Monday, November 1, 2010

Hallomas Havoc: THE PAUL LYNDE HALLOWEEN SPECIAL (1976)

Welcome to Hallomas, the day after Halloween (look it up, I'll wait). Eyes still bleary from your Halloween reverie? Post-sugar hangover (fermented or otherwise) got you down? Here’s your hair of the dog. The television equivalent of Clamato and Budweiser, served in a champagne coupe with pinky extended. It will either cure your hangover or make you vomit, one or the other. Either way, it’ll divert the pain.

“Hollywood is where you get up at noon, read the funnies, and if the sun’s not out, you go to dirty movies until cocktail time.” – Paul Lynde

Aired only once on October 29th 1976, then encased in lead and dropped to the bottom of Lake Erie, this sequin-encrusted trainwreck proves that Mr. Lynde was only as good as his writers, who should have done two things; written better jokes and not tried to shoe-horn Lynde into sketches that were written more with Bob Hope in mind. I say “in mind” because there’s no way in hell Mr. Palm Springs would touch this witch’s brew with a ten-foot golf club. That said, writer Howard Albrecht did in fact go on to write “Bob Hope’s All-Star Comedy Spectacular from Lake Tahoe” in 1977.

Starting out with a sketch that has Lynde allegedly comedically confused as to which holiday the special is for dressing up in various costumes and being interrupted by his glowering housekeeper (Margaret Hamilton), this segues to a monologue that is so painfully unfunny that even Lynde looks like he’s about to be ill. One of the bits is a story about how he was so fat his mother bought him a shower curtain for his Halloween costume. It didn’t fit. So mom let it out and he “went out as the Hindenburg. It was a disaster.” Pheeeew! Much like your monologue, my friend! As if the monologue wasn’t grueling enough, Lynde follows that up by performing a song and dance routine with dancers dressed up in devil outfits. The subject of the number? Those darn kids today! No joke. The chorus is “what’s the matter with kids today?” Presumably he is supposed to be a lovable curmudgeon and we are supposed to be amused by the perpetually plasticine smiles on the faces of Donnie and Marie Osmond as they trashcan him and blow him up. Really, I’m not making this up. I guess if you are really into gay camp and atrocious musical numbers, you might get a kick out of seeing Lynde stumble through this mess, otherwise you are in for a rough ride... erm... so to speak.

The wrap-around segment for the not-even-remotely Halloween themed sketches is a bit where Paul is stuck in a mansion with H.R. Puffinstuff’s Witchypoo (Billie Hayes) and his housekeeper who turns out to be the Wicked Witch of the West. They want him to do some PR work for them, claiming that witches have gotten a bad rap. In order to entice him into it, they have given Lynde three wishes that he can use at his discretion. Betty White shows up briefly as Miss Halloween 1976 and vanishes after finding out that her prize for winning the Miss Halloween competition is a date with Paul Lynde, not Paul Newman. Are your sides splitting yet?

Paul’s first wish is to be a “Rhinestone Trucker”. Dressed up like a combination of a milk man and Liberace, Lynde is Big Ruby Red who’s headed down to his favorite truckstop to marry the waitress, Kinky Pinky (Roz Kelly), at midnight. As it turns out, he’s not the only one. Rival trucker Long Haul Howard (Tim Conway) is also going to the same diner to marry the same girl at the same time. This leads to some comedy so grueling that it makes Jerry Lewis look like a subtle technician. Don’t believe me? How about Billy Barty as a “short order cook”? Need more convincing? Try this exchange on for size:

Big Ruby Red: “You can’t marry both of us, that’s bigamy!”
Kinky Pinky : “Big of you? That’s big of me!”
Big Ruby Red: “That’s what I said!”

When I was a kid I never realized that Paul Lynde was gay. He was just a funny guy with some colorful fashion sense. It took me well into my teens before I realized that he was driving down the other side of the road. I felt pretty stupid for not figuring that out any sooner, but not nearly as stupid as when I found out that his funny quips were written for him. Seriously? Those classic lines were not off the cuff? Damn, I are feeling so dumberer! Here it’s pretty obvious that Lynde desperately needs the Hollywood Squares writers as he reads his lines off of cue cards with all of the enthusiasm of someone suffering from an intestinal ailment.

After a trucker-themed musical number complete with an empty stage and two semi cabs, Lynde’s next wish is to be Rudolph Valentino-type. Faster than you can say “poof”, he’s in a tent (that leads directly out to a blank stage wall) with Florence Henderson, as Cecily Westinghouse, who he is trying to put the moves on. Paul Lynde trying to seduce Mrs. Brady is creepy enough, but when you add the jokes, (to quote Jonathan Harris) oh, the pain, the pain! For example:
Cecily Westinghouse: “Why are you wearing that earring?”
Sheik Lynde: “Because I am a very chic sheik.”

The witches must have really pissed him off, for the final wish Lynde wishes that the witches could go to a Hollywood disco, says Paul “I love a disco, it’s the only place you can hustle without getting arrested”. Damn. The ‘70s. Florence Henderson pops up and sings a lounge rendition of “That Old Black Magic” just in case you hadn’t cringed far enough back into your sofa. It should be noted that some band called “Kiss”, maybe you’ve heard of them, made their television debut on this special, complete with a short interview segment where Paul Stanley acts like an arrogant prick (figure that) while Paul Lynde makes really lame jokes about how they got their name from the phrase “kiss and make up”. They do “Detroit Rock City”, “Beth” and “King of the Nighttime World”, if you care. These bits almost made me remember a blurry era in which Kiss was actually fresh and original; long before the relentless merchandising, the appearances on WCW, before the midget cover band pimping Diet Dr. Pepper... Man, that was a long time ago. The Ramones are dead but Gene Simmons and Paul Stanley still walk the earth. It ain’t right.

To drive the proverbial stake directly into the heart of entertainment, this show ends with the big Hollywood disco set and a duet of “Disco Baby” by Roz Kelly and Lynde. I hate to say it, but if there is one thing worse than Lynde’s singing, it’s his dancing… or is it the other way around? I dunno, you tell me:

Moments of Clarity:

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