June 13, 1926– Paul Lynde
My favorite Paul Lynde anecdote:
In the early 1960s, Lynde was on a transcontinental flight and a rather dreadful child was not being supervised by her parents, running up and down the aisle making noise and annoying the other passengers. The mother obviously thought this behavior was precious. When Lynde could take no more of the tot’s shenanigans, he rose from his seat and approached the mother, emphatically stating:
“Madam, if you don’t control your child this instant, I will have to fuck her.”
Lynde was one of the first personalities that I identified as gay when I was a child, before I ever understood what it meant. I thought his way with a one-liner and his unique delivery was just too funny. I loved him in the film version of the musical Bye Bye Birdie (1963) in a role he originated on Broadway. Lynde was just barely a closet case with his camp, snarky demeanor and delivery.
He guest starred on nearly every sitcom and variety show from the late 1950s to the 1980s, including: I Dream Of Jeannie, Love American Style, Kraft Music Hall, and Rowan & Martin’s Laugh-In. Lynde’s best known sitcom role was, of course, on Bewitched (1964-1972), the gayest sitcom in Television History. He played Endora’s brother, Uncle Arthur. Fellow cast members Maurice Evans, Agnes Moorehead, George Tobias and Dick Sargent were also gay.
For all his considerable talent, Lynde is most famous as the “Center Square” on the popular game-show Hollywood Squares (1965-1981) and the show’s most iconic star. He began as just another guest, but was so popular that he quickly assumed the permanent place in that center square, guaranteeing that he would be called upon by contestants at least once in every round. The show gave Lynde a showcase for his very special talent for short one-liners, delivered in his trademark sniggering delivery. Many of these gags were thinly veiled allusions to his gayness. Asked: “You’re the world’s most popular fruit. What are you?” Lynde answered: “Humble”.
Other Hollywood Squares classics:
Host, Peter Marshall: “Paul, why do Hell’s Angels wear leather?”
Lynde: “Because chiffon wrinkles too easily.”
Marshall: “What’s the one thing you should never do in bed?”
Lynde: “Point and laugh!”
Marshall: “In The Wizard Of Oz, the Tin Man wanted a heart and the Lion wanted courage. What did the Straw Man want?”
Lynde: “He wanted the Tin Man to notice him.”
Lynde starred in a short-lived ABC sitcom, The Paul Lynde Show (1972), which got the Bewitched slot when that series ended its long run. It co-starred Jerry Stiller and the late, great Anne Meara, along with Alice Ghostly, who was a sort of a female Paul Lynde and also on Bewitched. His own show lasted a single season and it seems to me that like so many good character actors, Lynde’s gift was more apparent in supporting roles. Plus, the network brass at ABC got real nervous about Lynde’s perceived gayness. Still, he was nominated for a Golden Globe Award that year. To fulfill his contract, Lynde was given a once-a-year variety special every year from 1974-1980.
He was a sought after club performer, director, recording artist, and an actor on Broadway, films, television, cartoons, and summer stock. He was also one of Hollywood’s finest chefs, with his own cookbook, and a noted gracious host. Lynde:
“I’m so busy, I can’t even get three weeks off to have cosmetic surgery!”
In 1965, Lynde was involved in an accident where his 24-year-old boyfriend fell eight stories to his death from the window of their hotel room in San Francisco’s Sir Francis Drake Hotel after a night of drinking. The event was witnessed by a pair of policemen, but the story was largely kept out of the press.
In 1976, a People magazine piece on Lynde featured him with his “chauffeur/bodyguard”. A popular ruse in the era, with Liberace using the same label for his boyfriend Scott Thorson. In 1978, Lynde was arrested for drunkenness outside of a gay bar in Salt Lake City. After the arrest, he was released from his guest starring role on The Donny & Marie Show (1976-77).
Lynde spent his entire adult life engaged in personal struggles, as the tabloids reported, but he remained appreciated by those in his profession, and his friends and fans, although I understand he could be a really mean drunk. A gifted comic actor and performer, he is still perhaps most famous just for being Paul Lynde. The enigmatic Lynde:
“I don’t know who the hell Paul Lynde is, or why he’s funny, and I prefer it to be a mystery to me. An actor shouldn’t undergo psychoanalysis, because there are a lot of things you’re better off not knowing.”
Lynde was found dead in his Beverly Hills home by his pal Paul Barresi on January 11, 1982. Lynde enjoyed a precarious life of men, drinking and partying. He was just 55-years-old when he took that final bow. Seth McFarlane counts him as an influence. Mel Brooks is a fan and said that Lynde was: “capable of getting laughs by reading a phone book, tornado alert or seed catalog”.