JUNE 13, 1926
Comedian Paul Lynde was best known for his roles as Uncle Arthur on Bewitched and Harry MacAfee, the befuddled father in Bye Bye Birdie both on Broadway and in the hit movie version. His quick gay wit and sarcasm made him a television star unlike no other.
Lynn born in Mt. Vernon, Ohio and made his Broadway debut in the hit revue New Faces of 1952 in which he co-starred with fellow newcomers Eartha Kitt, Robert Clary, Alice Ghostley, and Carol Lawrence. In his monologue from that revue, the “Trip of the Month Club,” Lynde portrayed a man on crutches recounting his misadventures on the African safari he took with his late wife. The show was filmed and released as New Faces in 1954.
After the revue’s run, Lynde co-starred in the short-lived 1956 sitcom Stanley opposite Buddy Hackett and Carol Burnett, both of whom were also starting their careers in show business.
Lynde returned to Broadway in 1960 when he was cast as Harry MacAfee, the father in Bye Bye Birdie.
Lynde was in great demand in the 1960s. During the 1961-62 television season he was a regular on NBC’s The Perry Como Show as part of the Kraft Music Hall players with Don Adams, Kaye Ballard and Sandy Stewart. He was a familiar face on many sitcoms, including The Phil Silvers Show, The Patty Duke Show, The Munsters, The Flying Nun, Gidget, I Dream of Jeannie, F Troop, and variety shows such as The Ed Sullivan Show and The Dean Martin Show. He also was featured in a number of 1960s films, including Send Me No Flowers and The Glass Bottom Boat, both starring Doris Day.
Lynde’s best known sitcom role was on Bewitched, where he made his debut appearance in the first-season episode “Driving Is the Only Way to Fly.” His role as Samantha Stephens’ nervous driving instructor Harold Harold was well received by viewers, as well as series star Elizabeth Montgomery and her husband, director/producer William Asher, with whom Lynde became good friends. Asher then created the recurring role of Endora’s practical-joking brother Uncle Arthur.
In 1966, Lynde debuted on the fledgling game show Hollywood Squares and quickly became its iconic guest star. Eventually he assumed a permanent spot as the “center square,” a move which ensured that he would be called upon by contestants at least once in almost every round. Despite an urban legend to the contrary, Paul Lynde remained in the center at the producers’ discretion. Many NBC tour guides have claimed that Lynde was afraid of earthquakes and the center square proved to be the safest square of the show’s set. An anecdote related during the A&E Biography on Lynde described an earthquake that occurred during the Hollywood Squares taping that frightened and alarmed many of the guests. Lynde remained in his seat, tapping his fingers, asking if they were going to finish the show.
On Hollywood Squares Lynde was best able to showcase his comedic talents with short, salty one-liners, delivered in his trademark sniggering delivery. Many of these gags were thinly veiled allusions to his homosexuality. Asked, “You’re the world’s most popular fruit. What are you?” Lynde replied, “Humble.” Asked how many men are on a hockey team, Lynde said, “Oh, about half.” Asked whether it was against the law in Texas to call a Marine a “sissy,” Lynde quipped, “I guess I’ll have to take the law into my own hands.”
Other jokes relied on double entendre, an alleged fondness for deviant behaviors, or dealt with touchy subject matter for 1970s television. Examples include:
- Q: “What unusual thing do you do, if you have something called ‘the gift of tongues’?”
- Lynde: “I wouldn’t tell the grand jury; why should I tell you?”
- Q: “The great writer George Bernard Shaw once wrote, ‘It’s such a wonderful thing, what a crime to waste it on children.’ What is it?”
- Lynde: “A whipping.”
- Q: “Paul, any good boat enthusiast should know that when a man falls out of your boat and into the water, you should yell ‘Man overboard!’ Now what should you yell if a woman falls overboard?”
- Lynde: “Full speed ahead!”
But despite his campy television persona, Lynde never publicly came out as being gay and the press generally went along with the deception. In a People magazine article the magazine featured Lynde and Stan Finesmith who was dubbed Lynde’s “suite mate” and “chauffeur-bodyguard.”
In 1978, Lynde’s career took a downturn after he was arrested outside of a gay bar in Salt Lake City. As a result he lost his guest starring role on The Donny and Marie Show and acting jobs became harder for him to find, although it is unclear if this was because of anti-gay prejudice or his substance abuse problems and noted erratic behavior which often made him difficult to work with. He had been arrested for drunk driving and, while under the influence of alcohol, he was known to make rude and racist public comments towards people. Lynde finally became sober and drug free in the early 1980’s, shortly before his death.
Paul Lynde was regularly admired by his peers during his lifetime. Mel Brooks once described Lynde as being capable of getting laughs by reading “a phone book, tornado alert, or seed catalogue.” In 1976 Lynde received an Entertainer of the Year Emmy award for being voted the funniest man of the year, which he immediately turned over to host Jackie Gleason (who never won an Emmy award during his lifetime), citing him as “the funniest man ever.” This gesture was totally unexpected and shocked Jackie Gleason.
Paul Lynde was found dead of a heart attack in his Beverly Hills home by his friend and ex-porn star, male escort, and now turned Private Detective Paul Barresi.
* Watch this rare and hysterical clip below of Paul Lynde visiting WSPD, Ch. 13, In Toledo, OH in 1978 where he does a guest weather forecast with the (now) openly gay Boston anchor man Randy Price.