Jack Paar – Host of The Tonight Show

August 1958

Jack Paar

Jack Paar

The Managing Editor of Time Magazine, Otto Fuerbringer, called my Dad into the Time offices in the first week of August 1958 to do some some quick sketches for a cover portrait of Jack Paar the comedian and host of The Tonight Show.

Fuerbringer chose an idea from the my father’s sketches, and told my Dad he had one week to do the painting. Usually my Dad had two weeks to paint a portrait, though sometimes, like the portrait of Germany’s Ludwig Erhard (October 28, 1957) he was given as little as 2 and a half days.

Jack Paar and Judy Garland - The Tonight Show

Comedian Jack Paar hosted The Tonight Show during the late 1950s and early 1960s, and all the top celebrities of the day made appearances. This is Jack Paar with Judy Garland.

Fuerbringer told my Dad that there were no photographic references of Paar yet – Paar was in Cuba at the time and was apparently being uncooperative. So my Dad started painting the background first.

The reference photographs of Paar didn’t arrive till two days before deadline – meaning that the most important part of the portrait had to be rushed.

(There were other occasions like this that I remember, when my father was under a lot of pressure and we had to be very quiet in the house because he was working hard – no running and screaming with my friends (a favorite past time).  I remember not being allowed to disturb him or go into the studio til the rushed painting was done – or at least until my father was through the worst of the work.)

My father managed to deliver the cover on schedule.

Jack Paar by Bernard Safran, August 18, 1958 - source: Time Archives

Jack Paar by Bernard Safran, August 18, 1958 – source: Time Archives

And while delivering it he met for the first time the Senior Editor Henry Grunwald. Grunwald liked the painting and said that all the “lights in the windows of the houses in the background were all the people in their bathrooms during commercial break”.

NBC Peacock logo designed by John J. Graham in 1956

NBC Peacock logo designed by John J. Graham in 1956

NBC ran the cover during their station breaks the entire week after it was published – it was a great success.

A few months later in December my Dad was invited to a luncheon for Jack Paar held in a suite in a Park Avenue hotel. Also attending were Otto Fuerbringer, Jim Keogh, Louis Banks, Baker and a couple of other senior editors.

Apparently Parr talked throughout the entire luncheon and didn’t eat. My father was seated next to him and it came up that my father was building a house in Bronxville. Paar asked “Where did you find the land? I had a choice of two lots,” and my dad answered – “I had a choice of one” – Paar didn’t find this very funny.

According to my father’s notes Paar built himself up publicly as a nice guy but everyone who knew him thought “he was a swine”. Throughout the lunch he proceeded to bad talk everyone he knew in show business – talking about their ingratitude towards him, etc.

After eating, the senior editors presented the cover portrait by my father to Paar as a gift from Time.

Time gave many of the cover portraits away to the people in them – usually to the great delight of the receiver… but Paar was unhappy. He complained that my father hadn’t got the color of his eyes right and that he’d made his eyes too baggy.

As they left the hotel and were walking down the street, Feurbringer said to my father within hearing of all the Time people, “I thought you caught him very well to me”.


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