Paul Lynde (June 13, 1926 - January 10, 1982)
was an Emmy Award winning
comedian whose greatest claim to fame was playing the "Center Square" on the 1970s television game show Hollywood Squares
. His trademark head waggle and toothy smile (an odd mixture of a grin and a smirk) graced the stages of Broadway and the silver screen over the course of his career, but his witty zinger
s to the questions posed by game show
host Peter Marshall
are how most people remember him.
Well... not entirely. Lynde's comedic style and stage presence were of such a certain nature that he is also renowned as a gay icon. A self-described "confirmed bachelor" whose 70s fashion statements included the man-purse and the caftan, he once confessed that he was thankful his following was straight. Given that the subject of a celebrity's sexuality was once considered taboo to the media, most interviews he gave which even approached this issue centered around the rather benign question of why he chose to never marry. In a People magazine interview from 1976, Lynde says, "Y'know gay people killed Judy Garland, but they're not going to kill me." But I'm getting ahead of myself...
Born in Mount Vernon, Ohio, Paul's father Hoy Lynde was the town butcher and county Sheriff. His mother Sylvia's primary occupation was cooking, and Paul weighed 260 pounds when he entered Mount Vernon High School. Not surprisingly, his obsession with losing weight would become a primary theme for the rest of his life. He graduated in 1944, and on the encouragement given by his high school drama coach, he enrolled in Northwestern University's Speech and Drama School. Shortly thereafter, tragedy struck his family when his brother was killed in the Battle of the Bulge, and both his mother and father died within days of hearing the news.
Determined to go on after the loss, Lynde barely completed his Arts degree in 1948 with the laurels of "Best Student Actor of the Year." (His classmates included Charlton Heston, Charlotte Rae and Patricia O'Neal.) He moved to New York City to parlay his talents into an entertainment career, working as a waiter and selling his blood for extra cash. Luck finally smiled on him when he won an amateur contest in 1950 that led to his first nightclub engagement.
More club and hotel comedy acts followed, until he met with great success in the Broadway revue New Faces of 1952. The show was later made into the film New Faces of 1954, which was Lynde's first screen role. He performed on radio and in a series of stock theatre productions during the 1950s, culminating in his role as "Harry McAfee" in the 1960 Broadway production (and later in the film version) of Bye Bye Birdie alongside Dick Van Dyke and Kay Medford. The cast appeared on the Twelfth Anniversary program of the Ed Sullivan Show in June of that year, which concluded with a musical number in which Lynde exclaimed in song, "Ed, I love you!"
During the 1960s, Lynde left New York for Hollywood and began making regular film and television appearances, most notable of which was his recurring role as Samantha's snide warlock "Uncle Arthur" on the sitcom Bewitched. His episodic TV roles were featured on popular shows such as I Dream of Jeannie, The Munsters and F Troop. He attended a celebration in his home town of Mount Vernon when they honored him by proclaiming July 10, 1963 as "Paul Lynde Day".
A hushed-up incident occurred in 1965 which nearly ruined Lynde's career. One night after bar hopping in San Francisco, 24-year-old actor Jim Davidson jumped — or fell — to his death from the balcony of Lynde's 8th floor hotel room. Fortunately, two uniformed police officers saw the incident occur from street level, and were up in the room in a matter of seconds. According to Lynde, the officers said, "Don't worry, Paul, we saw it all. If you need us, we'll be here. We're not going to let them wipe you out with this." Lynde was never charged with any crime, as it was officially ruled an accident.
Then, in 1967, he made the cast for the debut of the game show Hollywood Squares, where he found an outlet for his sardonic wit. It was a regular gig that paid well and would showcase his talents for the rest of his life.
Some infamous quips from the game show:
Peter Marshall: Twiggy reportedly added an inch to her bustline while making (the movie) The Boyfriend. What does that make her bust measurement now?
Paul Lynde: One.
Peter Marshall: What is the name of the instrument with a light on the end, that the doctor sticks in your ear?
Paul Lynde: Oh, a cigarette.
Peter Marshall: It's well known that small amounts of female hormones are found in the male body. Are male hormones ever found in the female body?
Paul Lynde: Occasionally.
Peter Marshall: What do you call a man who gives you diamonds and pearls?
Paul Lynde: I'd call him "darling"!
Peter Marshall: You became a mother two months ago. And you've been feeling a little depressed lately. According to Cosmopolitan magazine, is this normal?
Paul Lynde: I hate these stretch marks!
Peter Marshall: Paul, in what book will you read about a talking ass who wonders why it's being beaten?
Paul Lynde: I read it, "The Joy of Sex."
Peter Marshall: If the right part comes along, will George C. Scott do a nude scene?
Paul Lynde: You mean he doesn't have the right part?
Peter Marshall: Is it possible for the puppies in a litter to have more than one daddy?
Paul Lynde: Why, that bitch!
Peter Marshall: Paul, for a thousand dollars and a tie game, according to psychologists, do most people sleep better in their street clothes than in their pajamas?
Paul Lynde: Yeah, we call them winos.
In 1972 Lynde was given his shot at stardom with his own ABC
sitcom, The Paul Lynde Show
, but the series was cancelled after one season, mainly due to its time slot competition with NBC
's Adam 12
's The Carol Burnett Show
. Those of you who are my
age or younger will likely recall the 1973 animated film adaptation of E. B. White
's novel Charlotte's Web.
Lynde played the voice of Templeton
the Rat in that classic work of children's cinema.
After his own series failed, Lynde hit the bottle and got involved in a series of public embarrassments. There was the 1973 Golden Globe Awards dinner incident where he heckled winners loudly from the audience, and a strange occurrence in 1976 where he was attacked on the street by a deranged drag queen in Philadelphia. He was arrested twice for public drunkenness, first in Toledo, Ohio in 1974 and again in Salt Lake City, Utah in 1978.
So was Paul Lynde living in denial? His public and private personas undeniably fit the gay sterotype of "The Negative Queen", and Out magazine credits him with making the "world a safer place for sissies." Yet Lynde steadfastly maintained his effeminite heterosexual identity, explaining away his choice of the single life with stories of a long-lost high school sweetheart, his distaste for the institution of marriage, and a preference for living alone. Still, evidence exists that he paid money to have sex with men, and for the most part the public had already made up their minds. Media attention of Lynde toward the end of the 1970s and the early 1980s focused more on his palatial homes and his fondness of gourmet cooking. In the end, his personal celebrity overshadowed his achievements in the entertainment industry — at least as far as the public interest was concerned.
Ever the flamboyant bachelor, Lynde's gourmand proclivity and booze-fueled lifestyle eventually got the better of him, even though he was an "honorary" member of Weight Watchers. His lifelong fight to keep the fat off eventually proved pointless, as his heart gave out on him from substance abuse. He was found in his West Hollywood home, in bed naked with a bottle of "Poppers" in his hand, dead from a myocardial infarction at the age of 55. His body was laid to rest in Amity, Ohio.
Read the detailed 1976 People magazine article at:
http://www.geocities.com/screenjockey/lyndesquares.html (Hollywood Squares quotes)
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