Carson and Barnes Circus, in the 1960s

Monday, September 20, 2010

Garland and Paar in London: Two Fading Icons Cross the Stage. One Flickers Bright, the Other Hardly Tries ...


DVD Discovery: The Jack Paar Collection, Disc 3.

She needed the spotlights to live. He needed more than that, for one thing, the continuity and comfort of a family life up in Connecticut.

She threw everything she had into her music once the lights found her in costume, ready to grasp, caress and possess another audience.

He seems to have grown weary of public adoration, restless for new places to go, new faces to amuse him.

Away from the lights, she was one of the saddest stars in the universe. On Jack Paar's TV Show taped at the Prince Charles Theatare in London on December 11,1964, Judy shared something few stars would ever dare reveal, admitting to the loneliness of celebrity once a curtain came down and the fans went home.

“They treat you like the statute of liberty ... and so no one calls you on the telephone and asks you out to diner ... ‘Oh, She’s too busy.’ And so I just sit by the phone.”

And so I just sit by the phone.

Jack joked during his opening monologue that night, “Really, I don’t do anything.” Except that what he did so well, being himself and provoking the best out of his guests, was more than enough. Except, also, that by now he had begun to take himself for granted. You could see he had grown flippant, lazy, too laid back, too ready to bring on the next guest and let things go where they may. That humdrum night, too much of the program went absolutely nowhere.

When Judy came out and sang “Never never will I marry,” how eerily appropriate did the song feel to her life. She had married. She had raised kids, but she’d never found a meaning therein that could begin to match the thrill of bonding with an audience and being loved back in return. She ended up, a prisoner to her talent, living for the illusion. And the London crowd rewarded her, as well she deserved to be, with a rousing, heartfelt ovation.

Watching this on the DVD, I study Judy’s face. It looks engraved in paint and armor, as if her persona had become its own reality and all she had left was the music inside crying out for the body and the voice to cooperate. The spirit did not fail her that evening. Whatever her technical shortcomings, the redeeming emotional power of her performance electrified the house.

Jack did no where near as well chatting it up with two stuffy guests — the talkative Robert Morley introduced by Jack as one of the two wittiest men he knew, not that night, just a dreary long-winded bore, and Winston Churchill’s son, Robert, who came across the lights as an over educated fop suffering an incurable case of intellectual constipation. Nothing stuffier than a stuffy Brit.

Within a year, Paar was off the air, having retired near the top of his game after an eight year run to give younger talents a chance, so he said. But when, nursing second thoughts ten years later, he tried hosting another late night show one week a month for ABC, time has sadly passed him by. Now he looked a little ill-at-ease and hardly in command, strangely out of place fiddling with a pair of eye glasses he now needed, seeming almost detached on a different set with a younger set of guests. The "comeback" lasted but a single season; Johnny Carson was handily beating him.

And as for Judy, five years following her triumphant appearance for Paar at the Prince Charles Theatre (I am hard put to understand why so many viewing the same DVD decry her performance), she self-directed her own final exit, evidently no longer able to bear the pain. Maybe she’d spent too many long lonely hours sitting by telephones that no longer rang.

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