There’s no question that actor Paul Lynde was a fixture of Classic TV, and while he never managed his own hit show, he made memorable appearances on dozens of the biggest sitcoms of the 1960s and early ‘70s, most notably being Bewitched. And on top of that, there was his taking up residence, from 1968-81, in the center square of the game show The Hollywood Squares that really allowed him to connect with viewers. On that show, which aired five days a week, Paul, like the rest of the nine contestants, offered up snappy answers to questions that would hopefully allow players to achieve the required tic-tac-toe that would lead to victory. But what separated him from the others was his particular brand of snark — and the speed of his responses — which made America truly fall in love with him.

“Everybody loved him,” offers Cathy Rudolph, his friend and author of Paul Lynde: A Biography — His Life, His Love(s) and His Laughter, in an exclusive interview. “I still have people writing and telling me how much they loved him, that they think he’s great, and they’re still amazed at what a genius he was with those one-liners that came out of his head on Hollywood Squares. Of course, I hate to break their hearts, but those lines did not all come out of his head.” She emphasizes that the answers were not provided, just his jokey responses. “They were scripted and he would admit that later, though he was reluctant to do so. He didn’t want people to all of a sudden think that he wasn’t smart or witty, so he kind of teetered on that when asked about it.”

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Herbie J Pilato, author of Twice Upon a Star: The Bewitched Life and Career of Elizabeth Montgomery and Bewitched Forever, adds, "He was 'everyman funny'. He said some things we all were thinking, and that's a gift to be able to key automatically to the masses. He hit the funny bone in each of us." As to his jokes being scripted, "It didn't matter, because he was the one that made those lines funny. If someone else said them, those lines would not have been as hilarious. It's all about the delivery, and his was top-notch."

As it turns out, the opinion of the public was extremely important to Paul, which created an interesting dichotomy within him in that he dreamt of movie stardom, but essentially needed the intimacy that the small screen provided between he and his fans.

“He was a frustrated actor,” Cathy relates. “He really wanted to be a movie star; that was his dream. That’s why he bought a house that Errol Flynn once owned — he wanted a home like a movie star should have, but he wasn’t one. That was his heartbreak. He would say to me, ‘I’m on these small little TVs. People think they know you, because they watch you every day; you’re in their homes. I’m on seven times a week with Hollywood Squares, and shows like I Dream of Jeannie__ and Bewitched. Everybody thinks they know you and they’ll approach you. If it’s a big movie star, they would never approach you.’ So I think that’s something he wanted, but at the same time, he wanted everybody to notice him. If you wanted his autograph, there was nothing more gratifying for him than to stop and hear somebody say something that made him feel good: ‘Hey, you’re great. I think you’re wonderful.’ That’s why he said he would stay after every show two hours just to sign autographs and talk to people. He said, ‘What’s more wonderful than hearing 100 people telling you over and over again how great you are?' If he was a movie star, he wouldn’t have that, but the reality is that he needed it. He needed his audience. The fact that people loved him was the part of his life that filled the loneliness.”

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Herbie notes, "It's different today, because the lines are blurred between TV and movie stardom. Many from both worlds criss-cross into the other. Also, Lynde was not movie star lead material. As a supporting role, yes, but not for a lead performance. A performer like Paul is simply too much to take as a lead. His presence is too strong. Too overwhelming for the star of a TV show or film. That's why everyone thought he made more appearances on Bewitched than he did. If he played Uncle Arthur every week, it would have been an overload for the audience to accept. Too much of a good thing. And he was a good thing… but only in small doses."

His insecurities were partially born out of childhood.

Paul was born June 13, 1926 in Mount Vernon, Ohio, and experienced a childhood that was not filled with joy. Indeed, he came out of it full of insecurities, some because of his weight, others because he was gay at a time when homosexuality was not an openly-accepted lifestyle. That feeling of isolation plagued him for most of his life, and became particularly evident when he would drink — including during his most successful years as an actor.

"He was simply a very unhappy person," Herbie observes. "And very lonely. David White [Larry Tate on Bewitched] noticed it when Paul would walk on the set with his dog and talk to his dog like he was a human. Which, of course, many people do. Many utilize pets to soothe their loneliness, but Paul's loneliness seemed more acute. I can't say for sure, but most likely his sexuality was the basis of his insecurities. The bottom line is that all of those on the Bewitched set, in front of and behind the scenes, knew of his sexuality. But it was the 1960s and '70s, and he, like many of the era in his same shoes, did not feel comfortable with addressing those issues in public."

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Notes Cathy, “Many of his friends, including Kaye Ballard, who I spoke to for my book, and Charlotte Rae, hung out with him for many, many years, but when Paul drank too much, he could be vicous and cruel and, as a result, he lost a lot of his friends. Part of all of that came from the fact that he was jealous of a lot of people who were getting better parts. I also think being gay and having to hide it frustrated him. He was very lonely and continually pushed people away, though I don’t think he realized that or he couldn’t understand it. I also think he had issues from when he was a child. He was obese — 250 pounds by the time he graduated high school — and had no love life either way. He was just unhappy; I’m guessing he fed himself to fill other needs that he had.

“When we would talk,” she adds, “he always said his baby brother was the baby of the family, his other brother was the athlete, the other one was the brains and he was the nothing. That feeling from him probably explained it more than anything. Then, as he got older, he was still unable to find the love of his life, and still not getting the Academy Award or whatever he needed to feel good. I’m guessing, but it would seem to be a lot of things at work. He rarely went on talk shows, but he did one — I forget who it was, but it was a wonderful interviewer — and Paul just opened up like he had to me in private and let the whole world hear him say, ‘You know what? I’m doing good. It’s the ‘70s and I’m on top, but now I’m even more anxious, because I have to stay on top. You’re only as good as your last performance; it’s the last performance that people are going to remember. If you flop, you’re screwed.’ But with Paul Lynde, it didn’t matter if he flopped. He had a 30-year career, which is so rare.”

Paul takes to the stage… and TV.

That career began in 1948, when Paul, upon graduating from Northwestern, made the move to New York City. He managed to score a role for the Broadway revue New Faces of 1952, which was filmed and released theatrically as New Faces in 1954. From there he was cast in the 1956 sitcom Stanley, which ran for only eight episodes; returned to Broadway in 1960 for Bye Bye Birdie, in which he played Harry MacAfee (which he reprised three years later in the film version). Throughout the 1960s, he became a staple of sitcoms, bringing his unique personality to shows like The Phil Silvers Show, The Patty Duke Show, The Munsters (he played Herman's near-sighted Doctor, who always thought Herman's hairy arm was actually a dog he brought to the office), The Flying Nun, Gidget, I Dream of Jeannie, F-Troop, and variety shows.

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Most importantly, as far as his fans are concerned, he played the jokester warlock Arthur on Bewitched, where all of his comic skills were allowed to shine. Serving as uncle to Elizabeth Montgomery's Samantha Stephens and brother to Agnes Moorehead's Endora (Sam's mother), the amazing thing is that there's a general impression that he was a regular on the series which ran from 1964 to 1972, but in reality he only appeared in a total of 11 episodes.

"His comedic timing and delivery was like no other," Herbie offers in explanation. "Viewers have, for years, believed he made many more appearances than he actually made. That's a testament to his talent and his presence on screen."

Reflects Cathy, "He used to say to me, 'I was only on the show 11 times; they must have run a lot of reruns, because everybody calls me Uncle Arthur when I go on the street.' The kids especially, and he loved it."

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While Herbie points out that Paul did not get along with Agnes Moorehead, particularly at the beginning, Cathy explains that his bigger problem was with Samantha Stephens' cousin, Serena. If so, it's actually kind of bizarre considering that the character was played by Elizabeth Montgomery (Paul's real-life pal) as well.

"He didn't like anybody to upstage him," laughs Cathy. "He would say to me, 'There's nothing worse than me being on stage with kids or a dog, or any animal, because they upstage you,' and he wanted to be the center of attention. The character of Serena was the same thing, because she started getting funnier lines than him. She became her own little character, which Elizabeth invented herself, because she didn't want to be the pretty housewife all the time. She wanted to be a little bit wild with wigs, short skirts and make-up. He was supposed to be the funny one with his niece Samantha and his costumes and magic and whatever. But Serena was a pretty powerful character, which made him insecure."

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Meanwhile, on The Hollywood Squares

Naturally, Paul appeared on far more episodes of The Hollywood Squares, a gig that truly elevated his star status, made him wealthy and spanned 13 years, but ultimately proved creatively frustrating for him. In fact, at one point he decided to leave the show between seasons, believing it was actually starting to become an impediment to his career. By quitting, he felt it would turn things around.

"Things got very quiet for him," says Cathy. "He was hoping that he would be in demand with movie producers who would call, because he wasn't on TV every day. But it didn't happen, so he went back to the show, because he had nothing else. That was kind of sad. He did, however, go back to The Hollywood Squares with a new contract that gave him more money, and enough time off to make movies. But he only did The Villain and Rabbit Test."

In between all of that, he voiced a number of cartoon characters, including the evil Hooded Claw on The Perils of Penelope Pitstop, Pertwee in Where's Huddles?, and the rat Templeton in the animated film Charlotte's Web. In 1972 he did finally get his own self-titled sitcom, but it only lasted one season. The next year he joined Temperature's Rising, retitled The New Temperature's Rising, but that didn't work either. He felt those failures deeply and turned more and more to alcohol, which began to impact negatively on his career. He nonetheless appeared on many game shows (including Password, where he played against Elizabeth Montgomery), scored a series of ABC specials between 1975 and '79, and was a regular guest on The Donny & Marie Show (which he lost when, while drunk, he got into very public arguments with police officers). By 1980, he had managed to clean up his act and became both sober and drug-free, but it didn't change his fortunes as he hoped it would.

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"Towards the end of his career, he got very sad and ended up going to some place in Maine for a summer, just to get away and think about his life," Cathy explains. "While he was there he met a photographer named Daphne Welds Nichols, who loved him and asked if he wanted her to photograph him. He did, which was probably the last professional photos of him before he passed away. She had a great time with him and he did open up and say he was looking for a new way in life. He was trying to stop drinking completely, he was cutting down his smoking, and trying to focus on a more holistic lifestyle. He didn't know where the road was leading him at that point."

The legacy of Paul Lynde.

Unfortunately, Paul passed away on Jan. 11, 1982 of a heart attack, heart disease running in his family. "One of the big misconceptions," says Cathy, "is that he died of AIDS. He did not die of AIDS."

He's been gone now for 36 years, yet it doesn't take much in the way of channel surfing to come across one of the performances that endeared him to so many. "The legacy of Paul Lynde," says Herbie, "was and remains laughter. He was simply one of the funniest, most brilliant performers on the planet. There will never again be a brighter, wittier comic actor than Paul Lynde."

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"A lot of people thought Paul was standoffish and he could be," Cathy admits. "Florence Henderson [Carol Brady from The Brady Bunch] said to me, 'People thought he was unapproachable; that you couldn't go near him. They didn't know how he was going to take you. But if you let him see who you are and you just spoke to him, he would accept you.' And that is the truth. There were certain people on Hollywood Squares he did not get along with, and certain people who would not give me interviews for the book. They were very polite, but told me they didn't care for him. And then you had people who loved him and were fine with him. If he didn't like you, he'd let you know."

Beyond having gotten to know him on her own, Cathy points to another story that seems to embody who Paul Lynde was, both the good and the bad. When he starred on Broadway in Bye Bye Birdie, the lead was actor Dick Gautier (Get Smart fans would know him as Hymie the Robot), who was more or less considered a teen idol. In an interview with him for her biography, he related that Paul grew increasingly mean to him behind the scenes, and a bit more on stage as well. Dick was at a loss as to why, relating that Paul seemed to think of him as a "teenaged twerp," even though he was about 30 at the time.

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"They would not get along," she says, "and as the show went on, the viciousness from Paul got worse and worse. Then at some point Paul was going to go see Dick Gautier do a standup routine. Paul went with some friends to sneer at him, but after he saw Dick come out and do his thing, Paul went backstage, went up to him, shook his hand and said, 'I have to tell you, what you did out there was amazing.' Dick Gautier was floored. Paul said, 'I did this [standup], and hated it, but you were great.' With Paul, if he didn't like you, he didn't like you, but every once in a while he would open up his heart. You just had to know how to get to his heart."

If you're interested in learning even more about Paul Lynde, do your best to attend the Mid-Atlantic Nostalgia Convention, being held Sepember 13-15, 2018 in Hunt Valley, Maryland. There Cathy Rudolph will be reflecting on Paul's life and career. Celebrities appearing that weekend will include Barbara Eden, Loni Anderson, Hollywood Squares host Peter Marshall, Diahann Carroll, Shirley Jones, and many more.