Born On This Day, 1926: Paul Lynde

Jim Burroway

June 13th, 2016

(d. 1982) He studied drama at Northwestern University in Evanston, Illinois with fellow students Cloris Leachman, Charlotte Rae, Patricia Neal, Jeffrey Hunter and Claude Akins. Imagine what that class must have been like. After graduating in 1948, he moved to New York and became a stand-up comic and a Broadway actor. In 1960, he appeared in Broadway’s Bye Bye Birdie, as well as in its film adaptation in 1963. But most of his work was in television, where he appeared in numerous sitcoms (he was Uncle Arthur in Bewitched) and lent his voice to animated cartoons. He is probably best known as the “center square” for the game show Hollywood Squares with host Peter Marshall, where Lynde became famous for his one-liners and double entendres. They say his sexual orientation was an open secret in Hollywood. It’s hard to imagine any secret being more open than his. Especially considering Hollywood Squares answers like these:

Peter Marshall: In the Wizard of Oz, the lion wanted courage and the tin man wanted a heart. What did the scarecrow want?
Paul Lynde: He wanted the tin man to notice him.

Marshall: Is the electricity in your house A.C. or D.C.?
Lynde: In my house it’s both.

Marshall: What do you call a man who gives you diamonds and pearls?
Lynde: I’d call him “darling”!

Marshall: It is the most abused and neglected part of your body– what is it?
Lynde: Mine may be abused but it certainly isn’t neglected!

Marshall: Paul, in what famous book will you read about a talking ass who wonders why it’s being beaten?
Lynde: I read it, “The Joy of Sex.”

Marshall: Paul, why do Hell’s Angels wear leather?
Lynde: Because chiffon wrinkles too easily.

Marshall: According to the old song, what’s breaking up that old gang of mine?
Lynde: Anita Byant!

And here are a couple more:

Lynde was enormously popular, but several attempts to give him his own shows invariably ended in low ratings and swift cancellations. Audiences loved him, but only in small doses. This will give you an idea of how powerful his presence was: we may remember his appearances on Bewitched, but he only appeared on that show ten times throughout its eight year run.

Also working against him were skittish TV executives, who were concerned his homosexuality and his worsening alcoholism and substance abuse. When he was sober, he was well-loved by his fellow performers. When Lynde won an Emmy for Entertainer of the Year in 1976, he immediately turned the statue over to host Jackie Gleason, who had never won an Emmy, saying that Gleason was “the funniest man ever.” But when he was drunk, he was one of the most out-of-control drunks to inhabit the planet. In 1965, he was partying with a young actor (and alleged lover) in Lynde’s room at San Francisco’s Sir Francis Drake hotel when the actor fell from the eighth-floor window to his death. That tragedy was hushed up, which saved Lynde’s career but did little to sober him up. He was repeatedly arrested for his drunken behavior, including one arrest in1978 outside of a gay bar in Salt Lake City which led to his being dropped from a guest appearance on the Donnie and Marie show.  That same year, he was banned from the campus of Northwestern University after unleashing a horrendously racist tirade at a black professor in a nearby Burger King.

Lynde left Hollywood Squares in 1979 (some say he was fired for being drunk and belligerent on the set), but came back a year later, clean and sober. He also started living a much quieter life outside the studio, hosting dinner parties at home and apologizing to friends and co-workers. But a lifetime of hard living had already taken its toll and he died of a heart attack in 1982 at the age of 55.

Priya Lynn

June 13th, 2016

“They say his sexual orientation was an open secret in Hollywood. It’s hard to imagine any secret being more open than his. Especially considering Hollywood Squares answers like these…”.

I grew up watching Paul Lynde. It never crossed my mind that he was gay, I thought he was just being zany. It never occurred to me that he might be gay until I read it here on Box Turtle Bulletin.

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