September 8, 1957 – Pope Pius XII on the New Media, a “Wonderful Invention”

His Holiness Pope Pius XII

On September 8, 1957, Pope Pius XII issued the 39th of his 41 encyclicals, or circular letters, on that cultural doppelganger, the media.  At the age of 81 and midway through year eighteen of his almost twenty-year pontificate, Pius XII saw the need to give direction to church authorities and the Catholic faithful about motion pictures, radio and television – technologies that were entirely new creations during his lifetime.  Miranda Prorsus, which is Latin for “wonderful invention,” begins by claiming that television, movies, and radio “spring from human intelligence and industry,” but “are nevertheless gifts from God, Our Creator, from Whom all good gifts proceed.”  His Holiness continued with his reasons for writing his letter:

“Just as very great advantages can arise from the wonderful advances which have been made in our day, in technical knowledge concerning Motion Pictures, Radio and Television, so too can very great dangers.

“For these new possessions and new instruments which are within almost everyone’s grasp, introduce a most powerful influence into men’s minds, both because they can flood them with light, raise them to nobility, adorn them with beauty, and because they can disfigure them by dimming their lustre,  dishonour them by a process of corruption, and make them subject to uncontrolled passions, according as the subjects presented to the senses in these shows are praiseworthy or reprehensible.

“In the past century, advancing technical skill in the field of business frequently had this result: machines, which ought to serve men, when brought into use, rather reduced them to a state of slavery and caused grievous harm.  Likewise today, unless the mounting development of technical skill, applied to the diffusion of pictures, sounds and ideas, is subjected to the sweet yoke of the law of Christ, it can be the source of countless evils, which appear to be all the more serious, because not only material forces but also the mind are unhappily enslaved, and man’s inventions are, to that extent, deprived of those advantages which, in the design of God’s Providence, ought to be their primary purpose.”

Pius went on to declare that the Church had the sacred right and duty to further its mission to sanctify souls by using the new media to spread truth and virtue.  He acknowledged that governments had the responsibility to spread news and teachings for the common good of society.  Individual citizens could also use media to enrich their own and others’ intellectual and spiritual culture.  But Pius denounced people who used these new avenues of communication “exclusively for the advancement and propagation of political measures or to achieve economic ends,” or for anything “contrary to sound morals” that would put souls in danger.

Following specific sections addressed to both makers and consumers of television shows, movies, and radio programs, Pope Pius XII entrusted his new precepts and instructions to the Pontifical Commission for Motion Pictures, Radio and Television.  He expressed his “firm confidence in the ultimate triumph of God’s cause” and imparted his Apostolic Benediction on all within the Holy Roman Catholic Church.

Image Credit: The Vatican

July 29, 1957 – Jack Paar’s First Night on The Tonight Show

Jack Paar

Jack Paar

On July 29, 1957, Jack Paar took over the hosts’ chair on the set of The Tonight Show.  Steve Allen, the show’s first host from September 1954 to January 1957, had been instrumental in establishing the format of NBC’s successful late evening talk show: an opening monologue, celebrity interviews, audience participation, comedy bits in which cameras were taken outside the studio, and music with guest performers and a studio band.  Paar added his own touches to the show, including his signature quip “I kid you not” and surrounding himself with a group of regulars and semi-regulars (including Zsa Zsa Gabor).  Paar also started the tradition of having guest hosts, one of whom would go on to become the show’s longest-running host – for over thirty years – Johnny Carson.

Paar’s career had started in radio as an announcer and humorous disc jockey.  He was on the air on WGAR-Cleveland the night Orson Welles broadcast his famous War of the Worlds over the CBS network (WGAR was an affiliate).  Jack tried to calm panicked listeners by announcing, “The world is not coming to an end.  Trust me.  When have I ever lied to you?”  Paar was part of a special services company in the South Pacific entertaining troops during World War II.  He met Jack Benny in Guadalcanal in 1945, and Benny was so impressed he took the young comedian under his wing and sponsored Paar’s career at NBC on several occasions.

Paar was unpredictable and emotional.  His pointed jibes at commanding officers in the Pacific repeatedly got him in trouble.  He feuded publicly with Ed Sullivan and Walter Winchell.  He asked Mickey Rooney to leave the show one evening when Rooney arrived in an inebriated state.  After a questionable joke he made regarding a “W. C.” was cut by censors, Paar walked off The Tonight Show set in mid-show.  He returned three weeks later, explaining, “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 the 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.”

During Paar’s tenure, NBC’s policy was to videotape The Tonight Show and tape new broadcasts over old ones.  Only a few minutes of tape now exist of The Tonight Show Starring Jack Paar.

Image Credit: