In Depth

Jack Paar's Bufferin Explosion

Disaster Gave Sponsor Some Added Publicity

When live TV commercials were a mainstay on TV, anything could happen—and it often did.
One of the more fun disasters occurred on “Tonight” in the summer of 1958. Jack Paar hosted the show then; in fact, it was known as “The Jack Paar Show.”

In his opening monologue, Mr. Paar said he had a headache. “I think I should take an aspirin,” he said, according to Sponsor magazine’s July 12, 1958, issue.

However, longtime fans of the show knew one of its sponsors was Bristol-Myers’ Bufferin; its main ingredient is aspirin, but it has other ingredients as well.

Realizing what he had said, Mr. Paar immediately picked up a bottle of Bufferin off his desk and continued, “Now, now, that was just a slip. I take Bufferin all the time and I’m going to take one right now to show you.”

Paar opened the bottle, Sponsor reported, “and couldn’t get by the cotton wadding. For what seemed like several minutes he struggled with the cotton. Then trying to devise a blackout for what had become a hilariously funny, though embarrassing, situation, he finally said, “Oh well,” and picked up a glass of water, poured some into the Bufferin bottle, lifted it in a brave salute, said ‘Skoal’ and pretended to drink to the audience’s health.”

He then put the cap back on the bottle and started talking to his guest, Broadway director Abe Burrows. About 20 minutes later there was a “sharp explosion,” the magazine said. “The Bufferin bottle cap hit the ceiling, and soggy, white blobs of melted Bufferin splattered in all directions. Jack’s suit and Abe Burrows’ suit were suddenly transformed from neat, conservative garments to gaudy, polka-dotted apparel.”

The audience went nuts, laughing for several minutes.

Lee Bristol Jr. appeared on the show the following night to give Mr. Paar a giant bottle of Bufferin and chide him for the biggest screw-up in the history of Bristol-Myers’ advertising. Bristol-Myers also sponsored “The Alfred Hitchcock Show,” and Mr. Hitchcock was forever belittling his sponsor, but it was nothing like what had happened on Paar’s show, Mr. Bristol said. (Years later it was learned that Mr. Hitchcock’s sarcastic remarks were actually written by a smart copywriter at Bristol-Myers’ agency, Young & Rubicam.)

The ensuing publicity in the nation’s newspapers was deafening, Sponsor wrote. “Bristol-Myers received thousands upon thousands of dollars worth of mention of its product.”