Paul Lynde's infectious laugh and sarcastic wit make him stand out as one of Bewitched's most memorable characters. But Paul's life was much more than a handful of appearances on Bewitched and being the center square on the game show Hollywood Squares. Lynde's rise from a small town in Ohio to Beverly Hills, California is fascinating.
Lynde was born on June 13, 1926 in Mount Vernon, Ohio. He was one of six children born to Hoy and Sylvia Lynde. The family stayed in Mount Vernon through Paul's formative years, but Paul always dreamed of bigger things. After seeing the original Ben Hur at age 5, he set out on a mission to become a rich and famous movie star. His dad was at one time the town's sheriff, and the family lived above the county jail. However, that didn't stop the young wise guy from spending his time sitting on the steps of a mansion in town and waving to cars as they passed by. Even though he struggled with his weight and hide his sexual identity, he knew he was destined for bigger things and that his humor would get him there.
Lynde at Age 12
Yet a high school drama teacher recognized Lynde's talent and encouraged him to study speech and drama at Northwestern University in Evanston, IL. While there, Lynde studied with other future TV stars such as Cloris Leachman and Charlotte Rae (who were both on the 1980s hit TV show The Facts of Life). Lynde made lifelong friends with the other students at Northwestern and graduated with the honor of "Best Student Actor of the Year" in 1948.
Lynde moved to New York after graduation and struggled as a waiter and plasma donor to make ends meet while acting in plays and auditioning for anything that could be his big break. Sadly, by 1949, Lynde lost his war hero brother and both parents.
But by 1952, Lynde's career was on the rise. He had a sketch in the hit Broadway play New Faces of 1952 with another future Bewitched co-star, Alice Ghostley. This hit play was turned into a feature film in 1954. He also played Harry McAfee in the Broadway version of Bye, Bye Birdie before reprising the role and starring with Ann-Margret in the 1963 feature film, as well. His hometown of Mount Vernon hosted a "Paul Lynde Day" on July 10, 1963 to celebrate his achievements in the Arts.
Lynde in the 1960s
Fans of Bewitched know Lynde best as the wise-cracking warlock Uncle Arthur, who was dubbed "The Clown Prince of the Cosmos" by Endora. However, he originally played Samantha's mortal driving instructor, Harold Harold, in episode # 26, "Driving is the Only Way to Fly." He debuted as Uncle Arthur in episode #41, "The Joker Is a Card." He appeared as Uncle Arthur in only 9 episodes, yet is one of Samantha's most memorable relatives.
Lynde as Samantha's Uncle Arthur on Bewitched
Lynde abandoned the stage for TV and movie work in the 1960s and appeared on other shows such as The Munsters, F Troop, Gidget, I Dream of Jeannie, That Girl, and also did an episode of The Hollywood Palace with Bewitched star and good friend, Elizabeth Montgomery.
Lynde with Barbara Eden on I Dream of Jeannie
In 1965, Lynde was involved in an accident where a young actor fell to his death from Lynde's hotel room window. The two had been drinking for hours before 24-year old either jumped or fell eight stories. Jim Davidson's death haunted the actor for years, even though the scandal did not ruin his career. This incident did offer insight into the precarious drinking, partying, and gay lifestyle that Lynde enjoyed.
Lynde Looking Like a Pimp
Lynde continued to work in feature films, as well. He co-starred in Under the Yum Yum Tree with Jack Lemmon (1963), Son of Flubber with Fred Mac Murray (1963), Send Me No Flowers with Rock Hudson (1964), The Glass Bottom Boat with Doris Day (1966), did voice work as Templeton the rat in Charlotte’s Web with Agnes Moorehead and Debbie Reynolds (1973), Rabbit Test with Billy Crystal (1978), and The Villain with Kirk Douglas (1979).
Once a Warlock, Always a Warlock
Lynde became a full-time player on Hollywood Squares in the fall of 1968. Although he started appearing on the show during its second week in October 1966, his star rose quickly with this new TV audience and he made double what the other players made. His jokes often had kinky sexual overtones, and his biting remarks were popular with the daytime TV game show audience. He would win two Emmy awards for his role as the center square and this garnered him a new sitcom bearing his name.
The Paul Lynde Show Made the Cover of TV Guide
After his stint on Bewitched, Lynde worked with Ashmont Productions again on The Paul Lynde Show, which was also on ABC. With Harry Ackerman as Executive Producer and Bill Asher as Producer, this adaptation of Phoebe Ephron's play Howie should have been a hit. But the show lasted only one season (1972 - 1973). Fans just didn't buy Lynde as Paul Simms, a partner in the law firm of McNish and Simms who was married with two daughters. Lynde went on to star in comedy specials and in The New Temperatures Rising, a comedy show where he played a hospital administrator.
The Paul Lynde Show Aired from 1972 to 1973
Lynde won two Daytime Emmy awards in 1975 and 1979 for "Outstanding Individual Achievement in Daytime Programming" for his role as the center square on Hollywood Squares. However, as documented in his People magazine cover story, "Life for Lynde, at 50, is a relentless struggle to control his weight, his whiskey, and his bitterness."
Lynde on the Cover of People Magazine the Week of 09/13/76
Lynde's sad eyes and toothy grin balanced out the personality of this actor. His movie star smile and the charismatic inflection of his voice determined his star quality, but his eyes showed the conflict and pain he must have felt growing up overweight and gay in the Midwest.
Lynde in the 1970s
He overcame his weight problems and was even made an honorary member of Weight Watchers in 1977 for his on-going victory over the obesity of his youth. And not one to bow to the pressures of Hollywood, he was "out" before being out was in. Yet, he never won his battle with booze. He had several outrageous incidents of verbally assaulting people and drunken rages that showed a darker side to Lynde's persona.
In fact, when Lynde left Hollywood Squares in the Spring of 1979, the National Enquirer claimed he was fired as a result of a drinking problem. Lynde fought back and slapped them with a lawsuit. He was invited back to Hollywood Squares for another season in 1980-81. Here are some of his most famous zingers from the show:
Host: In The Wizard of Oz, the lion wanted courage and the tin man wanted a heart. What did the scarecrow want?
Lynde: He wanted the tin man to notice him.
Host: Why do Hell's Angels wear leather?
Lynde: Because chiffon wrinkles too easily.
Host: In "Alice in Wonderland", who kept crying "I'm late, I'm late?"
Lynde: Alice, and her mother is sick about it.
Host: Diamonds should not be kept with your family jewels, why?
Lynde: They're so cold!
Host: Snow White...was she a blonde or a brunette?
Lynde: Only Walt Disney knows for sure...
Host: According to the French Chef, Julia Child, how much is a pinch?
Lynde: Just enough to turn her on...
Host: We've all heard the old phrase "A pig in a poke." What is a poke?
Lynde: It's when you're not really in love.
Ellen Degeneres Pays Homage to Lynde When She is the Center Square
Lynde was growing tired of Hollywood and dreamed of moving back to New York and opening a restaurant. Unfortunately, after missing a dinner party on January 10, 1982, a concerned friend went over to his house the next morning and found that he had died at home from a massive heart attack the night before. He was only 55.
In addition to being a comedy legend, Lynde was also a great chef, avid dog lover (pets included Orville, Wilbur, Alfred, and his canine alter-ego Harry McAfee), and enjoyed watching dirty movies in the afternoon and partying with friends every night.
Lynde at Home with Harry
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Paul Lynde: Off Center - The A&E Biography
E! Mysteries and Scandals - Paul Lynde
Herbie J Pilato The Bewitched Book: The Cosmic Companion to TV's Most Magical Supernatural Situation Comedy. Dell Publishing, 1992.
Rogers, Kasey and Mark Wood. The Bewitched Cookbook: Magic in the Kitchen. Kensington Publishing Corp. 1996.