Paul Lynde

Paul Edward Lynde (/lɪnd/; June 13, 1926  January 11, 1982)[1][2] was an American comedian, voice artist, game show panelist and actor. A character actor with a distinctively campy and snarky persona that often poked fun at his barely-closeted homosexuality, Lynde was well known for his roles as Uncle Arthur on Bewitched, the befuddled father Harry MacAfee in Bye Bye Birdie, and as a regular "center square" panelist on the game show The Hollywood Squares from 1968 to 1981. He also voiced animated characters for four Hanna-Barbera productions.

Paul Lynde
Lynde in 1972
Birth namePaul Edward Lynde
Born(1926-06-13)June 13, 1926
Mount Vernon, Ohio, U.S.
DiedJanuary 11, 1982(1982-01-11) (aged 55)
Beverly Hills, California, U.S.
Resting placeAmity Cemetery, Amity, Ohio, U.S.
  • Comedian
  • TV personality
  • actor
  • voice artist
Alma materNorthwestern University
Years active1954–1982
Notable works and rolesBewitched
Bye Bye Birdie
Hollywood Squares

Lynde regularly topped audience polls of most-liked TV stars,[3] and was routinely admired and recognized by his peers during his lifetime. Mel Brooks once described Lynde as being capable of getting laughs by reading "a phone book, tornado alert, or seed catalogue."[4] Lynde once said that while he would rather be recognized as a serious actor, "We live in a world that needs laughter, and I've decided if I can make people laugh, I'm making an important contribution."[5]

Early life

Paul Lynde was born in Mount Vernon, Ohio, the son of Sylvia Bell (Doup) and Hoy Corydon Lynde, who owned and operated a meat market.[5][6] Fifth-born among six siblings, Lynde had older sisters Grace and Helen, older brothers Richard Hoy and Coradon ("Cordy") George, and younger brother John ("Johnny"). His favorite brother Coradon died in 1944 at the age of 21, at the Battle of the Bulge in World War II.[3][5] Five years later in 1949, his parents died within three months of one another.[3]

Lynde graduated from Mount Vernon High School in 1944, where he played the bass drum in his high school band.[6] He went on to study speech and drama at Northwestern University in Evanston, Illinois, where his fellow classmates included Cloris Leachman, Charlotte Rae, Patricia Neal, Jeffrey Hunter and Claude Akins. At Northwestern, he was active in the schools' theatrical productions,[6] and joined the Upsilon chapter of Phi Kappa Sigma. He is listed among the more famous members of the fraternity.[7]

He graduated in 1948 and moved to New York City, taking odd jobs while looking for his show-business break. His first appearance as a stand-up comic was at famed supper club, Number One Fifth Avenue.[6][8]


Lynde made his Broadway debut in the hit revue New Faces of 1952 in which he co-starred with fellow newcomers Eartha Kitt, Robert Clary, Alice Ghostley, and Carol Lawrence.[9] In his monologue from that revue, the "Trip of the Month Club," Lynde portrayed a man on crutches recounting his misadventures on the African safari he took with his late wife.[10] The show was filmed and released as New Faces in 1954.

After the revue's run, Lynde co-starred in the short-lived 1956 sitcom Stanley opposite Buddy Hackett and Carol Burnett, both of whom were also starting their careers in show business. That year, he guest starred on NBC's The Martha Raye Show.

Lynde returned to Broadway in 1960 when he was cast as Harry MacAfee, the father in Bye Bye Birdie. He also played the role in the 1963 film adaptation. That year, he recorded a live album, Recently Released, issued as an LP record. All six tracks were written by him. Once he could afford writers, he rarely used his own material until his tenure on The Hollywood Squares years later.

Lynde was in great demand in the 1960s. During the 1961–62 television season he was a regular on NBC's The Perry Como Show as part of the Kraft Music Hall players with Don Adams, Kaye Ballard and Sandy Stewart. He was a familiar face on many sitcoms, including The Phil Silvers Show, The Patty Duke Show, The Munsters, The Flying Nun, Gidget, I Dream of Jeannie, F Troop, and variety shows such as The Ed Sullivan Show and The Dean Martin Show. He also was featured in a number of 1960s films, including Send Me No Flowers and The Glass Bottom Boat, both starring Doris Day. Lynde's best known sitcom role was on Bewitched.


In 1965, Lynde made his debut appearance on Bewitched during the first-season episode "Driving is the Only Way to Fly" (air date March 25, 1965). His role as mortal Harold Harold, Samantha Stephens' nervous driving instructor, was well-received by viewers. Lynde also impressed series star Elizabeth Montgomery and her husband, director/producer William Asher, who created a recurring role for Lynde as Endora's practical-joking brother Uncle Arthur. Lynde made 10 appearances on Bewitched as the beloved character, the first being "The Joker is a Card" (air date October 14, 1965). Lynde, Montgomery and Asher became good friends, and were regularly seen together off the set.[4]

Television pilots

Lynde starred in four failed television pilots in the 1960s:

  • Howie (1962, CBS)
  • Two's Company (1965, ABC)
  • Sedgewick Hawk-Styles: Prince of Danger (1966, ABC)
  • Manley and the Mob (1967, ABC)

Of the four shows, only the Victorian detective spoof Sedgewick Hawk-Styles: Prince of Danger was initially picked up by ABC, only to be cancelled at the last minute. William Asher commented in the A&E Biography episode on Lynde that ABC had reservations about Lynde, most notably his increasingly erratic offscreen behavior and the persistent rumors of his homosexuality.[8]

The Hollywood Squares

Q: "You're the world's most popular fruit. What are you?"
Lynde: "Humble."[3]

Q: "How many men on a hockey team?"

Lynde: "Oh, about half."

Q: "Who's generally better looking, a fairy or a pixie?"

Lynde: "Looks aren't everything! (pause) I think I'll take the fairy."

Q: "Is it against the law in Texas to call a Marine a 'sissy'?"

Lynde: "I guess I'll have to take the law into my own hands."[11]

Q: "What unusual thing do you do if you have something called 'the gift of tongues'?"

Lynde: "I wouldn't tell the grand jury. Why should I tell you?"

Q: "The great writer George Bernard Shaw once wrote, 'It's such a wonderful thing, what a crime to waste it on children.' What is it?"

Lynde: "A whipping."[12][13]

Q: "...when a man falls out of your boat and into the water, you should yell 'Man overboard!' Now what should you yell if a woman falls overboard?"

Lynde: "Full speed ahead!"[14]

Paul Lynde (joke responses as told on The Hollywood Squares)

In 1966, Lynde debuted on the fledgling game show The Hollywood Squares and quickly became its iconic guest star. Eventually he assumed a permanent spot as the "center square," a move that ensured that he would be called upon by contestants at least once in almost every round. Despite an urban legend to the contrary, Lynde remained in the center at the producers' discretion.

On The Hollywood Squares, Lynde was best able to showcase his comedic talents with short, salty one-liners, spoken in his signature snickering delivery.[8] Many gags were thinly-veiled allusions to his homosexuality. Other jokes relied on double entendre, an alleged fondness for deviant behaviors, or dealt with touchy subject matter for 1970s television.

Appearing a total of 707 times, Lynde garnered considerable fame and wealth from the series.[15] Lynde eventually became disenchanted with being what he called "boxed into" The Hollywood Squares, and he departed the series in 1979. In 1980, The Hollywood Squares experienced a downward trend in Nielsen ratings, and Lynde was approached about returning to the program. He initially declined, but changed his mind when told he would receive co-star billing with host Peter Marshall. He returned to the series in the spring of 1980 and remained with the show until its cancellation in February 1981.

Voice acting

Between 1969 and 1973, Lynde did extensive voice work on animated cartoons, particularly those of Hanna-Barbera Productions. His most notable roles included:

Lynde's sardonic inflections added a dimension to such lines as the sly, drawn-out whine, "What's in it for meeee?" His distinctive voice remains popular among impressionists. Although it is sometimes assumed that actress Alice Ghostley based her speech patterns and mannerisms on Lynde's, according to actress Kaye Ballard, "It was Paul who was influenced by Alice".[16]

The Paul Lynde Show and Temperatures Rising

In 1972, Lynde starred in a short-lived ABC sitcom, The Paul Lynde Show. The series was a contractual fulfillment to ABC in place of an aborted ninth season of Bewitched.[17]

Lynde starred as Paul Simms, an uptight attorney and father who was at odds with his liberal-minded son-in-law. The family included wife Martha (Elizabeth Allen), daughters Sally (Pamelyn Ferdin) and Barbara (Jane Actman), Barbara's husband Howie (John Calvin), and Howie's parents (Jerry Stiller and Anne Meara).

Critics perceived the show as a derivative of All in the Family, television's then most-popular primetime program, although many admitted the writing was top notch and the sexual connotations gave it an extra bit of spice. Lynde was nominated for a Best Actor Golden Globe for the show. Scheduled opposite the first half of the Top 30 hit The Carol Burnett Show on CBS and the Top 20 hit Adam-12 on NBC, the series garnered low ratings and was canceled after a single season.

Contemporaneous media reports showed that viewers liked Lynde but not The Paul Lynde Show, and liked another ABC show, Temperatures Rising, but disliked co-star James Whitmore. Whitmore, unhappy himself, left the show and ABC moved Lynde to Temperatures Rising for the 1973–74 season. This move came despite the objections of William Asher, producer of both shows, who also quit in protest of ABC's meddling.

Ratings for The New Temperatures Rising were even lower than the previous season, in part because Asher's replacements shifted the show's tone to a much darker one than the previous season. ABC cancelled the show and its time slot was taken by mid-season replacement Happy Days.

ABC later decided to resuscitate the program, with additional cast changes (most notably, Alice Ghostley, who replaced Sudie Bond in the role of Lynde's sister, Edwina). ABC also convinced Asher, who admitted Lynde's presence likely saved the series, to come back. Seven further episodes were produced for summer 1974 airings, after which the series was permanently canceled.

Summer stock theatre

Lynde was a fixture on the Kenley Players summer stock theatre circuit,[18] appearing in Don't Drink the Water (1970, 1979), The Impossible Years (1969, 1978), Mother is Engaged (1974), My Daughter is Rated X (1973), Plaza Suite (1971), and Stop, Thief, Stop! (1975).[19] In all he appeared in nine Kenley Players productions, more than any other headliner.[20]

Television specials and variety shows

Lynde's continuing popularity led to his being signed by ABC to host a series of specials from 1975 to 1979, including:

Lynde was a regular guest on the variety show Donny & Marie between 1976 and 1978, until he lost his guest-starring role due to very public, drunk arguments with police officers.[22]

Guest appearances and film roles

Acting jobs continued to be scarce for Lynde, although it is unclear whether or not this was related to his known substance abuse and alcohol problems, which made him difficult to work with.[4] As demand for his services declined, he accepted a wider variety of job offers.

In 1978, he appeared as a guest weatherman for WSPD-TV in Toledo, Ohio, to publicize both The Hollywood Squares and a summer stock performance.[23]

In the 1979 comedy The Villain (released as "Cactus Jack" in the UK), he appeared as Indian chief Nervous Elk alongside former Bye Bye Birdie co-star Ann-Margret. This was his final film role.

In November 1980, the Beaux Arts Society, Inc. (founded in 1857) designated Paul Lynde "King" of the Beaux Arts Ball, with Kitty Carlisle designated as "Queen". Paul Lynde remained a Life Member of the Beaux Arts Society from 1980 until his untimely death.[24]


In 1976 at the Sixth Annual American Guild of Variety Artists (AGVA) "Entertainer of the Year Awards", Lynde received an award for being voted the funniest man of the year.[25] Lynde immediately turned his award over to host Jackie Gleason (who never won an Emmy award during his lifetime), citing him as "the funniest man ever." The unexpected gesture shocked Gleason.[26]

Personal life

Despite his campy and flamboyant television persona, Lynde's private life and sexual orientation were not directly acknowledged or discussed on television or in other media during his lifetime. According to an essay on the web site for The Biography Channel, in the 1970s, entertainment journalists did not investigate the private lives of performers who were best known as game show regulars.[27]

In 1976, a People magazine article on Lynde included text about Stan Finesmith, who was described as Lynde's "suite mate" and "chauffeur-bodyguard." The magazine did not include a photograph of Finesmith. During Lynde's lifetime, this was as close as the media came to hinting at his homosexuality.[4] Cathy Rudolph, a friend of Lynde's who published a 2013 book entitled Paul Lynde: A Biography – His Life, His Love(s) and His Laughter, stated in a 2018 interview that "being gay and having to hide it frustrated him."[28]

With the wealth he'd earned working on The Hollywood Squares, Lynde bought Errol Flynn's old Hollywood mansion and spent an enormous amount of money on renovations and décor. He lived there with his beloved dog, Harry MacAfee,[5] until Harry died in 1977. Afterward, Lynde could not stay in the house without him and later bought a new home.

[5][22] In 1977 Lynde was honored by Weight Watchers.

Struggles with alcohol

Lynde struggled with alcoholism and had numerous run-ins with the law, including frequent arrests for public intoxication.[22][8] Peter Marshall and Kaye Ballard confirmed that Lynde, when inebriated, would sometimes ridicule his friends.[29][30]

In July 1965, Lynde was involved in an incident in which a friend, another young actor, accidentally fell to his death from the window of their hotel room in San Francisco's Sir Francis Drake Hotel.[3] The two had been drinking for hours before 24-year-old James "Bing" Davidson, as he was "horsing around", slipped and fell eight stories.[31][32]

In October 1977, Lynde was involved in an incident at his alma mater, Northwestern University (NU), when he was the Grand Marshal for homecoming. At a fast food restaurant after the homecoming parade, he made racist remarks and gestures to African-American NU professor James Pitts. Lynde later blamed his behavior on fatigue and inebriation.[33]

In January 1978, while in Salt Lake City to record a segment for Donny & Marie, Lynde was arrested outside of a tavern and charged with interfering with a police officer. Lynde's vehicle had been broken into and his valuables stolen while he was inside the tavern. The arresting officer had been investigating a different car burglary, and claimed Lynde kept insisting that he "attend to Lynde's complaint" instead.[34] The complaint was later dropped.[35]

Determined to get his life back on track, Lynde became sober and drug-free in early 1980.[36]


On January 11, 1982, after Lynde failed to attend a birthday celebration, his friend, actor Paul Barresi, became concerned. When he and another friend, actor Dean Dittman, could not get an answer after calling him on the phone and knocking on his door, Barresi broke into the side entrance to Lynde's home in Beverly Hills, California, and found him dead in his bed. He was 55 years old.

Stories suggesting that Lynde had a visitor at the time of his death who fled the scene circulated, but evidence indicated the stories were false.[8] Lynde regularly activated his house alarm before retiring for the evening. When Barresi broke in, the alarm blared, indicating that Lynde had been alone at the time of his death and that he had died in his sleep.[37][38]

The coroner ruled the death a heart attack.[37] Lynde's cremated remains are interred at Amity Cemetery, in Amity, Knox County, Ohio, next to those of his brother Johnny and sister Helen. His father and mother are buried at the same cemetery.[39]


Lynde's popularity and high regard from the public have been maintained since his death. A biography was published in 2005, titled Center Square: The Paul Lynde Story. Authors Steve Wilson and Joe Florenski described Lynde as "Liberace without a piano" and that to most 1970s-era viewers, he was "a frustrated bit player and character actor on a daytime game show". To the homosexual community, his reputation was less than stellar: "In some ways, he came to symbolize what's perceived to be a self-loathing era for gay culture."[4]

Lynde's distinctive vocal delivery has also been widely imitated:




Unsold pilots

  • Howie (1962, CBS)
  • Two's Company (1965, ABC)
  • Sedgewick Hawk-Styles: Prince of Danger (1966, ABC)
  • Manley and the Mob (1967, ABC)


See also

  • Biography portal


  1. Paul E. Lynde, age 3-9/12 years. U.S. Census, 1 April 1930, State of Ohio, County of Knox, enumeration district 9, p. 7A, family 202.
  2. Paul Edward Lynde, born 13 June 1926, died 11 January 1982. California Death Index, 1940–1997 [database on-line]. Provo, Utah, US: The Generations Network, Inc., 2000.
  3. Hanc, John (2014-01-10). "Long Islander's teen friendship with TV star (A hint of his private life)". Newsday. Retrieved 2019-08-16.
  4. Mike Sacks (23 August 2005). "Queer as Folk". Salon. Salon Media Group. Retrieved 2013-08-01.
  5. "You Asked Us: About Funny, Fussy Actor Paul Lynde". The Montreal Gazette. 1973-02-17. Retrieved 2019-08-16.
  6. Scott, Vernon (1982-01-11). "Paul Lynde, the sardonic and irreverent comedian who starred..." UPI Archives. UPI. Retrieved 2019-08-16.
  7. L. Washburn, Phi Kappa Sigma member Northwestern University class of 1950, personal communication, Feb. 27, 2018
  8. "Paul Lynde Biography (1926–1982)". Retrieved 2008-01-25.
  9. "Paul Lynde". What A Character!. Archived from the original on 2007-10-10. Retrieved 2008-01-25.
  10. Vincent Canby (21 June 1998). "A Lost Theatrical Form Returns With a Smile". The New York Times. Retrieved 2008-01-25.
  11. "Paul Lynde Clips". 1960-06-05. Archived from the original on 2013-10-17. Retrieved 2013-09-21.
  12. Zingers from the Hollywood Squares LP, Event Records, 1974
  13. Paul Lynde: Off Center, A&E Home Video, 2001
  14. I Love the 70s: 1971, VH1, 2003
  15. Peter Marshall Kaye Ballard (E True Hollywood Story, 2000)
  16. Dennis McLellan (2007-09-22). "'Bewitched's' Esmeralda Dies at 81". The Los Angeles Times. Retrieved 2013-07-29.
  17. "Paul Lynde". Retrieved 2017-01-25.
  18. "Paul Lynde Interview". eCommons. University of Dayton. Retrieved January 11, 2016.
  19. "Kenley Players Productions". Retrieved January 11, 2016.
  20. "Most Appearances by a Headliner". Kenley Player History. Retrieved January 11, 2016.
  21. Joan Hanauer (7 December 1977). "Lynde Tries 'Different Christmas TV Special". The Youngstown Vindicator. Retrieved 2013-07-29.
  22. Gross, Ed (2019-02-15). "Remembering the Life and Career of Paul Lynde, Star of 'Bewitched' and 'Hollywood Squares' (Exclusive)". Closer Weekly. American Media Entertainment Group. Retrieved 2019-08-16.
  23. "Paul Lynde doing the Weather". Retrieved 26 May 2011.
  24. "Royal Family". Thomas Robert Stevens. Retrieved 14 June 2017.
  25. "Entertainer of the Year Awards: Special with Jackie Gleason as host". Lumberton, North Carolina: The Robesonian. 1976-01-11. Retrieved 2019-08-15.
  26. Rudolph, Cathy (2013-12-02). Paul Lynde: A Biography - His Life, His Love(s) and His Laughter. BearManor Media. p. 202. ISBN 978-1629330655.
  27. "TV Stars Who Ruled the 70s". Retrieved 14 June 2017.
  28. Nolasco, Stephanie (18 April 2018). "'Bewitched' star Paul Lynde struggled with childhood insecurities, pal claims". Fox News. Retrieved 6 August 2018.
  29. Florence Henderson Show, 2008
  30. Peter Marshall, Kaye Ballard; E! True Hollywood Story, 2000
  31. "Actor Falls 8 Stories To Death". Pasadena Independent. Associated Press. 1965-07-19. Retrieved 2019-08-16.
  32. "Practical Joke Turns Into Death". Sarasota Herald-Tribune. Associated Press. 1965-07-19. Retrieved 2019-08-16.
  33. Moseley, Ray (28 October 1977). "Lynde Apologizes for Racial Slurs to NU Prof". Chicago Tribune. Retrieved 19 August 2017.
  34. "Paul Lynde Arrested". The Daily Item. 1978-01-04. Retrieved 2013-07-29.
  35. Pitts, Jim (2016-04-21). "The night they arrested Paul Lynde". QSaltLake Magazine. Retrieved 2019-08-16.
  36. Mark Sebastian Jordan (2018-09-30). "Paul Lynde's grave stone: An ad-hoc memorial". Richland Source. Retrieved 2019-08-15.
  37. Paul Simon (12 January 1982). "Paul Lynde Suffers Heart Attack: Dead at 55". The Daily Times. Retrieved 2013-07-29.
  38. Rush & Molloy (1 September 2005). "Lynde Bio Squarely Denies He OD'd". New York Daily News. Retrieved 2013-07-29.
  39. Julia Keller (11 August 2010). "Bewitched by time". Chicago Tribune.
  40. The Paley Center for Media (5 October 2012). "American Dad! – Seth on Paul Lynde and Patrick Stewart". Retrieved 14 June 2017 via YouTube.
  41. "An Evening with Paul Lynde". Retrieved 2009-10-29.
  42. "Paul Lynde play at Exit Theatre gets pulled over copyright claim | Culture Monster | Los Angeles Times". 28 February 2009. Retrieved 2009-10-29.
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