The Paul Lynde Halloween Special (1976)

Special Intro: I have never done this before, but the only reason I wrote this review was to convince you, the reader, to buy a copy of this DVD. In fact, I advise you to skip this review entirely, buy the DVD, and watch it fresh and unprepared in all its astounding glory.

It’s possible that a few months from now, this DVD will be available by the pound for a penny. However, it’s more likely that they made a limited amount of them, and that moreover, the band KISS will learn of its existence and have it pulled from the market, as rumor indicates they did with Cheezy Flicks’ only briefly available disc for their TV movie KISS Meets the Phantom of the Park.

I include a link below for your convenience, but a trip to will point you to the vendor selling this for the cheapest price. However, I’d look for somehow who has a copy in stock, so that you can make sure you get it before Halloween. Then get all your friends and family together, toss this into your DVD player, and appall the hell out of them.

By the way, although this is easily head and shoulders above the awful gray market copies that have been available for years, it’s still a soft copy, and quite apparently was transferred from an at best adequate VHS copy. Still, it’s amazing this thing survives at all, much less in such a watchable presentation. Believe me, it’s worth your ten bucks, and if it should go off market before you procure a copy, your children and children’s children will curse you unto seven generations.

We open on Paul in a Santa suit, decorating a Christmas tree and singing “We Wish You a Merry Christmas.” This is, for no apparent reason, greeted instantly with a burst of Canned Laughter. I hope you like canned goods, in fact, because you’ll be served a heaping helping full in the 50 minutes ahead.

Santa Paul is approached by his perennially frowning housekeeper, who just happens to be played by none other that Margaret Hamilton. Espying her disapproving expression, he vamps, “What’s the matter, Margaret? Jack Frost nipping at your nose?

It should be noted that back in this day, you didn’t really need ‘jokes,’ per se, just someone with an established comic persona to say them. This is probably less prevalent now, although you still see it in impressionists, who get laughs not from the material but because they’re saying it in the manner of Peter Falk.

Lynde’s comic delivery, for those too young to have encountered it, involved delivering sarcastic barbs with a trademark sneer and a quavering, self-amused snigger. It’s difficult to describe Lynde’s comic persona in words alone, and luckily, I don’t really have to. There are clips of him on (of course) YouTube, such as this.

I hate to say it, but the most accurate print description is that his delivery style was that of a bitchy queen. (I’m not alone in reaching for this phrase, you can Google it and get a fairly decent number of hits.) Although performing in an era that required him to play nominally straight parts, as with the oft-frustrated family man he played in his titular (and memorably awful) sitcom, Lynde really was sort of a toned down, middle class-friendly version of Truman Capote or Noel Coward.

It says something about the state of the culture in this country just thirty years ago that, twenty years after Liberace’s heyday, Lynde could be a regular and generally flamboyant presence on television and still leave much of his fan base in the dark as to his personal preferences. If you look at a still or two below and see how Lynde was occasionally costumed for this special, well, this is all the more amazing.

Anyhoo, Margaret ‘comically’ informs Paul that it’s not Christmas. This leads into a bit where every time Margaret returns to the room, he is acting in a way appropriate to another, but equally untimely, holiday. This is pretty much the essence of this decade’s variety show comedy, in that the entire premise doesn’t make a damn lick of sense. Even with such manifold evidence as this very special to establish the vast quantities of coke everyone in Hollywood was snorting, it’s hard to credit a sketch that revolves around a guy who doesn’t know what holiday it is.

And yet so it proceeds, with Paul mugging directly into the camera and donning a goofy bunny suit (for Easter, of course) and distributing Easter eggs; and then a red smoking jacket so as to serenade a huge, heart-shaped box of chocolates. In the end, he finally figures it out what holiday it actually is, and away we go.

At this we cut away to a giant neon jack o’ lantern, as per tradition an announcer reads off the long list of insanely random and seemingly incompatible guest stars: “Tim Conroy! Roz ‘Pinky Tuscadero’ Kelly! Margaret Hamilton! Billie Hayes! Billy Barty! Special Guest Star Florence Henderson! A special appearance by Betty White! And a rock ‘n’ roll explosion, KISS!”

[It should be noted that when Paul thanks his guest stars at the end of the show, he also identifies Ms. Kelly as “Roz ‘Pinky Tuscadero’ Kelly.” That’s what happens when your brief moment of fame results from appearing on three episodes of Happy Days.]

That’s right, KISS. The band, whether at their own behest or not, was making a weird stab at that time at making themselves respectable to middle class America. This special reflected their first television appearance, and two years later they starred in the infamous TV movie turkey KISS Meets the Phantom of the Park.

This phase soon petered out, and the band began trading on their fame in more appropriate ways, such as appearing as superheroes in a deluxe, four-color Marvel Comics magazine in which they fought the Fantastic Four’s arch-nemesis Dr. Doom. Making the magazine even more incredible, the band members donated blood which was supposedly mixed into the issue’s red printing ink.

Coming out (so to speak) from behind a giant painted jack o’ lantern, Paul launches into a monologue full of jaw-droppingly unfunny japes. “You know, there’s a real scary holiday coming up; Election Day! That’s about the funniest line we get. Again, though, most of the ‘jokes’ aren’t, in any technical sense, identifiably jokes at all. Still, to be fair, he’s simply killing the laugh track machine. Most intriguing is a reference to what vaguely sounds like an earlier Lynde Halloween special the year before. Sadly, with that predecessor lacking a guest starring rock group whose fanatical fans might have squirrelled away a bad early video copy or two, this prior show seems to be tragically lost to the ages.

Anyway, backstory time. I had bought a very bad gray market DVD of this some years ago, and showed to friends at a Halloween party. As Paul took the stage for this monologue, one young lady asked me what Lynde had been famous for. I noted the usual; he was a regular as Uncle Arthur on Bewitched, his role as a rat in the animated film Charlotte’s Web, his sitcom, and most famously his permanent position as the center square and resident sardonic wit on the long-running and immensely popular Hollywood Squares.*

[*It’s again a measure of a more innocent time that people tended to be shocked to learn that the guest stars’ supposedly adlibbed quips on the show were, in fact, often provided them by a staff of house writers, notably Bruce Vilanch. I’d still like to maintain my illusions that Lynde did not rely on this crutch, but it’s hard to ignore the fact that Vilanch was the head writer of this very special.]

Then I remembered one of his other claims to fame, and said he was famous for his role in the Broadway musical Bye Bye Birdie, and subsequently the movie version, which established his trademark song, “Kids.” Literally as soon as I said that (life, on rare occasion, works out perfectly that way), Lynde broke out in a version of the song with wacky, holiday-themed lyrics, which inevitably morphs into an inexpressibly awful production number as a troupe of apparently handicapable dancers in costumes representing trick or treaters stagger drunkenly across the stage:

“Kids! Well, it’s just no wonder they burn your lawns!
Kids! With their silly Sweat Hogs* and funky fauns! [Yes, that’s really the lyric.] There’s too much Alice Cooper! Not enough Alice Faye!
Keep your lizards and rats!
Keep your vampire bats!
What’s the matter with Kids! To! Day!”

[*Bonus Welcome Back, Kotter reference!]

The bit ends with Lynde being deposited in a large trash can. And who should step from the wings to put a lid on him? Why, none other than Donny and Marie Osmond. (The joke being that Lynde was a semi-regular comedic guest on the siblings’ own awful weekly variety show.*) Then the trash can blows up, and a besmudged Lynde rises from the debris.

[*OMG!! Check out the proto-Xanadu vibe to the photo montage intro to the Donny & Marie bit linked above!]

Now we move into the show’s ‘plotline.’ Margaret is driving Paul in a presumably- supposedly funny old jalopy (the driving effect ‘achieved’ via a horrible rearscreen projection). The idea, which of course makes perfect sense, is that he has accompanied his housekeeper on a trip with no idea of what destination she plans. It turns out they’re going to her sister’s house, leading to this classic exchange:

Paul: “What’s [the house] like?”
Margaret: “It’s well-preserved. You’ll have lots of fun!”
Paul: “You’re well-preserved…and you’re no fun!”


Soon they are approaching, well, a bad photo of a castle, which a sign informs us is *WAIT FOR IT!* “Gloomsbury Manor.” They enter the courtyard, which looks like the sort of set you would see in a Kabuki play with severe budget issues. Up in a ‘tree,’ a vulture barks like a dog:

Margaret: “Down, Rover!”
Paul: That’s ‘Rover’?”
Margaret: “Yes. He’s got a cold!”
Paul: “Hope his bark is worse than his peck!” [Loud canned laughter.]

It’s funny. I could tell, because the Laugh Track responds with gales of automated hilarity.

Margaret’s sister opens the door, and it’s Witchiepoo (Billie Hayes)… Wait, did I warn you guys that anyone born after the late ’60s wasn’t going to be able to make heads or tail of this thing? Sorry. [*Ever wanted to see a Borscht Belt, kid’s show witch conversing with a giant talking penis? Here’s your chance!]

Anyway, Witchiepoo was the cackling villain of the Sid and Marty Krofft TV show H.R. Pufnstuf. This Halloween special, like the aforementioned Donny & Marie Show and the fabled Brady Bunch Variety Hour, was also produced by the Kroffts. This not only explains Witchiepoo’s presence here, but also why Pufnstuf appeared on the second episode of the Brady Bunch Variety Hour performing Elton John songs.

Yes, seriously.

Paul enters a huge soundstage…er, parlor, which has been decorated in (sort of) a gloomy, gothic fashion. “Mr. Lynde, I’ve been dying to meet you,” Witchiepoo preens. “It looks like you already did!” he stutters. “Margaret,” he asides, “you’re sister is a witch!” Then the camera cuts over to her, now in green face paint and decked out in full Wicked Witch of the West regalia. She cackles and Lynde reacts in a ‘comically’ frightened manner. It should be noted that, as far as I know, this was Ms. Hamilton’s first appearance in this get-up since 1939’s The Wizard of Oz. It’s downright amazing how, nearly forty years later, she sounds and acts exactly the same, although her look is downgraded less by age than by the vastly inferior TV make-up job she gets here.

It turns out that Margaret has brought him here for a reason. “We want your help,” Witchiepoo confesses. “I don’t do benefits!” Paul replies. This inspires another gale of machine-delivered laughter. See what I mean about the lack of actual jokes? How is that a punch line? Not that the actual, sort-of-identifying gags are any better. “Give a ghoul a break,” Witchiepoo preens. See? She said “ghoul” instead of girl. It’s funny.

It seems that the witch community feels they’ve gotten a raw deal in the press, and want Lynde to be their new spokesman in a campaign to improve their public image. He runs through the usual cases (Snow White, etc.) as they defend themselves. “What about Dorothy and her little dog Toe-Toe [Toe-Toe?] in The Wizard of Oz.” (Yeah, thanks for cluing us in on what Dorothy and Toe-Toe you meant.) “She asked for it,” Margaret grumps. “And her little dog, too.” Get it? Because that’s what she said in the movie. It’s a reference to something we know, and hence, by some arcane rule, technically funny. Sort of.

Paul is having none of it. “I hate to break this up,” he says, “but I left my Jacuzzi on fast forward!” [Huge canned laughter.] However, when he opens the front door to leave, we hear Rover barking loudly, and he quickly reenters. Then Billy Barty enters, playing a butler and bearing goblets of something steaming with dry ice fog. One of Hollywood’s most familiar midget actors, Mr. Barty was by this point a veteran of the Krofft Saturday morning shows, most prominently as the co-star of Dr. Shrinker, in which he played the titular mad scientist’s lab assistant.

“Would you care for something, sir?” Billy asks, proffering his tray. Looking upon the steaming goblets, Paul quips, “No, thanks, I don’t smoke!” [Large canned laughter.] “It stunts your growth!” he continues—because Billy is a midget, get it?—and receives a kick in the thigh for his trouble. Ha, making fun of small people! That’s hi-larious.

The witches then bring in Miss Halloween of 1976 for Paul to meet, who appears via a ‘special’ effect so bad I’m not even sure how to describe it. This is another witch, played by guest star Betty White [cue huge canned applause], although she appears all in white and presumably is meant to reference Glinda the Good. I guess. Look, what do you want? You make sense of this damned thing.

There follows one of the show’s more painful comedy devices—which is saying something—as Betty lists all the other Pauls she had been hoping they intended her to meet: Paul Newman, Paul Williams, Paul McCartney… Pretty much anyone other than Paul Lynde. Because, you know… the Funny. Terminally disappointed (tell me about it) Betty disappears. “She has a striking resemblance to Betty White,” Paul observes. “But then, so many witches do!” [Huge canned laughter.]

Anyway, we get back to the main ‘plot,’ and the Witches again implore Paul to become the “spokes-human” for the “National Association of Witches, Local 104.” Paul asks why they want him in particular. “Because you’re a big television star,” Margaret replies, “and a close, personal friend of Donnie and Marie Osmond.” Are you falling out of your chair laughing? No? Maybe you had to be there.

In payment, Paul will be granted three wishes. That’s not really what witches do, but anyway. (Also, it’s been established that Margaret has been Paul’s housekeeper for fifteen years. Why would a powerful witch have a job all that time, particularly as a housekeeper? Isn’t it a powerful coincidence that they just happened to pick a guy with a witch for his longtime housekeeper to be their spokesman? Or am I overthinking this? Is it possible the writers hadn’t really intended for anyone, particularly thirty years later, to be analyzing this sort of thing? Well, welcome to the Internet and the Age of Way Too Much Leisure Time, my friends!)

The wishes, needless to say, act as a launching pad for some completely arbitrary and, unsurprisingly, impressively laugh-free sketches. The first involves Paul’s secret fantasy of being a trucker. Not just any trucker, in fact, but the “Rhinestone Trucker.” This leads into an interminably long sketch that doesn’t have one legitimate laugh in it, and seems to have been written under the influence of peyote.

Trucking and CB radios were popular right then, as evidenced by such TV shows as the earlier Movin’ On (1974-1976) and the later BJ and the Bear (1978). The former starred Claude Akins, who was also the comic nemesis, Sheriff Lobo, of the second series. BJ and the Bear lasted but one season, but Akins got two more years out of the spin-off The Misadventures of Sheriff Lobo.

The vogue for trucking was at its peak just about then, following the release of the smash trucking / CB radio single “Convoy” the year before. C.W. McCall’s tune was one of the biggest songs of the ’70s, and for a while it received such constant airplay that you couldn’t escape the thing. Oddly, it was three years before the song itself was made into a movie, one directed by Sam Peckinpah. 1997, meanwhile, saw Handle with Care, a.k.a. Citizen’s Band, directed by Jonathan Demme.

Needless to say, though, the sketch here seems to have been written by people who know nothing about truckers at all. As noted, Paul is ‘Red’ Ruby, a.k.a. the Rhinestone Trucker, arrayed in a shining white leather jumpsuit adorned with shiny metallic studs, and sporting a matching cap and even gloves. (!) The jacket features a plunging vee-neck, under which Lynde is shirtless and from which thick red hair protrudes, the latter glued on to match Paul’s bizarre red wig and pasted-on eyebrows. The whole look…well, let’s just imagine that the Village People had a trucker character, but the guy broke his ankle just before a gig and they had to ask the singer’s portly, middle-aged father to clamber into the outfit.

It’s really impossible to describe how horrible this skit is. Paul mostly sits in the cab of a mock-up semi truck, talking on the CB to Tim Conway (who first appears as a trucker who quickly crashes his truck, and then returns as another trucker.) Bad bluescreen is used to indicate them driving. Meanwhile, both men learn that a slatternly truck stop waitress has promised to marry them at midnight (Paul Lynde’s fantasy involves marrying a woman?). So both men race to diner to be the first to marry “Kinky Pinky.”

Kinky is played by Roz Kelly, a woman with an exaggerated Sly Stallone accent and immense frizzy hair. Ms. Kelly achieved brief fame by guest starring in the three-part “Fonzie Loves Pinky” arc on the then stupendously popular sitcom Happy Days. Pinky was a tough female stunt driver and ex-flame of Fonzie, who returned to town for a demolition derby. The first woman to actually win the Fonz’s heart, he even proposed to her. If you don’t find those pieces of trivia obscure enough, you may remember that Pinky was menaced during the derby by the brutish Malacci Brothers, who took out competitors with their fearsome “Malacci Crunch.” Ms. Kelly went on to play Pinky in a 1977 episode of Blansky’s Beauties, did the occasional guest star role on various TV shows, and saw her career peter out in the early ’80s.

The sketch opens with Paul ‘singing’ a ‘song’ about being the Rhinestone Trucker, and then proceeds to several excruciating minutes of him ‘comically’ bantering with fellow trucker Tim Conway on their CBs. Then it’s off to the diner, where Kinky can’t decide which man to marry. Tim gets the jump by arriving first, but before the preacher can marry them, Red crashes through the wall of the diner with his truck. It’s funny. Actually, about the only genuinely funny thing a sketch lasting quite nearly solid ten minutes (!) is that when Paul walks over the ‘bricks’ of the wall he knocked down, you can clearly hear the sound of squishing Styrofoam.

Undecided, Kinky proposes to marry the strongest, and Red wins when he smashes up a table. However, at this point the irate owner of the diner, played by Billy Barty, enters the room to complain about the damage. Red asks if he’s the “short order cook,” which is hilarious because it’s one of the show’s zillions of midget jokes Barty is subjected to. Then Barty pushes Red’s semi truck out of the room by hand, which is even funnier, you see, because Barty is a midget! Did you get that part?

However, Red wins by dint of having more money, because they are making a movie about him (?), and then the characters appear on a soundstage to call a square dance for the show’s squad of not very impressive dancers (and during which they—seriously!—employ a slide whistle for purported comic effect—whereupon I sorely began to wish that I drank.

Here are some of the hilarious gags we get during this skit:

Red introduces himself with a song, which may have taken all of twenty seconds to write:

“I’m called the Rhinestone Trucker,
because that is my name!
These rhinestones are my trademark,
and trucking is my game!”

Red: “You can’t marry both of us, that’s bigamy!”
Kinky: “Big a’ you? That’s big a’ me!”

(Frankly, if you have the balls to roll out that old chestnut, then ‘shame’ is a concept you’ve forgotten a looong time ago.)

Red, Kinky and Long Haul (Conway) call a square dance:
Red: “Start your motors, step on the gas,
put out your arm when you’re ready to pass!”
Kinky: “Show some leg around the boys,
Put in your clutch and make some noise!”
Long Haul: “Pick out a cargo that you like,
and haul your honey up the pike!”
Kinky: “Hug that shoulder! Grab that curve!”
Red: “Bump that bumper if you’ve got the nerve!”

As far as I could figure out, the square dance scene was ‘justified’ as being a scene in the movie about him. (As if that makes any more sense.) However, Jabootuites can only swoon with pleasure when the last couplet Red delivers is, “If my flicks make their money back / I could be bigger than Billy Jack!” Indeed!

Finally, the horror ends, leading to…more horror. In a startling actually almost a gag moment, the witches are seen to be reading, and laughing at, the then-popular novels Rosemary’s Baby and The Exorcist. I can’t really say this was funny, but you can actually understand the mechanics of how this is an actual, bonafide joke, which is more than you can say for most of the ‘humor’ in this thing.

Paul, via the magic of Stop the Camera, Put Him in Shot, Turn on the Camera technology, returns suddenly. He complains about the trip, because “My broomstick broke down over Trenton.” Then they offer him food. Lynde is naturally suspicious about what they consider food.

Witchiepoo: “It’s health food! It’s a hot dog with all the meat scooped out of it.”
Paul: “Oh, a hallow-weenie!” [Huge canned laughter.]

Barty comes on for a few more midget jokes (seriously, really?) and then departs. Then the witches offer Paul the chance to relax.

Margaret: “How about a little chamber music?”
Paul: “That would be nice. Where are the musicians?”
Margaret: “Locked up in a little chamber!” [Wicked Witch of the West cackle; loud canned laughter.]

Noting that they make such “very soothing music,” the band appears via an elevator in the room’s corner (what a weirdly elaborate set, working elevator, two floors, stairway, balconies, etc.) emerging from a positively huge cloud of dry ice smoke and accompanied by a siren. The musicians, of course, are the band KISS. See, the joke is that most people wouldn’t consider their music “very soothing,” but Margaret does, because she’s a witch. Get it?

KISS, in full regalia, leave the elevator and run out to a fully arrayed stage to perform “Detroit Rock City.” For what it’s worth, this marks their first network TV appearance, although the falsity of their lip syncing and air guitaring is painfully obvious. The one ‘special’ effect the program’s technicians can do is to make the image spin while they lay chromakey superimpositions of the band’s logo over the scene. The band itself does marginally more impressive stuff, including a small demonstration of their trademark pyrotechnics. Then, at the end, the band’s banks of speakers explode. This effect is sufficient elaborate (for this special, anyway) that I’m not sure if this isn’t special equipment the band provided from their concert performances.

Following what I assume was a commercial break, we return to Paul playing the Witches a game of Monopoly. Or is it? “Oh, good, I landed on Park Place,” Paul notes, after a roll of the dice. “That’s Dark Place,” Witchiepoo corrects. “This is Witch’s Monopoly. You can buy it, or blow it up!” Ha! See, it cleverly plays off the fact that witches are known for blowing things up. (Psst! Just go with it!) Meanwhile, Margaret makes to go watch “one of my favorite horror movies,” The Sound of Music. See, because…oh, never mind.

Annoyed that Margaret is leaving in the middle of the game, Paul exclaims, “I’d rather be in the middle of the Sahara Desert than here! In fact, I wish I were!” Then he realizes his mistake (and believe me, so does the viewer), because he still has two wishes left. Ha! That’s good comedy there. Anyway, the wish is locked in, although they do allow him to stipulate that he’ll be a rich sheik and a great lover. Sadly, though, the scenario begins to play out before he can choose the sex of his love interest.

And so we get a sketch in which Paul is a great Bedouin lover, complete with robes and slick-backed hair, who woos a prim, defiant English lady (Florence Henderson). The latter is decked out in full 1920s riding attire, including a tweed jacket, thigh high boots, vest and jodhpurs. That’s right, this skit is a parody of Rudoph Valentino’s silent classic, The Sheik (1921.) It says a great deal about the inanity of this special that one moment we go from an appearance from then super-hot rock group KISS to a spoof of a film that even then was 55 years old.

The Sheik enters the woman’s room, explains he wears an ear ring because he’s “a very chic sheik,” and announces that he’s known as Florence of Arabia. It’s funny because…I don’t have the faintest damn idea. This sketch is somewhat shorter than the trucker sketch, but is equally funny, which is to say, not much. I will say that Ms. Henderson does at least bring to bear vast experience playing the romantic interest opposite a gay actor. It’s one of the weirder examples of type-casting I can think of, but that’s show biz. Even so, their exaggerated lip-locks are gruesome to behold.

Appearing up on the balcony (because they built the damn thing so they may as well use it), Margaret calls down to the butler, who we now learn—although maybe I just wasn’t paying attention before—is named Gallows. Wow, that’s clever. He’s sent to put out the cat, and offstage we hear a roar, and then Gallows returns, his clothes all ripped up. It’s funny. However, when Margaret asks if he put the cat out, he replies, “No madam. I just put your mother to bed!” Komedy!

Paul returns, and in a spirit of magnanimity, offers the Witches his third wish. Noting that witches seldom have fun, they opt to visit “a Hollywood disco.” Wow, you just know this ain’t going to be good. And so, with a lighting change and minimal set-dressing, the Witches’ huge parlor is transformed, sort of, into a “Hollywood disco.”

The squad of dancers prances badly around whilst wearing huge frizzy wigs, some of which have another ‘face’ on the back of the head. KISS, meanwhile, stands around in the background doing nothing, no doubt dreaming of strangling their agent. (Actually, this is only in a shot or two, so apparently they mistakenly cut in a clip from the show’s climax, featuring KISS, although it was out of order.)
Paul and the Witches descend to the Disco in the previously mentioned elevator, because they built the damn thing so they may as well use it. Paul is wearing a shiny-spangly black tux with an orange shirt. The Witches get Paul to act as the party’s emcee, and he opens with a few jokes. That’s right. If you want to flee now, I wouldn’t blame you. However, the gag is that Paul starts the jokes, but becomes frustrated as the Witches cut in with the (supposed) punch lines:

Paul: “I love a discothèque! It’s the one place a person can Hustle…”
Witchiepoo: “And not get arrested!”

And could this joke really have gotten past the censors?

Paul: “Tim Conway was out there doing the Monkey…”
Margaret: “Until the monkey bit him!”

Then Paul introduces Florence Henderson, who slinks out in a skin-tight black shiny-spangly dress. I will say that Ms. Henderson cut quite a trim figure at the age of 42, ably exhibiting her credentials as an early MWWIEHL. (Mothers With Whom I’d Enjoy Having Relations.) However, her rendition of “That Old Black Magic” is pretty pedestrian, due to a combination of Ms. Henderson’s marginal singing voice (which was still generally the best on display each week on The Brady Bunch Variety Hour) and a pretty bad arrangement of the song, which gives it a rather appalling disco beat. Let’s just say that I don’t think Louis Prima and Keely Smith had much to worry about.

Cut to commercial, and then back (just a blank spot here, obviously). Then they introduce a soft focus sequence of Peter Criss, who sits at a piano and unconvincingly pretends to play while he unconvincingly pretends to sing the then current smash hit “Beth.” This was never a great live song for KISS, since watching a bare-chested man with long curly locks who wears cat make-up croons a tender ballad is sort of hilarious. This probably explains why the song’s one iteration also gets cut short in the KISS Meets the Phantom telemovie, despite the fact that the band seems to perform “Rock ‘n’ Roll All Night” about a half dozen times.

Then KISS is subjected to the ultimate indignity, in which they have to come on stage to exchange painful scripted banter with Lynde. The guys seem less than happy, and you can understand why, since Lynde’s style of comedy must seem painfully square and antiquated to them. “Just what I’ve always wanted,” Lynde vamps. “Four KISSes on a first date!” Talk about your worlds colliding. In fact, that’s the basis of the bit here, as Paul tosses out wheezing one liners and the band fails to react. I don’t think much acting was involved.

The band is put out of (some of) it’s misery as it’s ‘invited’ to mock-pretend one more song, “King of the Night Time World.” Then—thankfully—it’s time to wrap things up, and so Paul and the cast begin to do a really bad rendition of “Disco Baby.” Did I mention that Paul can’t really sing that well? He does the song in sort of an awkward sing-speech style, and does an odd pronunciation of baby, saying it “BAY-BEE”, with very hard b’s on both syllables.

The main benefit of his vocals is that they almost makes Roz Kelly sound like she can sing, which she can’t. Meanwhile, the dancers, er, dance, and all the guest stars take the stage to try stiffly Frug away. Poor Tim Conway can’t even pretend to dance, and merely shuffles back and forth. KISS stands up in the balcony, and look entirely bored whenever the camera cuts to them. Meanwhile, as a final indignity, Billy Barty is put up on top of a piano to dance, so that he can be seen.

Then we end on one of those appalling, Sammy Maudlin-esque ‘sincere’ notes, as Paul breaks character to step up to the camera and thank all of us who invited him and his guests into our homes this evening. “You have just been the greatest,” he tells his TV audience. What can that even mean in this context? The greatest what, exactly? Of course, if he means we’ve been the greatest because somehow we resisted the urge to change the channel during this jaw-dropping debacle, then yes, I guess the accolade is fairly earned. However, I must demur when he says, “Thank you for inviting us into your home tonight.” No, Paul. Thank you.

Oh, and thanks also as ever for the efforts of stalwart proofreader and nitpicker Carl Fink, who toils like Hercules in the Augean stables to clean up all the typos around here.

  • sardu

    Oh. My. Gawd. OMG OMG OMG OMG OMG. *g*

    I saw this when it was broadcast 31(!!!!) years ago and it has been seared into my mind’s eye ever since, especially KISS. I can’t believe it’s out on a legal (more or less, one presumes) DVD. We must haves it, yessss Preciousssss. Awesome awesome thing to review. Way to go!!

  • sardu

    Sorry about the double post… but had to comment on:
    “It says something about the state of the culture in this country just thirty years ago that, twenty years after Liberace’s heyday, Lynde could be a regular and generally flamboyant presence on television and still leave much of his fan base in the dark as to his personal preferences.”

    How true. But then, I led a particularly sheltered childhood. I didn’t even figure the Village People out until, like, 1984.

  • fish eye no miko

    the band appears via an elevator

    Does that make them elevator musicians?

    announces that he’s known as Florence of Arabia. It’s funny because…I don’t have the faintest damn idea

    Yeah, shouldn’t Ms. Henderson be Florence of Arabia?

    Wow, this sounds like a turd. And poor Margaret Hamilton. At least 13 Ghosts used her past in Wizard of Oz to clever effect instead of just as a lame joke…

  • Tork_110

    Too bad Fox cracks down on youtube often. You could have just shown a clip of the episode of the Simpsons where they had a Paul Lynde like character as in their parody of the sixties Batman show.

  • Tork_110

    Oh, I screwed that comment up. I meant to say The Scoutmaster.

  • Hasimir Fenring

    Lynde could be a regular and generally flamboyant presence on television and still leave much of his fan base in the dark as to his personal preferences.

    I knew within the first minute of the YouTube clip you linked, and that was before I got to this sentence.

    Paul: “What’s [the house] like?”
    Margaret: “It’s well-preserved. You’ll have lots of fun!”
    Paul: “You’re well-preserved…and you’re no fun!”

    What kills me is the instant I read this, I immediately came up with an actual joke that could have gone here. I was so expecting them to come up with something along these lines that I was positively astonished when they didn’t:

    Paul: Your sister’s house, eh? What’s it like there?
    Margaret: Well-preserved, quaint…a little dust in the corners, but very homely.
    Paul: Yeah, I’ve met your sister. Now what about the house?

    Funny? No. But at least it’s an actual joke with an actual punchline. This special is concentrated anti-humour; not unfunny jokes, but lines that don’t even form recognisable jokes.

  • BeckoningChasm

    It should be noted that back in this day, you didn’t really need ‘jokes,’ per se, just someone with an established comic persona to say them. This is probably less prevalent now

    I beg to differ, and can name that tune in two words: Jim Carrey.

  • Ericb

    Sometimes it’s all too easy to get misty eyed and nostalgiac about the era when you were a kid. Thanks for the reality check and reminder on how horrible the 70s actually were.

  • Ericb

    That scarf Lynde’s wearing is almost Bakeresque.

  • Exactly! He’s like Peter Davidson wearing Baker’s scarf.

  • Jack Spencer

    Incidentally, KISS Meets the Phantom of the Park is available on DVD in their KISSOLOGY Vol II boxed set. Therefore, they probably had the other DVD pulled so they could sell more of this boxed set than because of any embarrassment they should rightfully feel.

  • roger h

    Wow, I missed this one and I was a big fan of Paul Lynde (and not in that “friends of Dorothy” kind of way).

    The KISS thing never really appealed to me, I bought a couple of albums because I could get them cheap and it is what the cool kids did (my home town had a record pressing plant, $2, new releases, once a month). When I think about it, I think guys who liked KISS a lot should of had their manhood questioned more than someone who liked Paul Lynde, all that make up and high heels, hmmm. . .

  • Rick Luehr

    Great review, I’m gonna have to get ahold of this one!

    One small correction for you, though. You say:

    “It’s again a measure of a more innocent time that people tended to be shocked to learn that the guest stars’ supposedly adlibbed quips on [Hollywood Squares] were, in fact, often provided them by a staff of house writers, notably Bruce Vilanch.”

    Bruce Vilanch was not a writer on the 60s version of Squares which featured Lynde. He only was a writer on the 1998-2004 revival featuring Whoopi Goldberg.

  • Great job, Ken! I just ordered my copy from Amazon. It should make a nice companion piece to my “Star Wars – Holiday special” :)

  • Andrew

    I beg to differ, Paul’s joke about election day was not only funny, it was prescient. Recall the 1976 election did give us Jimmy Carter as president. A scarier holiday I cannot imagine. (Though his presidency did give us a few years of “killer bunny” jokes for no talnet hacks to use on THEIR holiday specials…)

  • Flint Paper

    Nice review, Ken! I only have two wishes (maybe because the word sounds sort of similar to witches? Sort of?): I’d really like to see these screencaps w/tooltips featuring your little one-off asides like in the old days. And secondly, why would you mention Florence Henderson’s skintight black dress and her still-tasty figure and not include a screencap of that? Why do you hate me?

  • Christian

    I’m 22 and people still know who KISS and Pinky Tuscadero are. And by ‘know’ I mean ‘pay money to see KISS and name girl-punk bands after Pinky’

  • Zandor Vorkov

    I’m afraid I didn’t get much out of this one. For starters, I have no idea who Paul Lynde is or was. I sometimes regret not being born until 1979, but then I find out about stuff like this holiday “special” and realize that missing the 70s might not have been so bad.

  • “Kids! With their silly Sweat Hogs* and funky fauns!”

    Obviously, the second part of the lyric must be the equally topical reference “funky Fonz.”

  • Tom

    I saw this little gem (don’t ask, but you’d be amazed with Netflix has in their library) as a recommendation of an acquaintance. I watched with both horror and slack-jawed amazement. I actually felt both embarrassment and sorrow for the “actors” on stage for this very un-funny “comedy special”. I can’t say I was ever a Paul Lynde fan, but this was easily the worst “comedy” I’d ever seen him in. I know Gene Simmons will do just about anything for money but KISS had no business being involved with this abomination.