Shades of Lady Gaga two and half decades before Stefani Joanne Angelina Germanotta donned platform shoes and a meat dress. Watch Paul Lynde thanking his
at the close of his surreal 1976 Halloween special; it shows a throughline of queer consciousness.
The Paul Lynde Halloween Special is a mash-up of 1976’s culture clashes. Lynde makes jokes about the upcoming election while KISS, Betty White, Donnie and Marie (in an uncredited appearance), Margaret Hamilton, and other surprise guests perform sketches with the Crown Prince of Camp, Paul Lynde.
For many years, Paul Lynde and Liberace [Lee] were the two most visible gay men on television, and Lynde was always cooler than Lee, appealing to a younger generation. He played sarcastic, practical joking Uncle Arthur on Bewitched and was also the center square on the game show Hollywood Squares, where his snarky double entendres (and center spot on the game board) made him a favorite. Many jokes on the Hollywood Squares centered around thinly veiled references to Lynde’s sexuality, and I still wonder if my grandmother and her generation got them…
Q: You’re the world’s most popular fruit. What are you?
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?
This 1976 television special is over-the-top crazed, with Lynde being granting three wishes by the witches (Hamilton and Billy Hayes from HR Pufnstuf). One wish is to be the Rhinestone Trucker with a big rig (trucking was huge deal in the mid-70s, popularized in songs and movies and on TV). In another wish skit Lynde becomes a sheikh in the desert, a great lover who tries to seduce Florence Henderson (high points are the jokes about a cockatoo and milking a cobra). The third wish transports Lynde and the witches to a haunted disco where Florence Henderson sings “That Old Black Magic” and KISS performs their hit “Beth.”
KISS, Florence Henderson and Paul Lynde together makes for one of the freakiest TV experiences ever, stranger even than David Bowie and Iggy Pop with Rosemary Clooney on Dinah Shore’s afternoon talk show. And the Halloween special gets even more surreal when Lynde starts to sing “Disco Lady” with Roz “Pinky Tuscadero” Kelly. There’s more strangeness throughout the show, but I don’t want to spoil it for you–it has to be seen to be believed. All I can think is that there must have been booze involved, along with a desire to appear relevant to all ages in the concept and execution of what is now a bizarre slice of Americana.