Paul Lynde: A Biography - His Life, His Love(s) & His Laughter
By Cathy Rudolph, Bear Manor Media, 2013
Center Square, Open Closet
You know when somebody asks you what kind of superpower you'd like, you're supposed to answer something like "invisibility" or "x-ray vision" or something like that, but I'd want Paul Lynde's heroic ability to say and get away with some of the s*** he did on Hollywood Squares.
Known mostly for his work on television games shows and sit-coms, Paul Lynde started his show business career as a stand-up comic in New York City in the late 1940s. His Broadway debut was in the musical comedy revue, New Faces of 1952, which was later made into a film. From there, Lynde guest starred on a number of TV comedies and returned to Broadway to play what later would be his most famous screen role, Harry MacAfee, the beleaguered father in Bye Bye Birdie.
It's hard to recall the first time I became aware of Paul Lynde, because he was kind of in everything during the early 1970s, my formative TV years: Bewitched as Endora's jokester brother, Uncle Arthur; the voice of the Hooded Claw in The Perils of Penelope Pitstop (and the only thing that made that cartoon watchable); guesting on I Dream of Jeannie or Love, American Style; voicing Templeton the rat in Charlotte's Web; and, of course, Hollywood Squares, where he'd make jokes I knew were funny, but didn't know why.
And yet, I never did watch the shows developed for him. Apparently, not many other people watched The Paul Lynde Show (1972-1973) or The New Temperatures Rising Show (1973-1974) either, and both were canceled without much fanfare. Already a heavy drinker, Lynde became more alcohol and drug dependent after the failure of the sitcoms and was arrested a number of times for public intoxication. He continued to work, but as a game show panelist or guest star in other people's shows.
Paul Lynde's sexuality was an open secret in Hollywood, and indeed, was the theme of many of his funniest one-liners from Hollywood Squares:
Peter Marshall: What is a pullet?
Paul Lynde: A little show of affection.
Peter Marshall: Paul, why do Hell's Angels wear leather?
Paul Lynde: Because chiffon wrinkles too easily.
Peter Marshall: According to the old song, what's breaking up that old gang of mine?
Paul Lynde: Anita Bryant!
In the Salon interview with Lynde's biographers, Lynde emerges as both a pioneer for gay humor in popular culture and as a symbol of "a self-loathing era for gay culture." He also turns out to have been a mean drunk, not a little racist, and a pretty unhappy person.
For the last couple years of his life, Paul Lynde quit drugs and alcohol and became a spokesperson for Weight Watchers. Alas, the years that preceded his attempt at a healthier lifestyle seemed to win out, and Paul Lynde died of cardiac arrest attributed to extreme substance abuse in 1982. He was only 55 years old.
Paul Lynde Singing "Ed Sullivan" in Bye Bye Birdie