Friday, January 19, 2018

Top TV Moments: Paul Lynde

Actors are expected to lose themselves in the roles they play, modifying their mannerisms and vocal delivery to match each character. But in the classic TV era some actors had the luxury of maintaining their own familiar and finely developed personas from role to role and show to show.

Paul Lynde certainly belongs in that category. He played parents and teachers, doctors and military men, and all of them looked and sounded and acted like Paul Lynde. And that was fine, because his infectious laugh and sardonic smirk could make straight lines funny and punch lines funnier. 

While he is certainly known and appreciated among fans of TV classics, I still believe he is underappreciated. Perhaps that is a result of the lack of variety in his work, or because he left us so long ago and far too soon. But he was indisputably a one-of-a-kind talent, as the following moments illustrate.

Stanley (1956)
This series only lasted seven episodes according to IMDB, but I’d love to see one of them one day. Buddy Hackett stars as the well-connected proprietor of a newsstand inside a fancy New York hotel, Carol Burnett played his girlfriend, and Paul Lynde, as the hotel’s owner Horace Fenton, was heard but never seen via announcements over the lobby’s public address system. With that cast how bad could it be?

The Munsters (1964)
I’ve never been a big fan of this series, but Lynde’s three first-season appearances as the family physician, nearsighted Dr. Dudley, always added a spark to the proceedings.  

Bewitched (1965)
Samantha’s practical joke-loving Uncle Arthur is certainly Paul Lynde’s most famous classic TV character. In my “Funniest Sitcom Episodes of the 1960s” piece I singled out Arthur’s first appearance, in 1965’s “The Joker Is a Card,” as one of the decade’s most hilarious achievements. But as true Bewitched fans already know, Lynde also made one previous appearance on the series as Samantha’s frazzled driving instructor in “Driving Is the Only Way To Fly.” 

Gidget (1966)
How does Gidget wind up in Pasadena in her pajamas? It’s a bizarre tale, but part of the trouble is Paul Lynde, playing a father of one of Gidget’s friends who carries a grudge against the San Fernando Valley. 

Lynde’s vituperous take on a harried parent in “Take a Lesson” is reminiscent of his performance in Broadway’s Bye Bye Birdie. I almost expected him to break into a chorus of “Kids.” 

Hollywood Squares (1966)
For 13 years and more than 800 episodes, Paul Lynde appeared in the center square on this iconic game show, unleashing jokes and double-entendres that he probably couldn’t get away with on TV now.
Peter Marshall: Paul, what is a good reason for pounding meat?
Paul Lynde: Loneliness!
Peter: It is the most abused and neglected part of your body, what is it?
Paul: Mine may be abused, but it certainly isn't neglected. 

Sadly, most of these episodes no longer exist, because network geniuses decided that no one would ever want to watch them after they were first broadcast.

I Dream of Jeannie (1966)
Lynde appeared three times in this series in three different roles. My favorite is Harry Huggins in “My Master, The Rich Tycoon.” Upon arrival at Major Nelson’s home he mocks the d├ęcor, prompting Jeannie to blink up all sorts of priceless art treasures. The way he reads the line “A real Renoir? In Cocoa Beach?” could not be surpassed. After taking the tour, he reveals himself as an IRS agent ready to send Tony to jail for unlisted income. 

The Dating Game (1968)
For the top slot on a list of places you’d least expect Paul Lynde to turn up, I nominate his appearance as bachelor #1 on The Dating Game. But in 1968 everyone was still straight on television, so there he was, competing for the affections of an attractive young blonde, clearly aware of the absurdity of the situation but eager to go along for the ride. The highlight comes when the girl asks Paul, “Bachelor #1, I’ve just given you Bachelor #2 – what are you going to do with him?” Lynde looked at the burly, bearded guy next to him and responded, “Go dancing!” Not surprisingly, he didn’t get the date. Or Bachelor #2.

The Perils of Penelope Pitstop (1969)
Lynde’s famous laugh elevated this lackluster spinoff of Wacky Races, in which sweet Penelope is stalked by the villainous Hooded Claw (Lynde), who in reality is her attorney, Sylvester Sneekly. It should have been more fun than it was, but I did like when Lynde’s characters would break the fourth wall and argue with the show’s narrator. 

The Dean Martin Show (1969)
Paul Lynde made several appearances on this long-running variety series, and he could work Dean Martin like Tim Conway worked Harvey Korman. 

YouTube offers a chance to view many of their best sketches, during which Dino always loses it about halfway through.

The Paul Lynde Show (1972)
In the opening credits sequence of this short-lived sitcom, Lynde loses all his paperwork when his briefcase flies open, slips on wet pavement, trips over a hose and falls into a pool. None of this is funny, or the kind of shtick audiences expected from an actor whose comic gifts were verbal, not physical. He plays Paul Simms, an attorney who doesn’t spend much time in court, and a family man who doesn’t seem to care much for his family. You can make a protagonist this misanthropic work with good material, but there wasn't much of that here. Still, there are a few laughs in the episodes I’ve seen, because it’s almost impossible to make Paul Lynde not funny. There just aren’t enough of them to qualify the series as anything other than an interesting failure. 

The Paul Lynde Halloween Special (1976)
Near the beginning of this holiday celebration, Donny and Marie Osmond dump Paul into a trashcan. It was the perfect introduction for 60 minutes of deeply bizarre moments, which included Paul romancing Mrs. Brady and Pinky Tuscadero, and The Wizard of Oz’s legendary Margaret Hamilton hanging out with the band KISS. You’ll want to see it once, but once will be enough.  


  1. Maybe it doesn't really count, but ...

    ... to me any list of Paul Lynde's great moments has to include "Who Killed Cable Roberts?", the third episode of the original Burke's Law.
    Regrettably, I can't say exactly why it's a great Lynde moment without issuing a Spoiler Warning.
    And simply mentioning that kind of gives it away all by itself.
    So There Too.

    Anyway, if you have the opportunity, by all means check out "Who Killed Cable Roberts?" - it's one of the best-made early Burkes.

  2. In your opinion, Mr. Hofstede, did "The Paul Lynde Halloween Special" STINK? Have you seen the 1978 TV movie "KISS Meets the Phantom of the Park"? I really wish that the original version of the latter (Hanna-Barbera sound effects and all) would get a legitimate home-video release. Um, are Gene Simmons and Paul Stanley STILL ashamed of it? They did "Scooby-Doo! and KISS: Rock and Roll Mystery," for crying out loud!

  3. Hey! You can watch Stanley on Amazon Video. It's free if you have Prime.