Redeeming Paul Lynde: The Joys of Rediscovering the Forgotten

One of my developmentally disabled clients loves to watch old TV, and he cleverly figured out that he can go to YouTube and watch just about anything that ever existed. I should probably add that he figured this out about a year before I did, but I digress.

“I want to watch a show,” he said to me last week. Okay, no problem, which one? “I dunno. List some.” I know he likes '70s sitcoms, so I started with Rhoda. “No,” he said.

“Three's Company.”


Sanford and Son.”


I continued with M*A*S*H, Happy Days, Welcome Back, Kotter, What's Happening!!, WKRP in Cincinnati, Taxi, Mork & Mindy, Barney Miller, Alice, The Jeffersons, All in the Family, Laverne and Shirley, Angie, Fish, Chico and The Man (I was proud of pulling that forgotten gem out) ­— but all I got a “No.” This is generally when I start to get frustrated and say, Look, freakin' pick something, but then he busted out with this: “Let's watch The Paul Lynde Show.”

The Paul Lynde Show? The guy from Hollywood Squares? The magnificent Uncle Arthur on Bewitched? He was the closest thing we had to an openly gay dude on TV back then, and his quirky, fruity delivery puts him at the head of the pack among campy pop culture hipsters' Hall of Fame character actors like Rip Torn, Phyllis Diller, and Charles Nelson Reilly. Lynde held the “center square” on Hollywood Squares and was famous for his off-color and often openly gay zingers. When asked, “When a man falls out of your boat and into the water, you should yell, 'Man overboard! Now what should you yell if a woman falls overboard?” Lynde replied, “Full speed ahead!”

Oh yes, I knew a ton about him, because, you see, I am a television expert. If there had been a Paul Lynde Show I would've known about it.

So I was wrong. Sure enough, there it was. A very short-lived sitcom called The Paul Lynde Show ran from '72 to '73. It was apparently about a man and his wife and two daughters, and the clash between “kids today” and his generation. I'm sure part of its short run had to do with the fact that no one could buy the fact that Lynde would be married to a woman. That's not what caught my eye though. Oh, no.

What I stumbled upon in the YouTube queue was far greater: The Paul Lynde Halloween Special. Yes, gentle reader, for the next hour we were sucked into an amazing vortex of so-bad-it's-good crap TV that rivals The Star Wars Holiday Special and Pink Lady and Jeff. It's not that the jokes are lame ­— Lynde's humor is in his delivery of lines, not their actual content, anyway — but it's who he surrounds himself with. Donny and Marie are to be expected, but Margaret Hamilton? She reprises her Wicked Witch of the West role for the entire thing, and she pals around in skits with Witchiepoo from H.R. Puffinstuff, played by Billy Hayes. In one scene, they are reading The Exorcist and Rosemary's Baby books together. Lynde suddenly appears. “Have a nice trip?” Hamilton asks him. “Terrible,” he replies. “The broom broke down over Trenton.” Oy, vey. Billy Barty and Betty White also appear (yes!). And then, just when you think you can't take it any more, KISS shows up and performs “Detroit Rock City,” “Beth,” and “King of the Nighttime World.”

“I can tell you how you got your name and how you got your act,” says Lynde to the band. “You had a fight, and your mothers told you to 'kiss' and makeup!” He also gets delightfully gay. “Oh just what I've always wanted! Four kisses on the first date!”

As soon as it was over, my client wanted to watch it again, and I was more than happy to oblige. After, I was left wondering whatever happened to Paul Lynde. Turns out he died in his 50s from a bad heart, and though his friends had many nice things to say about him, he was generally an asshole when he drank… which was all the time. Nevertheless, anyone who can end his variety special with Billy Barty, Roz Kelly, Florence Henderson, Billy Hayes, and Margaret Hamilton disco dancing to “Disco Baby” deserves to have his faults overlooked.

“Let's watch something else,” said my client.

“Okay,” I said, “what?”

“List some shows.”

Sigh. “Facts of Life?” No. “Gimme A Break?” No. “Webster, Designing Women, Newhart, Charles in Charge, Mr. Belvedere, Too Close for Comfort, One Day at a Time, The Cosby Show…”

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