Tuesday, February 10, 2009

This week in Television History: The "Water Closet" joke February 10th 1960

As always, the further we go back in Hollywood history, the more that fact and legend become intertwined. It's hard to say where the truth really lies.

Listen to my commentary @ TV CONFIDENTIAL with Ed Robertson and Frankie Montiforte

I had Sherman set the WABAC machine to February 10th, 1960 when Jack Paar told the following joke on The Tonight Show.

"An English lady, while visiting Switzerland, was looking for a room, and she asked the schoolmaster if he could recommend any to her. He took her to see several rooms, and when everything was settled, the lady returned to her home to make the final preparations to move. When she arrived home, the thought suddenly occurred to her that she had not seen a "W.C." around the place. So she immediately wrote a note to the schoolmaster asking him if there were a "W.C." around. The schoolmaster was a very poor student of English, so he asked the parish priest if he could help in the matter. Together they tired to discover the meaning of the letters "W.C.," and the only solution they could find for the letters was letters was a Wayside Chapel. The schoolmaster then wrote to the English lady the following note:

Dear Madam,
I take great pleasure in informing you that the W.C. is situated nine miles from the house you occupy, in the center of a beautiful grove of pine trees surrounded by lovely grounds. It is capable of holding 229 people and it is open on Sunday and Thursday only. As there are a great number of people and they are expected during the summer months, I would suggest that you come early: although there is plenty of standing room as a rule. You will no doubt be glad to hear that a good number of people bring their lunch and make a day of it. While others who can afford to go by car arrive just in time. I would especially recommend that your ladyship go on Thursday when there is a musical accompaniment. It may interest you to know that my daughter was married in the W.C. and it was there that she met her husband. I can remember the rush there was for seats. There were ten people to a seat ordinarily occupied by one. It was wonderful to see the expression on their faces. The newest attraction is a bell donated by a wealthy resident of the district. It rings every time a person enters. A bazaar is to be held to provide plush seats for all the people, since they feel it is a long felt need. My wife is rather delicate, so she can't attend regularly. I shall be delighted to reserve the best seat for you if you wish, where you will be seen by all. For the children, there is a special time and place so that they will not disturb the elders. Hoping to have been of service to you, I remain,

The Schoolmaster."

The NBC censors thought the joke was dirty and cut it from the February 10th, 1960 broadcast and replaced that section of the show with news coverage. All of this was done without consulting Paar.

When Paar discovered that his four-minute story had been cut, he retaliated by walking off in the of the February 11th show during the opening monologue saying, "I've been up thirty hours without an ounce of sleep wrestling with my conscience all day. I've made a decision about what I'm going to do. I'm leaving The Tonight Show. There must be a better way to make a living than this, a way of entertaining people without being constantly involved in some form of controversy. I love NBC, and they've been wonderful to me. But they let me down."

Paar walked offstage, leaving his announcer Hugh Downs to finish the show for him.

Paar returned to the show on March 7th, looked right into the camera and said, "As I was saying before I was interrupted. When I walked off, I said there must be a better way of making a living. Well I've looked and there isn't. Be it ever so humble, there is no place like Radio City. Leaving the show was a childish and perhaps emotional thing. I have been guilty of such action in the past and will perhaps be again. I'm totally unable to hide what I feel. It is not an asset in show business. But I shall do the best I can to amuse and entertain you and let other people speak freely, as I have in the past."

TV Trivia
Leave It to Beaver Season: 1 Episode: 2 titled Captain Jack First Aired: 10/11/1957
This episode marks the first time a toilet was ever shown on network TV. Even then, the censors would only allow the tank portion to be shown.

To quote the Bicentennial Minute, "And that's the way it was" February 10th 1960

Stay Tuned

Tony Figueroa

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