in Review, Shocktober, Uncategorized

The Paul Lynde Halloween Special (1976)

Air Date: October 29th, 1976

I think I only picked this special because it was mentioned in an episode of Family Guy. It was that episode where Peter and Lois went to Kisstock. They run into Dave and Dotty the nudists and Peter and Dave face off in a Kiss trivia battle. Hey, why am I explaining the scene when I can just post it right here?

Can you believe that episode is 18-years old? Jesus. But for some reason, I always remembered it. Then when I became a Kiss fan The Paul Lynde Halloween Special became that constant “I’ll get to it eventually.” Even though I could easily watch Kiss’s performance on the show on YouTube anytime I wanted. Once I realized the whole special was on YouTube and we picked this year’s theme it was a no-brainer. I figured it would be fun in a kitschy way. Well, it was kitschy but it wasn’t very fun.

Paul Lynde today is probably best known for being the wise-cracking flamboyant center square on Hollywood Squares and for being the inspiration for Roger on American Dad, but he was an established talent for many years. He was Uncle Arthur on Bewitched and originated the role of Harry, the befuddled and bad-tempered dad, from Bye Bye Birdie.

From 1968 to 1981, Lynde was on Hollywood Squares for which he was nominated for three Daytime Emmy’s (1972, 1973, and 1974). Can you believe that? Three award nominations just because he was that good at zingers. Impressive. But outside of Squares, studio execs had trouble finding projects that fit Lynde’s broad style of comedy. So ABC paired him with Halloween, “A broad flamboyant guy who likes costumes? Makes sense to us.”

The Paul Lynde Halloween Special was a good idea but then I had to be reminded that TV has changed a lot since 1976. The standards for entertainment feel so much higher today than they did back then. This was an era of entertainment where you could do both a movie and a TV show about a guy driving a semi-truck with a monkey sidekick and both would be successful.

Paul Lynde brings a lot of enthusiasm to his special but there’s no story here. The jokes and situations are lame and uninspired. Kiss is good. But nothing else is. I just wanted to get all of that out of the way.

The special opens with Paul in his home getting ready for Christmas only for his housekeeper Margaret (Margaret Hamilton from The Wizard of Oz) to tell him it’s not Christmas yet. Then we cut to him in an Easter Bunny costume and you get the idea. He doesn’t know it’s Halloween! Get with it, Paul! I should have known this would be at about that level of comedy. Remember when The Simpsons did that spinoff showcase? It was like a cheesy variety show with Tim Conway and Homer would say jokes like “I heard he have a special GHOST tonight!” as he trembles in fear only to be reminded it’s actually a “special guest”. Yeah, this is that.

Eventually, Paul gets it right and comes out to a live audience to do a monologue of a zingers. Stuff like “It’s been a year since my last special… was it something I said?” Some of them are funny. Again Paul Lynde is funny but so often this special goes for the low-hanging fruit.

Paul talks about his love for trick or treaters and children which then transitions into him singing an alternate version of his signature song “Kids” from Bye-Bye Birdie. The first part of the song is about how much he loves kids, but then the kids show up–and by kids I mean adult dancers in Halloween costumes–and tie him up and play pranks on him. So he starts to sing about how the kids suck with lines like kids these days are “Too Much Alice Cooper! Not enough Alice Faye!”

Then two “kids” put Paul in a trashcan and slam the lid. They take off their masks and they’re Donnie and Marie Osmond. They don’t really do anything. They just kind of smile and wink at the camera. Then the trashcan explodes. Whoa, are they gonna kill Paul in the first five minutes, and then he’s gonna be a ghost? Nah, he’s fine he’s just all covered in soot.

After the attempt on his life, Paul and Margaret hit the road where they plan to hide from the children at Margaret’s sister’s house. Except it ain’t a normal house it’s a spooky mansion! Gloomsbury Manor is what it’s called and it even has its own guard vulture out front. Margaret introduces Paul to her sister Wilhelmina (Billie Hayes) only to discover she’s a witch! Apparently Wilhelmina W. Witchiepoo is an H.R. Puffinstuff character but I wouldn’t know that because the legacy of that show died several generations before mine.

What got me really excited is Margaret Hamilton then turns into her iconic Wicked Witch of the West character. A pleasant surprise. I can’t believe I didn’t see it coming. What I also didn’t see coming was a cameo from Betty White as a magical being known as Miss Halloween. The witches were gonna like, gonna set them up on a date or something? But Betty thought it was gonna be with one of the good Paul’s like Paul Newman so she peaces out. Wow, that didn’t really go anywhere.

But what the witches really want is for Paul to help rebuild their public image. Not sure why he’s the man for the job but I’ll go with it. To convince Paul to help them out, the witches promise him three wishes. So what they’re genies now? Okay, fine I’m game. So naturally, Paul’s first wish is to be… a trucker?

WHY WERE PEOPLE SO OBSESSED WITH TRUCKERS IN THE ’70s?!? I don’t get it. Paul’s wish is granted and he’s turned into Big Red the Rhinestone Trucker. Big Red cruises around in his truck and drops CB-radio-slams at his rival Pinky played by who else but Tim Conway. At one point he convinces Tim Conway his shoelace is untied and he crashes. Hilarious.

Paul arrives at a truck stop diner to woo the waitress of his dreams (Roz Kelly) but damn it, that fuckin’ Tim Conway shows up again. So to win her over they engage in a battle of strength. This includes Tim Conway crushing a chair and Paul Lynde breaking a table. Neither of which look real or are impressive. Then famous little person actor Billy Barty aka Gwildor from Masters of the Universe shows up as a cook and pushes a whole truck winning over the waitress. Good stuff.

We take a break from the “comedy” to hear some chamber music. This is explained as musicians that are locked up in a little chamber. Uh huh, I get it. Anyways Kiss shows up and plays “Detroit Rock City”. It kicks ass. Kiss feels so ahead of their time in this dated hokey special. They’re lip synching but the energy is there. They jump around to explosions and blow up their amps. It’s actually cool. I’m not even sure how this happened but I’m glad it did.

What I’m not glad about is Paul’s next wish. He wishes to be a rich Sheik. If that sounds problematic that’s becaue it is. Paul Lynde is dressed as an Arab Prince with a dangly earring trying to romance Florence Henderson as Lady Cecily Henderson. Why is every sketch about the very gay Paul Lynde trying to win over a girl? There are other kinds of stories to tell. Maybe something about Halloween? Like he has to slay a vampire or poke around a haunted house. Nope, we get him in a sketch as a Sheik with jokes like “I saw your camel parked out front. The one with a bumper sticker that says ‘Wish I was in Vegas'” Cringe.

Tim Conway shows up again as the Foreign Legion. I swear that Tim Conway has to ruin everything! Tim Conway says that Florence Henderson was a trap so that he could kidnap Paul Lynde but Paul convinces him to let him go by trading him a cockatoo. Man, I love Halloween.

Paul snaps back to reality where he says he’s satisfied with his wishes and wants the witches to have something of their own. Wow, they really couldn’t think of a third thing for Paul? Well they thought of a scenario for the witches. The witches wish to visit a disco. The three are transported to a dance hall (that just feels like another room in Gloomsbury Manor) and bop around as Florence Henderson returns to sing “That Old Black Magic.”

Kiss shows up again to sing Beth (it was a hit) but that means it’s just Peter Criss singing at a piano while the other members of Kiss awkwardly stand around. The Mildly Pleased team went to go see Kiss on their End of the Road tour and I confirm that this is still how they perform “Beth” today. The drummer sings at the piano as the other members kind of just stand there. Kiss loves tradition.

Luckily Kiss get to close out the show with a real toe-tapper. They play “King of the Night Time World” from the Destroyer album. As a lesser known Kiss song this is actually a nice addition. The song has a Halloween kinda vibe and it’s a great way to close out the show…. Except Paul has to come one more time to sing a song called “Disco Baby” with Roz Kelly. I mean, it was the ’70s. What are you gonna do?

Apart from Kiss I have to say this special was not doing it for me. The jokes were corny, the sketches felt far removed from Halloween and the special is a brutal 50 plus minutes. It could have easily been 20 minutes shorter. That being said Paul Lynde is a fun TV personality. His sass and enthusiam really do come through even when doing terrible material. But man this is terrible material. I wish I had watched anything but this special.