DVD: “Paul Lynde Halloween Special” (1976) – Bruce Vilanch (Co-Writer)

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DVD Review: ‘The Paul Lynde Halloween Special’

October 24, 2007

They don’t make Halloween specials like they used to.

But they do release the old ones on DVD.

And that’s cause for celebration this year, when one of the strangest, coolest old variety hours ever has made it to disc:

The 1976 “Paul Lynde Halloween Special” (S’more, $15) stars not just “Bewitched’s” belovedly sarcastic Uncle Arthur – one of the gayest not-publicly-gay performers you’ll ever see – but also “Wizard of Oz” witch Margaret Hamilton, 37 years later, in full green-face regalia. And “H.R. Pufnstuf” standby Witchiepoo (Billie Hayes). And little person Billy Barty. And “Brady Bunch” mom Florence Henderson warbling a disco version of “That Old Black Magic.” And Donny & Marie. And Tim Conway, and Betty White, and “Happy Days” dish Roz “Pinky Tuscadero” Kelly as a truckstop waitress whose apron emblazons her as Kinky Pinky.

And Kiss, too!

You haven’t lived until you’ve seen sequin-tuxedoed Lynde, witch-garbed Hamilton and the wildly made-up rock quartet actually occupying the same TV frame.

It’s 45 minutes into the disc. Go there first.

On second thought, don’t – you’d miss too much other vintage oddity. Such as a desert sheik sketch with Lynde as the dashing Florence of Arabia, lusting after Henderson as Lady Cecily Westinghouse, a “Westinghouse frigid-heiress.” (Say it aloud.)

How gay can it get? Well, the closing credits reveal Bruce Vilanch among the writers. So. Pretty gay indeed. When Kiss is among the straightest things on the show, you know you’re not in Kansas anymore.

This special is the latest wonder rustled up by Arny Schorr’s one-man-band S’more Entertainment, which has also released Wally Cox’s delightful early ’50s tube comedy “Mister Peepers.” (What is it with Schorr and “Hollywood Squares” wits?) The Lynde special is not just a time capsule of TV and music, but it’s a cultural snapshot of that moment when gay humor was beginning to mix into the mainstream, post-Stonewall.

Lynde had always been, um, campy. Even little kids watching “Bewitched” knew Uncle Arthur didn’t have girlfriends. Catty, cackling and snippy, Lynde was TV’s top version of the gay Greek chorus played in golden-age Hollywood movies by the likes of Franklin Pangborn. And in this Halloween special, he’s over the top of the top.

The ABC hour, which aired only once on Oct. 29, 1976, actually crafts a wraparound “story” involving Lynde ending up at a spooky castle occupied by witches Hamilton and Hayes. The conceit only adds another layer of bizarre artificiality to the already peculiar proceedings.

Then the DVD release offers some reality. S’more’s special features include an extensive photo scrapbook from Lynde’s family and a 12-minute audio/stills interview with “Hollywood Squares” host Peter Marshall, who recalls both how cutting the center-square comic could be offscreen (“If there was ever a wicked witch, it was Paul Lynde”) and how self-destructive. Lynde died early, at age 55 (in 1982), of a heart attack after years of drinking, to which Marshall sadly testifies.

But “The Paul Lynde Halloween Special” captures Lynde at his best, cutting loose to camp it up. While the DVD’s quality may not be ideal, coming from 30-year-old videotape, it’s a thrill just to see this moment in time preserved at all.

THE PAUL LYNDE HALLOWEEN SPECIAL. Circa 1976, a gay old time is had by the campy comic, rock group Kiss, Oz witch Margaret Hamilton, Billie Hayes’ Witchiepoo and other odd guests. With great Lynde extras. Out on DVD from S’more Entertainment, list price $15.

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