Wednesday, October 24, 2012

The Paul Lynde Halloween Special

Aired October 29, 1976.

Paul Lynde is getting ready to open his new Holiday special...only he doesn't seem to know what Holiday he's supposed to be celebrating.  He shows up in a Santa suit.

His housekeeper Margaret (Margaret Hamilton) tells him that's the wrong holiday.  He then guesses it must be Easter or Valentine's Day, still wrong.  Margaret reminds him it's Halloween and he opens the show.  

Lynde starts the show with a monologue.  He says he was obese as a child which made Halloween difficult. One year his mother put a shower curtain on him and he went as the Hindenberg.  "It was a disaster!"  

Lynde's monologue leads into a performance of the song "What's The Matter With Kids Today."  Lynde sang this tune in the film Bye Bye Birdie, but this time he adds some new lyrics that comment on Halloween and lampoon the pop culture of 70s.   

Donny and Marie Osmond show up to play a Halloween trick
Margaret says they should get away from the kids & their Halloween pranks.  They drive off to visit Margaret's sister. 
The sister turns out to be a witch, Witchiepoo (Billie Hayes) from H.R. Puffnstuf,  to be exact.  It turns out Margaret is a witch too!  She turns into the Wicked Witch of the West (the character Hamilton played in The Wizard Of Oz).

Witchiepoo,  Paul and Margaret
Lynde is naturally scared, based on all the bad things he seen witches do in Snow White, Hansel & Gretel and The Wizard of Oz.  Margaret says the stories he's heard are "distortions" --  "Dorothy asked for it...and her little dog too!"    
The witches want Lynde to help "soften the image" of witches.   

Another guest arrives, it's Miss Halloween 1976 (Betty White!).  Lynde has been brought to be her date, but she expected Paul Newman as 1st prize and teleports away rather than go on  a date with Lynde. 
Betty White as "Miss Halloween 1976"
The witches tell Lynde the National Association Of Witches want Lynde to be their spokesperson.  He will tell the world witches are better than their reputation.  In return, Lynde will get 3 wishes granted by the witches.  He agrees. 
Lynde looks pretty excited to be the "Rhinestone Trucker"!

For his first wish, he says he'd like to be a truck driver.  Lynde becomes Big Ruby Red, the "Rhinestone Trucker" and his friend Long Haul Howard (Tim Conway)  have a conversation over their CB radios.

Tim Conway and Paul Lynde as CB wielding truck drivers

They talk about how their both getting married later that night.  It turns out Long Haul and Red are both marrying the same woman, a waitress named Kinky Pinky (Roz Kelly).  This leads to a duel for Pinky's hand. 

Lynde comes back to reality.  The witches bring out Kiss to play "something peaceful".  The band launches into "Detroit Rock City".

"You gotta lose your mind in Detroit Rock City!"

Lynde tires of the witches' company and says he wishes he was in the Sahara Desert.  Margaret says that counts as a wish.  He is turned into a Sheik in the romantic mold of 1920s-era heartthrob Rudolph Valentino.

He has kidnapped a wealthy British heiress named Lady Cecily Westinghouse (Florence Henderson).  He woos Cecily and promise to make her his "with one burning kiss."

For his 3rd wish, Lynde says he'd like to wish for something that Witcheepoo and Margaret would like. They've always wanted to go to a "Hollywood Disco", so Lynde uses their wand to turn their living room into a disco.

The witches ask Lynde to act as the Master of Ceremonies, he introduces Florence Henderson.  She performs a lounge/disco arrangement of 'That Old Black Magic."

After that, Kiss returns to perform their song "Beth".  Lynde says "Beth" is "a monster of a hit."  
Margaret introduces Lynde to Kiss.  He says they're just what he always wanted "four kisses on the first date."

Because he's been good, the witches grant Lynde one last wish.  He wishes Kiss would play one more song. The band plows into "King Of The Nighttime World."
Next, Lynde asks Roz Kelly to teach him how to disco dance.  She leads the entire cast in a song-and-dance number.  
Lynde says goodnight, thanking the cast for their participation and the viewers for watching.  He hopes the show was "a howling success."

J.A. Morris says:

In a word: Wow.  
I should mention that I was born in the early 70s, Paul Lynde was huge presence in the popular culture of my childhood.  It seemed like he was everywhere:  Hollywood Squares, various variety series & specials, as the voice of Templeton the rat in Charlotte's Web, etc.  The young version of me was a big Paul Lynde fan and I still think he's hilarious.  But I somehow missed this special. 
It's like they tried to cram every piece of 70s pop culture into one hour-long special! 
Here are a few examples:
-The cast includes actors from 3 of the quintessential 70's series: Betty White (The Mary Tyler Moore Show), Tim Conway (The Carol Burnett Show) and Florence Henderson  (The Brady Bunch)
-We get a sketch that references the CB radio craze.
-Lynde makes jokes about Fonzie, Laverne & Shirley, the Sweathogs, Bugsy Malone, Alice Cooper and Billy Jack!
-2 Disco dance numbers. 
-3 Kiss performances!
-A cameo by Donny & Marie Osmond.
 -Roz Kelly is billed as Roz "Pinky Tuscadero" Kelly, referring to the character she played on Happy Days just a month before this special.  

This show is equal parts "Hilarious" and "What the Hell were they thinking?!"  Getting Margaret Hamilton to reprise her role from The Wizard Of Oz film was a stroke of genius.  She's a good sport here and has great chemistry with Lynde.  Same for Billie Hayes as Witchiepoo.  It was an odd choice to have Witchiepoo in this special, since H.R. Pufnstuf was cancelled four years earlier, but it works.  Hamilton and Hayes cackle as if their lives depended on it.  Tim Conway and Betty White have small roles, but they're  lots of fun here too.

 A game of "Witch Monopoly"

The only things that don't work particularly well are the musical contributions of Roz Kelly and Florence Hendeson.  But Henderson gives her all in a scene that requires her to make out with Lynde!

Lynde's opening musical number is amazing, worth the price of the dvd all by itself.    His interaction with Kiss is also a wonderful pop culture moment. 

Speaking of Kiss, I was a huge fan of them when I was 6 (not so much today!).  I remember getting their Destroyer LP when I was in 1st grade.  They perform 3 tracks from that album here (their first prime-time network appearance), so that was a nice trip down memory lane (unfortunately, one of the songs is "Beth"). Their live shows of this era were legendary, so it's fun to see them at the peak of their powers.

At the end of the special, Lynde thanks the audience for "making me feel wanted."  This adds a bit of sadness, since Lynde's off-screen life was filled with pain and controversies.  And then he goes back to disco dancing, which sort of sums up the differences in Lynde's private and public lives.

This special is available on dvd and can be bought or rented on Amazon Instant Video. 

DVD case.

The Paul Lynde Halloween Special is highly recommended to Lynde fans and anyone who remembers the 1970s.  If you're too young to remember that era, this special serves as a good introduction to Paul Lynde and it will give you a good idea of what the tv was like back then.  One thing is certain, once you watch it, you will NEVER forget it.

My rating:
4 Jack O'Lanterns

RigbyMel says:

Speaking as someone who remembers the 70's, but was a little bit too young to have seen this special the first (and only) time it aired on television,  I have to agree that it sort of feels like an amazing time capsule of many cheesy things from the decade.   But it is gourmet cheese, for certain.  I was aware of who Lynde was mainly because of his voice role as Templeton in Charlotte's Web and from Bye Bye Birdie, but when we discovered this special a couple of years ago, I gained a deeper appreciation of his skills as a performer.   This is old-school showbiz in fine variety show form complete with unexpected and somewhat bizarre cameo appearances.   (This is the kind of special Stephen Colbert sends up in his A Colbert Christmas special from 2008.)   It works remarkably well and all of the participants give their all  -  Margaret Hamilton even delivers a variation on the "I'll get you, my pretty and your little dog too!" line from The Wizard of Oz with gusto (while in witch mode).
I highly recommend this special if you remember the 70's or if you're just interested in the history of popular culture - it is a delightful artifact from the decade and the fact that it's a Halloween variety special  (rather than the more ubiquitous Christmas ones from the 60's and 70's) makes it extra fun.

RigbyMel's rating:
4 Jack O'Lanterns


Rita said...

I can't believe I never heard of this! I am going to get it right now! THANK YOU!

RigbyMel said...

Glad you're excited to track it down, Rita. :-)
It streams on Amazon, via Youtube and is also available on DVD.

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