-minute program difficult to continue for more than five years. As a TV Guide item put it, he was “bone tired” of the grind, although he confided in Dick Cavett later that leaving the program was the greatest mistake of his life. He signed off the show for the last time on March 29, 1962.

Time magazine’s obituary noted that: “His fans would remember him as the fellow who split talk show history into two eras: Before Paar and Below Paar.”

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