Thursday, October 22, 2020

Paul Lynde


Paul Edward Lynde was born in Mount Vernon, Ohio on June 13, 1926.  His parents owned a meat market, a point that I'm sure Lynde must have joked about at some point in his career.  He was the fifth of six children, one of whom died at the Battle of the Bulge in World War 2.  

Lynde knew from an early age that he wanted to be an entertainer.  When he graduated from high school, he enrolled at Northwestern University, where he studied speech and drama.  The student roster reads like a Who's Who in Hollywood, as his fellow classmates included Charlotte Rae, Cloris Leachman, Jeff Hunter and Claude Akins.  

He graduated in 1948 and moved to New York City, waiting for his big break.  It came a few years later when he made his Broadway debut in a revue called New Faces of 1952.  Once again, Lynde found himself surrounded by future A-listers, as the production also included Eartha Kitt, Robert Clary and Alice Ghostley.  The production was filmed and released theatrically as New Faces in 1954.  You can watch the film in its entirety on Youtube.

A few years later, Lynde co-starred in a short-lived sit-com called Stanley.  His co-stars were the relatively unknown Carol Burnett and Buddy Hackett.  You can watch the show's intro on Youtube.

Then in 1960, Lynde returned to the Broadway stage, signing on to a production of Bye Bye Birdie.  It was well received by critics, resulting in a 1963 theatrical version that also featured Lynde.  Here's one of his musical numbers from the film, "What's the Matter With Kids Today."  Now I know where that song came from!

Lynde returned to television next, making guest appearances on a number of series, including The Munsters, I Dream of Jeannie and F Troop.  Click on each title to see a clip of varying quality.

In 1965, Lynde made his first appearance on the sit-com Bewitched, when he played a nervous driving instructor to series star Elizabeth Montgomery.  The part was so well received that Montgomery and her husband William Asher, who was also the show's director and producer, created a new, recurring role for Lynde, that of Uncle Arthur, a practical-joking "good witch" like Montgomery's Samantha.  Over the course of the series, Lynde would appear in ten episodes as the character.  Here's his introduction to the role.

During his run on the series, Lynde supplemented his income by appearing on a new game show that premiered in 1966.  Of course, I'm talking about Hollywood Squares, the show that Lynde is most famously identified with.  It gave him the opportunity to showcase his comedic talent and sharp wit.  He quickly became one of the more popular stars to appear on the show and as such, was given the center square, ensuring at least question per round.  His jokes relied on double entendre and were often allusions to his own sexuality.  Over the next 15 years, he'd appear a total of 707 times on the series.  You can see a compilation of his greatest hits here.

During this period, Lynde also had his own sit-com, The Paul Lynde Show, which ran for one season on ABC.  Critics and audiences perceived it as a thinly-veiled copy of All in the Family, as he played a conservative father at odds with his liberal-minded son-in-law.  Lynde was opposed to doing the series, but was contractually obligated to do so in place of Bewitched, which had been canceled the previous season.  You can watch the pilot episode here

Throughout the 1970s, Lynde also starred in a number of self-titled variety specials, the most famous of which was The Paul Lynde Halloween Special in 1976.  While generally regarded as hokie and somewhat embarrassing today, the special is notable as it was the first prime-time network appearance of the rock band KISS.  The special also featured Wizard of Oz star Margaret Hamilton re-creating her signature role, alongside fellow actress Billie Hayes, known as Witchiepoo on the Sid and Marty Krofft classic, H.R. Pufnstuf.  You can watch the special in its entirety here, or just the KISS segment here.

Lynde continued making television guest appearances into the 1980s.  Then in January 1982, he failed to appear at a birthday celebration.  Concerned, two of his friends, Paul Barresi and Dean Dittman, let themselves into his home, where they found him in his bed.  Lynde had been dead for some time, the coroner later attributing it to a heart attack.  He was just 55 years old.

Lynde was cremated and his ashes were returned to his siblings in Ohio.  He was interred in a family plot at Amity Cemetery with his brother Johnny.  A few years later, sister Helen would join them, and three squares would appear on the headstone.  Ironically, Paul is not in the center.

Rest in peace.


  • In 2013, author Cathy Rudolph, a personal friend of Lynde's, released Paul Lynde: A Biography - His Life, His Love(s) and His Laughter.  Peter Marshall wrote the foreword.  Pick up a copy from Amazon.

  • Although widely known for comedy, Lynde would have preferred to have been remembered as a dramatic actor.  He once stated "we live in a world that needs laughter, and I've decided that if I can make people laugh, I'm making an important contribution."

  • In 1976, Lynde appeared at the Sixth Annual American Guild of Variety Artists awards presentation, where he was named Funniest Man of the Year.  Rather than keep the award for himself, he gave it to host Jackie Gleason, describing him as the funniest man ever.  Gleason was shocked by the gesture. 

  • Lynde starred in a number of sit-com pilots that never made it to series, including Howie in 1962.  You can watch that episode in its entirety on Youtube.

  • Lynde weighed 250 pounds when he graduated from high school.  Throughout his career, he often struggled to keep his weight under control.  In 1977, he was recognized by Weight Watchers for bringing attention to the issue of obesity.

  • Lynde also struggled with alcohol throughout his career, often leading to trouble with the law.  In 1965, after a night of hard drinking, Lynde's friend James "Bing" Davidson fell eight stories to his death from atop a San Francisco hotel.  In 1977, while attending homecoming events at Northwestern University, Lynde went on a racist tirade against an African-American professor, later attributing it to inebriation and fatigue.  Finally in 1978, he was arrested in Salt Lake City for interfering with a police investigation after his car was broken into.

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