Comedian Paul Lynde left Broadway for Hollywood in the early '60s, and up until the boozy two years preceding his 1982 death, he never wanted for work. Lynde's distinctive snigger made him a natural for voiceovers and sitcom guest appearances, and his raunchy, cabaret-like one-liners were always the most entertainingly corrosive part of The Hollywood Squares. But Lynde wasn't exactly a friendly TV presence, and producers had trouble figuring out how best to use such a cattily funny, obviously gay star. As a result, whenever Lynde was given a turn in the spotlight—as on ABC's 1976 air-filler The Paul Lynde Halloween Special—he wilted.
At this point in the TV-on-DVD era, too many '70s variety shows have been preserved for The Paul Lynde Halloween Special to be considered a cultural treasure, but its particular level of ridiculousness has to be experienced to be believed. Lynde starts out in a Santa suit, then dons an Easter Bunny suit, until his "housekeeper" Margaret Hamilton explains that he's supposed to be celebrating Halloween. Then Hamilton takes him to her sister's spooky mansion, where she reveals that she's actually the Wicked Witch Of The West, and that her sister, Billie Hayes, is Witchiepoo from H.R. Pufnstuf. The two witches grant Lynde a series of wishes, one of which involves him pretending to be a long-haul trucker—in a rhinestone outfit!—competing with Tim Conway for the love of Happy Days' Roz "Pinky Tuscadero" Kelly. Another wish has Lynde being serenaded by a disturbingly sensuous Florence Henderson at a haunted disco.
The musical guest for this special? Kiss, in its first primetime TV appearance, performing "Detroit Rock City" and "Beth." In this context, surrounded by game-show stars and Saturday-morning-TV characters—including the inevitable Billy Barty—Kiss looks especially cartoonish, and nowhere near as threatening as its reputation. The same can be said of Lynde, as he cackles through lame jokes about hot dogs with the meat scooped out. ("Oh, a hollow weenie!") This was an era when most TV was to be endured, not enjoyed, but it's hard to imagine that a man who made subversive cracks about S&M on The Hollywood Squares thought this material was A-list. And it's hard to imagine that he had much of a choice.
Key features: A scrapbook of family photos and a refreshingly frank audio interview with Hollywood Squares host Peter Marshall.