Even without one mirrored tray of coke being passed around, this is still clearly the hottest place to be, as emphasized when Paul shouts“I like that funky stuff! You may not believe it today…but sexuality and someone’s orientation just weren’t discussed back then, particularly between parents and their children ; for that matter, neither was “sex” in general discussed.
On one of the DVD bonuses for The Paul Lynde Halloween Special, there’s an audio commentary by Peter Marshall, discussing Paul’s time on The Hollywood Squares, and recounting how Paul frequently received love letters from women viewers over the years. Having a bit more structure than what was the norm for this kind of TV variety special, The Paul Lynde Halloween Special actually has a slight narrative skeleton to hold together its seemingly unrelated comedy and musical set pieces. Paul Lynde, playing himself, knows there’s a holiday coming up on the calendar, but he’s a little confused as to which one.
Sex still was largely a private matter in those fast-waning days of American circumspection and civility. Any adult (or half-aware kid) watching Lynde at that time of course knew he was gay; there was no question of that (the notion that Americans were somehow clueless about homosexuality back then is a myth perpetrated today by people with an agenda…and an axe to grind). And of course, the lion’s share of that difference in tone for The Paul Lynde Halloween Special comes from Paul’s gay humor. Officially “closeted” to the public during his entire career, Lynde’s act, nevertheless, was openly, even celebratory, gay—and important for that fact.
It would probably also be funnier if Lynde looked embarrassed or even vaguely repulsed at having to slobber all over his leading ladies, adding some level of absurdity to the situation. Instead it just comes off, like nearly every other variety show, as forced, a desperate plea for the audience to love him so he can come back and do this again sometime. Not to mention that a gay man’s fondest wish is to be attracted to women is, really, kind of sad, but I’m probably givingThe Paul Lynde Halloween Specialmuch more depth and nuance than it requires. Paul generously bestows his final wish on Witchiepoo and the Wicked Witch of the West, who wish to attend a “Hollywood disco.” Why can’t they just magic their asses to Studio 54, if that’s what they want? Rather than taking them to an actual nightclub, Paul transforms the house into a disco, complete with dancers wearing orange fright wigs and Florence Henderson singing “That Old Black Magic.” Andy Warhol would have been chomping at the bit to get into this joint.