The Paul Lynde Halloween Special

I missed the 1970s by about six months. Rare is the time that I feel like I really missed all that much.

For instance, I have yet to see an episode of one of those "comedy variety" shows that were so popular in those days that I actually find entertaining (not counting the Muppet Show, of course, which was really more of a satire of the genre). One time in about 1991 my parents sat me down and showed me an episode of The Brady Bunch Variety Show and I was suitably horrified. What was going on in the seventies, anyway? I think that after the Beatles broke up people found themselves leaderless and adrift.

However, I do love The Paul Lynde Halloween Special.

Paul Lynde was funny as hell, but there was always something weird about the guy that probably kept him from having a series of his own that achieved mainstream popularity. He may have been a regular "center square" on Hollywood Squares, but his persona and voice made him seem more like a wacky sitcom neighbor than a sitcom star. Still, the guy deserved more than a co-starring role. Giving him a comedy -ariety Halloween special rather than an actual series probably seemed like a natural in 1976.

Being a variety show, the special features a whole cast of people who more or less made a living as variety show guest stars in the 1970s. But besides Tim Conway and Florence Henderson, whose appearances seem almost obligatory, Maragaret Hamilton reprises her role as the Wicked Witch of the West, the role she'd made famous nearly forty years before in The Wizard of Oz, and KISS makes their national TV debut.

Now, I wasn’t born yet in 1976, but watching it still fills me with a certain sense of nostalgia - it’s so “of its time” that when I turn it on, I feel like I’m sitting in a den with wood-paneled walls, watching it on a big console TV while sipping Tang that someone made in a kitchen full of mustard yellow, harvest gold and avocado green appliances, sitting on shag carpet next to a rack of LPs that includes Whipped Cream and Other Delights and something by the 101 Strings. Many of my friends still had rooms like this when I was a kid (my grandparents had all of these accessories). And, as a kid, I would have looked at this and thought it came from the early 80s. So many of the live-action shows I watched as a kid - The Muppet Show, The Electric Company, etc, were actually 70s products. The world of this show still existed during my childhood.

Now, of course, it seems like a relic from another era; I think it holds up a lot better than most comedy variety shows of the day (it’s certainly a hell of a lot better than the Star Wars one, which barely needs to be said), but most of the outfits the people are wearing don’t seem any more normal than the costumes worn by guest stars KISS. In fact, KISS is probably the only people in this program who would (and do) still go out in public dressed in the outfits they have on here. I’d say the jokes seem a million years old now, but I think many of them were already a million years old in 1976.

Today the show is best remembered today for being the national TV debut of KISS. The band must have been a fairly odd choice for a goofy show, since, while it's hard for those of us born AFTER Kiss Meets The Phantom of the Park to imagine, this was a time when people genuinely thought that KISS was scary (the way people in the late 90s were actually scared of Marilyn Manson). Putting them into a show like this was downright subversive.

Halloween specials were still sort of a novelty in 1976 - only a couple of others had been made, and the tropes of the genre (the old lady in the spooky house turning out to be nice, someone who hates halloween coming to love it) were still not yet in place. The long skit about truck drivers still doesn't fit into modern concepts of Halloween, but, this one almost instinctively knew where the genre was heading: it ended with a disco party, which would go on to become "Ending B" in Halloween specials over the next few years, when the genre really came into its golden age. In fact, you might say that this was the Halloween special that started it all....

The full version is here - note KISS glaring down disapprovingly at the disco at the end. Who would have guessed they were looking down and thinking "Let's write a song like this?" And then along came "I Was Made For Loving You..." :


Anonymous said...

I will certainly get this Paul Lynde Halloween special form Amazon.

Anonymous said...

As a matter of fact, Lynde *was* given a show of his own. Two of them, in fact.

The first, "The Paul Lynde Show", starred him as a husband and father who can't abide his son-in-law. Think "All in the Family" without the racism or topical humor.

When that tanked, Lynde was given a role in the second season of the medical-themed sitcom "Temperatures Rising". He replaced the fired James Whitmore, who just died yesterday.

So there.

Patrick McNamara said...

I ran across a full copy of this somewhere on the Internet but I can't recall where.

70s variety shows worked because MTV didn't exist. If one wanted to see a singer perform their latest hit (or anyone for that matter), they often turned on either a variety show or a talk show. But the real fun of variety shows came when singers would try to act and actors would try to sing. And when you've only got 5 to 10 channels, one doesn't have a lot of choice.

Saturday Night Live, while known better as a skit comedy show, can be considered a variety show. Carol Burnett has also been called variety, although it seems like just a comedy show. Of course it's the shows like Donny and Marie and Sonny and Cher that were the most fun.

C-Man said...

RIP Paul Lynde


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