Long before the Conan O’Brien-Jay Leno hubbub of the last several weeks, there was a much more famous and dramatic exit of a Tonight Show host: Jack Paar.
Fifty years ago today, following his monologue, Jack Paar walked out on The Tonight Show (with his tearful utterance: “…there must be a better way of making a living than this”). Paar had been angered over a joke that had been “bleeped” by the network and on February 11, 1960 announcer Hugh Downs was left to contend with the hosting duties. A few weeks later, Jack Paar returned to the show and remained until 1962.
Hugh Downs talks extensively about this infamous moment in television history in his Archive of American Television interview (in chapter four), his conversation with Paar before it happened and Downs’ reaction when it was happening.
“They showed a shot of me looking astonished and I explained to the audience why I looked astonished because I didn’t know he was going to leave when he left. I knew he was going to leave, but I didn’t know how soon.”
Audio of Paar’s walk out speech as posted on You Tube: