Holy fuckin’ Jesus…
If you are of an age that recalls the truly out-of-control excesses of the 1970’s occurring right around the time that you were either waging battles with rudely autonomous public hardons or your crotch hemorrhaging on a monthly basis while your nascent jubblies were first making themselves known, then you no doubt remember the loopy television of that era, television that reflected the “who gives a fuck?” vitality of that cocaine-fueled decade; TV fluff that literally was an opiate for the masses, granting us adolescents refuge from the steadily escalating rigmarole of leaving childhood behind. It seemed that after the cookie cutter, antiseptic fare of the 1950’s and the increasingly bizarre offerings of the 1960’s — to say nothing of the social upheavals that shook the US in both of those decades — network execs had an anything-goes attitude and approach to programming, no doubt spawned by massive consumption of booze and illicit recreational pharmaceuticals, and a veritable avalanche of cheese cornucopiaed its way out of our cathode ray altars.
The networks latched on to whatever was the current fad — disco (original flavor and the roller variety), CB radios and truckers, the kung fu boom, nostalgia for “the good old days,” sci-fi that was more action-oriented than cerebral, hot chicks with feathered hair and nipples as hard as your thumb — and quickly spewed it forth in a diluted fashion onto the airwaves. And then there were the “celebrities” who appeared on virtually every show under the sun, stars like Charo, Dick Gautier (remember him?), Charles Nelson Reilly, Ruth Buzzi, Joey Heatherton, Rich Little, John Byner, and the cultural criminals responsible for subjecting us to mime in primetime, Shields and Yarnell. The list is just as endless as it is riddled with mediocrity.
And the grand poobah of showing up on TV specials and guest starring all over the whole of creation was everyone’s favorite vicious alcoholic queen, the incomparable Paul Lynde.
Legendary throughout Hollywood for his downright sadistic wit and rampaging homosexuality (that was not, technically speaking, public knowledge but was as obvious as the dick on a bull elephant), Lynde gained a name for himself first as a stage actor and standup comedian, achieved TV immortality as the irrepressible and flaming Uncle Arthur on “Bewitched,” and reigned supreme as the resident snarkmeister on “The Hollywood Squares,” a show that he would tape after sucking down copious amounts of booze. It was widely agreed upon that Lynde was already a sharp-tongued S.O.B., but when he had a few drinks in him he became Josef Mengele (according to latter day raging Hollywood queen and bear, Bruce Villanch, who incidentally co-wrote the Halloween special this article will shortly get around to recapping), and nowhere was that more apparent than on “Squares,” a long-running gig that made Lynde rich and introduced us impressionable youngsters to rude, raunchy and hilarious gay humor that went as far as Lynde could get away with for the time; even today some of his quips would never have gotten past the watchdogs at Network Standards and Practices, especially after Janet Jackson so kindly treated us to an unwanted glimpse of her right dairy during an annual festival of man-on-man brutality and ads for Viagra and beer and the networks went into an Islamic-jihad-like frenzy of shielding the public from “indecent” material.
Needless to say, Lynde was extremely popular and, never too slow on the uptake when it came to potential ratings, the networks milked his catty groove for all it was worth and shoehorned him into any available showcase, no matter how ill suited to his unique brand of bitchery. He appeared in an avalanche of absolute garbage that would have amounted to career seppuku for anyone else, but since he was savvy — and drunk — enough to be aware of just how lousy much of the TV gigs he got were, he rose (or sank) to the level of what he had to work with and became the shining yellow nugget of corn at the precipice of a mountain of shit; no line was too corny and no bit was too shameless for Paul Lynde, and he camped it up to such a degree that one had no conscious choice but to sit in front of the tube and stare like a drooling mongoloid.
Lynde’s 1976 Halloween special is nothing less than a spectacle of cosmic awfulness, something so mind-warping that you could no sooner turn away from it than you would turn away from witnessing the president holding a press conference and suddenly seeing him whip out his turkey neck of a pecker and actually piss out a surf board-riding Jesus Christ who was not only on fire but wearing assless leather chaps while screaming “Hey, kids! It’s the Second Coming!,” at which point Condaleeza Rice begins savagely masturbating on camera with a gravy-smothered leg of Kentucky Fried Chicken and singing “Old Man River.” It’s on a level with the infamous “Star Wars Holiday Special” but unlike that dead-in-the-water Hiroshima of the small screen, Lynde’s show at least has the decency of being mesmerizingly, entertainingly bad.
So just what is contained in the special that makes it so Christfuckingly bad? Here’s a play-by-play breakdown:
SCENE ONE- Paul Lynde is gaily mincing around his home in full Santa Claus drag and singing “We Wish You A Merry Christmas” and decorating a Christmas tree when his housekeeper (Margaret Hamilton, best known as the Wicked Witch of the West in THE WIZARD OF OZ, and later Cora the Coffee Lady in Maxwell House adverts) shows up and lets him know that it ain’t Christmas. Lynde snippily dismisses her with a disdainfully sneered “Why don’t you go dust?” and the camera zooms in on his face as we see that he has just had a clever idea. Cut to Lynde starting the scene over again in an horrendous Easter Bunny outfit, singing “Here Comes Peter Cottontail” (by this point during the original broadcast I would imagine that thousands of closets across the nation flung open with a sonic boom as many “sensitive and artistic” young men burst forth and said “fuck you” to a country that hates fags yet gobbles up entertainment created by gays like it was a really good batch of General Tso’s chicken, this particular special being a case in point), only to be clued in on the fact that it ain’t Easter. Lynde again gets an idea and suddenly we are treated to him in a Hugh Hefner-style red smoking jacket holding a huge heart-shaped box of chocolates while mangling “My Funny Valentine” and sitting on one of the ugliest couches in the entire history of furniture, even by the questionable standards of the mid-1970’s. Again, Hamilton shows up and finally clues him in to the fact that it’s Halloween, amidst much allegedly witty dialogue. Then we get the announcer stating:
“It’s the Paul Lynde Halloween Special! Starring Paul Lynde! With Paul’s special guests Tim Conway! Roz “Pinky Tuscadero” Kelly! Margaret Hamilton! Billie Hayes! (NOTE: she is best known as Witchie-Poo from “H.R. Pufnstuff”) Billy Barty! (the legendary dwarf actor) And special guest star Florence Henderson! A special appearance by Betty White (before she was two-hundred)! And a rock ‘n’ roll explosion, Kiss! And now, The Paul Lynde Halloween Special!”
SCENE TWO- Lynde launches into a staggeringly stale introductory monologue, followed by a re-written for Halloween version of “Kids,” his signature number from his role in the Broadway show “Bye Bye, Birdie.” As if that wasn’t bad enough, the stage is suddenly infested with poorly choreographed dancers in cheesy devil outfits — accessorized with dime store plastic pitchforks — who antagonize Lynde, but don’t have the decency to kill him, thereby preventing this atrocity from continuing. After being tied up and forced to dance in a satanic chorus line while lyrically bitching about how “there’s too much Alice Cooper, not enough Alice Faye,” Lynde is unceremoniously dumped into a garbage can by celebrated Mormon icons of ‘70’s TV schlock Donny and Marie Osmond (who happen to be dressed in devil suits). The garbage can then explodes for no adequately explained reason.
SCENE THREE- Lynde’s housekeeper drives him to her sister’s house in order to keep him away from the horrible kids of the previous scene, and we immediately discover that the housekeeper and her sister are actually card-carrying witches, specifically the Wicked Witch of the West and Witchie-Poo, both in their famous costumes and totally in character.
No, you are not going mad, This actually happened.
They let him know that they want him to help them soften the worldwide image of witches despite centuries of evidence which they both deny, with the exception of the torments that Dorothy went through, which were justified because “she had it coming.” Then, Miss Halloween 1976 shows up, courtesy of a terrible video special defect, and it’s Betty White. She totally disses Paul Lynde, disappointed that he’s not Paul Newman (who was supposed to be her prize for winning the coveted title), and she bitches out the two witches as to why they couldn’t have gotten another famous Paul, such as Paul Williams, Paul McCartney, Les Paul, Saint Paul or even Pall Mall. She then disappears after pronouncing Lynde “a nobody.” Anyway, the witches promise him three wishes if he helps them in their cause, and his first wish is to be — now get this — a trucker. He is immediately transformed into what appears to be a Village People reject in a silver, rhinestone-studded jumpsuit with “Big Red” inexplicably emblazoned across the back, and a Tom of Finland-style matching cap.
Paul Lynde as The Rhinestone Trucker. Again: No, you have not gone completely barking insane. This actually happened!
He also sings the indescribably trite “Rhinestone Trucker” jingle and hops into the cab of an eighteen-wheeler. We are then “treated” to the romantic rivalry between the Rhinestone Trucker and another rig jockey (Tim Conway, proving just how unfunny he was when not on “The Carol Burnett Show,” a trend that would continue in his later efforts as the vertically-challenged Dorf) over the attentions of Kinky Pinky (Roz Kelly). This sketch goes on for a short eternity and is replete with gags that were old when dirt was invented. The whole car wreck culminates in an overwrought square dance/disco number that will make you want to eat your own buttocks while jamming a rusty screwdriver into your eardrums. The unhappy ending features the Rhinestone Trucker marrying a woman.
SCENE FOUR- after the previous idiotic scenario plays itself out, Lynde returns to the witches’ place and is offered some soothing chamber music by Kiss. They lip synch through “Detroit Rock City” with all the convincingness of Ashlee Simpson on “Saturday Night Live” while a smoke machine is truly put to the test (or maybe it was the runoff from all of the joints that surely blazed on set during this fiasco). And not that we didn’t already know they looked like idiots, but Kiss’ makeup gimmick has seldom looked more stupid than it did here.
SCENE FIVE- Lynde then goes for wish number two, namely being turned into a Valentino-esque desert sheik, complete with enormous hoop earring, who is vastly wealthy and a master seducer who goes by the name “Florence of Arabia.” He then attempts to force his lusty will upon captive Englishwoman Florence Henderson… Their lip lock will make you cringe, I swear to God. Tim Conway shows up again as a member of the French Foreign Legion who attempts to save Florence Henderson from the swishy sheik.
SCENE SIX- The Wicked Witch of the West engages in painfully unfunny banter with her diminutive butler (Billy Barty) until Lynde pops back to the scary house. Paul selflessly sacrifices his last wish to the witches, who want nothing more than to go to a Hollywood disco; at this point, the show becomes truly impossible to turn away from since it is a cavalcade of bad TV-friendly discotheque antics such as Lynde spewing forth wretched one-liners (one of which involves bestiality between Tim Conway and an unwilling monkey), Florence Henderson performing a “disco” version of “That Old Black Magic,” and Peter Chris subjecting us to that wimpiest of Kiss tunes, “Beth” (in which the endless close-ups prove that Chris was bloated even then and that though his makeup is allegedly supposed to represent a cat, he looks like a “kitty”), as the band nods in approval as if to say “Yo, man. That shit is deep.” Then Lynde trades ultra-pitiful quips with Kiss until they take pity on the audience and lip synch “King of the Nighttime World.”
EPILOGUE- Paul Lynde takes time to thank all of his guests and then commits the ultimate Halloween prank by ending the show on a freeze-frame of himself kissing the Wicked Witch of the West full on the mouth as his voice-over exclaims “Happy Halloween, everybody!”
I now have a perennial to run each Halloween, a confection more horrifying than THE EXORCIST, THE TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE and FACES OF DEATH combined. Fuck, I miss Paul Lynde…