When it comes to Halloween entertainment there are perennial television special favorites. Like most fans of the holiday, I would rank Charles Schulz’ It’s the Great Pumpkin Charlie Brown (1966) and Rankin and Bass’ Mad Monster Party (1967) near the top of the list. A few years ago, however, a friend sent me a slice of heaven in the greatest ever hour of Halloween entertainment : The Paul Lynde Halloween Special (1976). Lynde, for the unenlightened, was a comedic entertainer who got his break in Bye Bye Birdie (1962), which lead to his popular role as the warlock Uncle Arthur on Bewitched (1964), to the The Paul Lynde Show (1972), and most famously to his entrenchment as the “Center Square” in the game show “Hollywood Squares.” Lynde’s Halloween special is so stunningly beautiful, so representative of its era (and what an era the 70s was: the last great decade of American pop culture), that I felt a pronounced nostalgic lump in my throat. This Halloween bash seriously belongs in one of those time capsule thingys that we occasionally shoot into space for Martians to peek at.
Of course, with the banality of reality TV and unimaginative attachment to hyper-realism, some will pooh-pooh my blushing exclamation as misplaced nostalgia. Others may see the show as a bizarre curio from a long gone era (these are the boring and predictable types who think of everything pre-existing their entry into the world as relics from tens of thousands of years ago). On my end, I will utterly dismiss the naysayers as being hopelessly constipated. You know the type. They prefer angst-ridden X-Men to Jack Kirby’s fun lubbin’ Jimmy Olsen who teamed up with Goody Rickles and the Hairys. Stay far, far away from these people. They will only bring you unhappiness. They will turn you gray, incorporate you into their bourgeoisie, status-quo painted white picket fence world, or, heaven forbid, get you a job in a faceless institution. Lions, tigers, and bears, oh my!
Now that we have that settled, you can kick back and immerse yourself in the glories of quintessential 70’s camp! Just think of The Paul Lynde Halloween Special like one those Roselyn Bakery Cakes with six inches of icing atop an inch of cake and indulge in this one-of-a-kind hallucination.
Paul bitchily rummages through the closet because he knows there’s a holiday of some kind around the corner. Nope, it’s not Santa (love the wig). No, it’s not Peter Cottontail (Lynde literally becomes a flaming bunny!). Dagnabbit, it’s Halloween. All those annoying brats are going to be expecting zingers and Little Debbies (OK, I know, that’s from the Charlie Brown commercials. Lighten up. You get the idea). Gotta get away from them, and Peter Marshall! So, Paul accepts an invitation from maid Margaret Hamilton to spend the weekend at Gloomsbury Manor. Once there, the maid becomes the Wicked Witch of the West. Her sister Billie Hayes is on hand, too (quite convenient, since she plays “Mr. Pufnstuf”‘s Witchiepoo). “Well Paul, you see, witches aren’t really bad. We’re just misunderstood misfits.” Hermey the dentist is a no-show, but to convince Paul, who’s not too sure about this misunderstood misfit angle, the necromancers pull in another cohort: little Ms. “Golden Girl” Betty White as a witch.
The girls want a bona fide celebrity spooksman to convince John Q. Public that witches are really cool (although Betty’s not too sure just how bona fide a celeb Mr. Lynde is). To sweeten the deal Paul will get three wishes. Naturally, Paul takes a flying leap out of the closet to claim his wishes.
Wish number one: Paul wants to be none other than a genuine trucker just like C.W. McCall. This means a new outfit of rhinestones, spandex, and glued-on Burt Reynolds-style chest hair. In that “Deep Truck” getup Lynde makes a pit stop at the truck stop, engages in a macho contest with Tim Conway over Roz (kinky “Pinky” with hot pants and boots made for walkin’) Kelly and performs a square dance disco number for the convoy. Hell yeah—breaker one nine—Billy Barty stole my gal!
The wish gets interrupted by none other than… KISS! Yes, that nightmare of every 70’s mom (‘I just love religious groups’) KISS, here to “Get up, everybody’s gonna move their feet/Get up, everybody leave their seat!” “Aw my gawd!” Paul is simply aghast. So much so that he flubs his second guess, accidentally wishing for Wish Number Two…
…to be none other than Rudolph Valentino in the Florence of Arabia desert with… Mrs. Brady, Flo Henderson! C’mere baby. Mr. Brady ain’t got nuthin’ on this real man. That guy’s a wuss compared to Paul Valentino Lynde. Yes, they lock lips “Love American Style,” truer that the red, white, and blue! Tim is on hand again to spoil the hetero fun being had. He cockeyes Lynde, “Why you wearin that earring?” ” Cause I’m a real chic sheik.” Mrs. Brady musta done something to Paul’s testosterone (this isn’t reality, folks) because he pulls an Aladdin, giving his third wish back to the trio of witches, who wish for…
…Wish Number Three: a whole new makeover for Gloomsbury Manor, which means it turns into Discotheque Manor. Now John Q. Public will really think we’re cool! The heavens open up: vaudeville skits with little guy Billy Barty (as a butler, no less), disco numbers, Mormon variety celebs Donnie and Marie showing up unannounced (and pitching Lynde into an exploding garbage can), disco numbers (probably Dino’s gold diggers behind those kitsch masks, pitchforks and hot pants), Florence oozing sex in her little black dress (Robert Reed was never so lucky), disco numbers, Florence and KISS in a sing-off (Her Donna Summer-esque “Old Black Magic” beats their ‘”Beth, I hear you calling.” Hell, I could have told you that!) and more disco numbers (during which Roz flirts with Lynde and true-blue rockers KISS join in!). Lynde winks at the (‘four kisses on my first date!’) boys who “can’t come home right now.” Paul Lynde relished his “I know you know I’m gay and you know I know that you know, but you’re going to be polite in a 70’s kind of way and I’m going to be polite in an entertaining, winky, bitchy kind of way” and he seems genuinely sincere when he thanks the audience for making him feel wanted.
What more could you ask from an hour’s worth of entertainment brought to you by SMORES?