Lynde in 1972
|Born||Paul Edward Lynde
June 13, 1926
Mount Vernon, Ohio
|Died||January 10, 1982
Beverly Hills, California
Cause of death
|Residence||Beverly Hills, California|
|Alma mater||Northwestern University|
|Home town||Mount Vernon, Ohio|
A noted character actor with a distinctively campy and snarky persona that often poked fun at his barely in-the-closet homosexuality, Lynde was well known for his roles as Uncle Arthur on Bewitched and the befuddled father Harry MacAfee in Bye Bye Birdie. He was also the regular "center square" guest on the game show Hollywood Squares from 1968 to 1981, and he voiced Templeton the gluttonous rat and The Hooded Claw in the Hanna-Barbera productions Charlotte's Web and The Perils of Penelope Pitstop, respectively.
Paul Lynde was born in Mount Vernon, Ohio, the son of Hoy Coradon and Sylvia Bell (Doup) Lynde. He graduated from Mount Vernon High School in 1944, and then studied drama at Northwestern University in Evanston, Illinois, where his fellow students included Cloris Leachman, Charlotte Rae, Patricia Neal, Jeffrey Hunter and Claude Akins. At Northwestern, he joined the Upsilon chapter of Phi Kappa Sigma and is listed amongst the most famous members of the fraternity. He graduated in 1948 and moved to New York City, where he initially worked as a stand-up comic.
Lynde made his Broadway debut in the hit revue New Faces of 1952 in which he co-starred with fellow newcomers Eartha Kitt, Robert Clary, Alice Ghostley, and Carol Lawrence. In his monologue from that revue, the "Trip of the Month Club," Lynde portrayed a man on crutches recounting his misadventures on the African safari he took with his late wife. The show was filmed and released as New Faces in 1954.
After the revue's run, Lynde co-starred in the short-lived 1956 sitcom Stanley opposite Buddy Hackett and Carol Burnett, both of whom were also starting out their careers in show business. That same year, he guest starred on NBC's The Martha Raye Show. Lynde returned to Broadway in 1960 when he was cast as Harry MacAfee, the father in Bye Bye Birdie. He also reprised the role in the 1963 film adaptation. That same year, he recorded a live album, Recently Released, issued as an LP record. All six tracks were written by him. Once he could afford writers, he rarely used his own material until his tenure on Hollywood Squares years later. Lynde was in great demand in the 1960s, and was a familiar face on many sitcoms, including The Phil Silvers Show, The Munsters, The Flying Nun, Gidget, and I Dream of Jeannie, F Troop, and variety shows such as The Perry Como Show and The Dean Martin Show. Lynde's best known sitcom role was on Bewitched, where he made his debut appearance in the first season episode "Driving is the Only Way to Fly." His role as Samantha Stephens's nervous driving instructor Harold Harold was very well received by viewers, as well as series star Elizabeth Montgomery and her husband, director/producer William Asher, with both of whom Lynde became good friends. Asher then created the recurring role of Endora's practical-jokester brother, Uncle Arthur. Lynde made 10 appearances on Bewitched as the beloved character, and was regularly seen with Montgomery and Asher off the set as well.
Lynde also did extensive voice work on animated cartoons, particularly those of Hanna-Barbera Productions. His most notable roles included The Hooded Claw in The Perils of Penelope Pitstop (although he was uncredited), Mildew Wolf from It's the Wolf (a segment of Cattanooga Cats), and Pertwee from Where's Huddles?. He also voiced the role of Templeton the gluttonous rat in the animated feature Charlotte's Web. Lynde's sardonic inflections added a dimension to such lines as the sly, drawn-out whine, "What's in it for meeee?" Lynde's distinctive voice is popular among impressionists. Although it is sometimes assumed that actress Alice Ghostley based her speech patterns and mannerisms on Lynde's, according to actress Kaye Ballard "it was Paul who was influenced by Alice".
In 1966, Lynde debuted on the fledgling game show Hollywood Squares and quickly became its iconic guest star. Eventually he assumed a permanent spot as the "center square," a move which ensured that he would be called upon by contestants at least once in almost every round. Despite an urban legend to the contrary, Paul Lynde remained in the center at the producers' discretion. Many NBC tour guides have claimed that Lynde was afraid of earthquakes and the center square proved to be the safest square of the show's set. An anecdote related during the A&E Biography on Lynde described an earthquake that occurred during the Hollywood Squares taping that frightened and alarmed many of the guests. Lynde remained in his seat, tapping his fingers, asking if they were going to finish the show.
On Hollywood Squares Lynde was best able to showcase his comedic talents with short, salty one-liners, delivered in his trademark sniggering delivery. Many of these gags were thinly veiled allusions to his homosexuality. Asked, "You're the world's most popular fruit. What are you?" Lynde replied, "Humble." Asked how many men are on a hockey team, Lynde said, "Oh, about half." Asked whether it was against the law in Texas to call a Marine a "sissy," Lynde quipped, "I guess I’ll have to take the law into my own hands."
Other jokes relied on double entendre, an alleged fondness for deviant behaviors, or dealt with touchy subject matter for 1970s television. Examples include:
- Q: “What unusual thing do you do, if you have something called 'the gift of tongues'?”
- Lynde: “I wouldn’t tell the grand jury; why should I tell you?”
- Q: "The great writer George Bernard Shaw once wrote, 'It's such a wonderful thing, what a crime to waste it on children.' What is it?"
- Lynde: "A whipping."
- Q: "Paul, any good boat enthusiast should know that 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: "Full speed ahead!"
Lynde garnered considerable fame and wealth from the series, appearing a total of 707 times. He bought Errol Flynn's old Hollywood mansion and spent an enormous amount of money on renovations and decorations.
The Paul Lynde Show and Temperatures Rising
In 1972, Lynde starred in the short-lived ABC sitcom, The Paul Lynde Show, playing an uptight attorney and father at odds with his liberal-minded son-in-law. The series was a contractual fulfillment to ABC in place of an aborted ninth season of Bewitched.
Lynde starred as Paul Simms, the father of a family that consisted of wife Martha (Elizabeth Allen) and daughters Barbara (Jane Actman) and Sally (Pamelyn Ferdin). It also starred John Calvin as Barbara's husband, Howie, and Jerry Stiller and Anne Meara as Howie's parents. Critics perceived the show as a derivative of All in the Family, then television's most-popular primetime program, although many admitted the writing was top notch and the sexual connotations gave it an extra bit of spice. Lynde was nominated for a Best Actor Golden Globe for the show. Scheduled opposite the first half of the Top 30 hit The Carol Burnett Show on CBS and the Top 20 hit Adam-12 on NBC, the series garnered low ratings and was canceled after a single season.
Media reports at the time about ABC programs indicated that research showed viewers liked another ABC show, Temperatures Rising, but disliked star James Whitmore, whereas viewers liked Lynde but not The Paul Lynde Show. Therefore, the network and producer William Asher decided to dismiss Whitmore and combine the positive elements of both series. Lynde was "transferred" to Temperatures Rising for the 1973-74 season. The trick did not work and the ratings for The New Temperatures Rising were poor within weeks of the premiere. ABC cancelled the show mid-season, its time slot taken by mid-season replacement Happy Days. ABC resuscitated it, with additional changes in cast (most notably, Alice Ghostley replaced Sudie Bond in the role of Lynde's sister Edwina) and premise, in the summer of 1974, when it ran for two months. Neither actor's presence in the cast helped the show's flagging ratings and this series, too, was not renewed and was replaced permanently by Happy Days.
Despite Lynde's popularity, his presence and humor worked better as comic relief in smaller doses. In addition to the unsuccessful The Paul Lynde Show and Temperatures Rising, Lynde starred in four failed television pilots in the 1960s:
- Howie (1962, CBS)
- Two's Company (1965, ABC)
- Sedgewick Hawk-Styles: Prince of Danger (1966, ABC)
- Manley and the Mob (1967, ABC)
Of the four shows, only the Victorian detective spoof Sedgewick Hawk-Styles: Prince of Danger was initially picked up by ABC, only to be cancelled at the last minute. William Asher commented in the A&E Biography entry on Lynde that the network had reservations about Lynde, most notably his offscreen behavior and the persistent rumors of his homosexuality.
Lynde was regularly admired by his peers during his lifetime. Mel Brooks once described Lynde as being capable of getting laughs by reading "a phone book, tornado alert, or seed catalogue." In 1976 Lynde received an Entertainer of the Year Emmy award for being voted the funniest man of the year, which he immediately turned over to host Jackie Gleason (who never won an Emmy award during his lifetime), citing him as "the funniest man ever." This gesture was totally unexpected and shocked Jackie Gleason.
Alcoholism, arrests and final years
Although he was voted America’s favorite comedian in a 1974 poll and highly sought out for every manner of TV game and variety show, it was the failure of his two series that reportedly exacerbated Lynde’s drinking problem, leading to numerous run-ins with the law and frequent arrests for public intoxication. Marshall  and Kaye Ballard both confirmed that the actor would sometimes verbally ridicule his friends when inebriated.
Despite this, Lynde's continuing popularity led to his being signed by ABC to host a series of specials from 1975 to 1979, including:
- The Paul Lynde Comedy Hour (November 6, 1975) with Jack Albertson, Nancy Walker and the Osmond Brothers;
- The Paul Lynde Halloween Special (October 29, 1976) featuring the first prime-time network appearance of KISS, along with Margaret Hamilton recreating her role as the Wicked Witch of the West from The Wizard of Oz. Hamilton and Billie Hayes (as H.R. Pufnstuf's Witchiepoo) teamed up in a skit where they ask Lynde to help them improve their (witches) image. Other guests included Betty White, Donny and Marie Osmond, Tim Conway and Roz Kelly;
- The Paul Lynde Comedy Hour (April 23, 1977) with Cloris Leachman and Tony Randall;
- T'was the Night Before Christmas (December 7, 1977) with Alice Ghostley, Martha Raye, George Gobel and Foster Brooks;
- The Paul Lynde Comedy Hour (May 20, 1978) with Juliet Prowse, Brenda Vaccaro and Harry Morgan;
- Paul Lynde at the Movies (March 24, 1979) with Betty White, Vicki Lawrence, Robert Urich and Gary Coleman;
- Paul Lynde Goes M-A-A-A-AD (May 20, 1979) with Marie Osmond, Charo and Vicki Lawrence.
Lynde was also involved in an unfortunate incident at his alma mater, Northwestern University in October 1977. He was the Grand Marshal that year for homecoming. During a trip to a nearby fast food restaurant after the homecoming parade he made racist remarks and gestures to an African-American gentleman who actually was a professor at the University. He blamed it on fatigue and alcohol.
Lynde was also a regular guest on the 1976-79 variety show Donny & Marie until 1978. On January 4, he was arrested outside of a gay bar in Salt Lake City at approximately 1:30 a.m. for interfering with a police officer. The officer, who was investigating a car burglary, claimed Lynde kept insisting that the officer "...attend to Lynde's complaint that his briefcase with $1,000 in cash and valuables inside had been stolen." The complaint was later dropped, but he lost his guest-starring role on Donny & Marie as a result.
Lynde also suffered from weight control problems, and was honored in 1977 by Weight Watchers. That same year, Lynde's beloved dog, Harry MacAfee, died. Lynde could not stay in the house without him, and bought a new home later in the year. Once again, he spent a great deal of money to renovate the house.
As work began to dry up for Lynde, he took any opportunities that were offered to him. He appeared as a guest weatherman for WSPD-TV in Toledo, Ohio in 1978. and appeared as Indian chief Nervous Elk alongside former Bye Bye Birdie co-star Ann-Margret in the 1979 comedy The Villain, his final film role. Lynde had also become disenchanted with being what he called "boxed into" Hollywood Squares and departed the series that same year. Acting jobs continued to be sparse, although it is unclear if this was due to anti-gay prejudice of the era or Lynde's known substance abuse and alcohol problems, which made him difficult to work with.
Lynde finally became sober and drug-free in early 1980. At this time, Hollywood Squares was experiencing a downward trend in ratings. Lynde did not want to return, but changed his mind when he received co-star billing with host Peter Marshall. He returned to the series in the spring of that year and remained with the show until its cancellation in February 1981.
On January 11, 1982, after Lynde had failed to turn up for a birthday celebration, his friend Paul Barresi became concerned. When he and another friend, actor Dean Ditman, could not get an answer on the phone or from knocking on his door, Barresi broke into the side entrance to Lynde's home in Beverly Hills, California, where he was found dead in his bed. Stories suggesting Lynde had a visitor at the time of his death who fled the scene circulated but could not be proven, as the comedian regularly activated his house alarm before retiring for the evening. When Barresi broke in, the alarm blared, indicating Lynde was alone at the time of his death. The coroner ruled the death a heart attack. Lynde's cremated remains are interred at Amity Cemetery, in Amity, Ohio, next to those of his brother Johnny and sister Helen. His father and mother are buried at the same cemetery.
Paul Lynde's popularity and admiration has continued since his 1982 death. A biography was published in 2005, titled Center Square: The Paul Lynde Story. Authors Steve Wilson and Joe Florenski described Lynde as "Liberace without a piano" and that to most 1970s-era viewers, he was a frustrated bit player and "character actor on a daytime game show." To the homosexual community, his reputation was less than stellar: "In some ways, he came to symbolize what's perceived to be a self-loathing era for gay culture."
Lynde's distinctive vocal delivery has also been widely imitated:
- Cartoon creator/voice actor Seth MacFarlane has acknowledged that the voice of Roger the Alien on American Dad! was modeled after Lynde.
- The voice and humor of Queer Duck character Bi-Polar Bear, voiced by Billy West, is performed in the style of Lynde, as is supervillain The Scoutmaster in the Simpsons episode "Radioactive Man".
- Steve Carell reprised Lynde's role as "Uncle Arthur" in the 2005 film Bewitched, very much in Lynde's style.
- The voice of Big Cheese on Samurai Pizza Cats is a Paul Lynde impression.
- The voice and humor of William A. Mummy on the GSN game show Late Night Liars is performed in the vein of Lynde as well.
- In 2010, Lynde's likeness appeared in the center square in the Futurama episode "Lethal Inspection".
- Actor/comedian Michael Airington portrays Lynde in the show Oh My Goodness It's Paul Lynde and An Evening with Paul Lynde, recreating Lynde's 1976 live show, and Off Center: The Paul Lynde Show. Airington licenses the rights from the Paul Lynde Estate.
Lynde's sexual orientation was something of an open secret in Hollywood, although, in keeping with the social norms of the time, it was not acknowledged or discussed in public. In a 2013 radio interview, Dick Van Dyke recalled the wrap party for Bye Bye Birdie. A series of men gave short speeches, each one praising Ann-Margret and predicting success and stardom for the young actress. When it was Lynde's turn to speak, he began, "Well, I guess I'm the only one here who doesn’t want to fuck Ann-Margret." On at least three episodes of Gilbert Gottfried's Amazing Colossal Podcast, host Gilbert Gottfried has recounted a (possibly apocryphal) anecdote of Lynde arriving at a run-down comedy club and being so appalled by its condition that he quipped "this place smells like cunt-I think."
In 1965, Lynde was involved in an accident in which a young actor fell to his death from the window of their hotel room in San Francisco's Sir Francis Drake Hotel. The two had been drinking for hours before 24-year-old James "Bing" Davidson slipped and fell eight stories. Despite his campy television persona, Lynde never publicly came out as gay and the press generally refrained from commenting about it. In 1976, a People magazine article on Lynde featured him and Stan Finesmith; the latter was dubbed Lynde's "suite mate" and “chauffeur-bodyguard.” In the 1970s, this was as close as the press would come to hinting at his sexuality.
- Paul E. Lynde, age 3-9/12 years. U.S. Census, 1 April 1930, State of Ohio, County of Knox, enumeration district 9, p. 7A, family 202.
- Paul Edward Lynde, born 13 June 1926, died 11 January 2013. Ancestry.com. California Death Index, 1940–1997 [database on-line]. Provo, Utah, USA: The Generations Network, Inc., 2000.
- "Paul Lynde Biography (1926–1982)". Biography.com. Retrieved 2008-01-25.
- "Paul Lynde". What A Character!. Retrieved 2008-01-25.
- Vincent Canby (21 June 1998). "A Lost Theatrical Form Returns With a Smile". The New York Times. Retrieved 2008-01-25.
- Mike Sacks (23 August 2005). "Queer as Folk". Salon. Salon Media Group. Retrieved 2013-08-01.
- Dennis McLellan (22 September 2007). "'Bewitched's' Esmeralda Dies at 81". The Los Angeles Times. Retrieved 2013-07-29.
- [dead link]
- "Paul Lynde Clips". Paullynde.info. 1960-06-05. Retrieved 2013-09-21.
- Zingers from the Hollywood Squares LP, Event Records, 1974
- Paul Lynde: Off Center, A&E Home Video, 2001
- I Love the 70s: 1971, VH1, 2003
- Peter Marshall Kaye Ballard (E True Hollywood Story, 2000)
- "You Asked Us: About Funny, Fussy Actor Paul Lynde". The Montreal Gazette. 17 February 1973. Retrieved 2013-07-29.
- Florence Henderson Show, 2008
- Peter Marshall, Kaye Ballard; E! True Hollywood Story, 2000
- Joan Hanauer (7 December 1977). "Lynde Tries 'Different Christmas TV Special". The Youngstown Vindicator. Retrieved 2013-07-29.
- "Paul Lynde Arrested". The Daily Item. 4 January 1978. Retrieved 2013-07-29.
- "Paul Lynde doing the Weather". Retrieved 26 May 2011.
- Paul Simon (12 January 1982). "Paul Lynde Suffers Heart Attack: Dead at 55". The Daily Times. Retrieved 2013-07-29.
- Rush & Molloy (1 September 2005). "Lynde Bio Squarely Denies He OD'd". New York Daily News. Retrieved 2013-07-29.
- "American Dad! - Seth on Paul Lynde and Patrick Stewart"
- "An Evening with Paul Lynde". Movies.nytimes.com. Retrieved 2009-10-29.
- "Paul Lynde play at Exit Theatre gets pulled over copyright claim | Culture Monster | Los Angeles Times". Latimesblogs.latimes.com. 28 February 2009. Retrieved 2009-10-29.
- Mark Evanier (12 Nov 2013). "Twice-Told Tales". News From Me: Mark Evanier's blog about TV, movies, theater, comics, news, and politics and other forms of fantasy. Mark Evanier. Retrieved 2013-08-20.
- "James Davidson". findadeath.com. October 14, 2009.
- Paul Lynde at the Internet Movie Database
- Paul Lynde at the Internet Broadway Database
- Paul Lynde at the Internet Off-Broadway Database
- Paul Lynde at Find a Grave
- What Happened to Paul Lynde? at TVParty.com
- Paul Lynde at the Rotten Library
- Paul Lynde punchlines from "Hollywood Squares"
- "Queer as Folk" Salon.com, August 23, 2005.
- Center Square: The Paul Lynde Story (2005) by Steve Wilson and Joe Florenti