19. Paul Lynde

2.16.2010

By Mike Albo


'I'm Liberace without a piano,' Paul Lynde once said. It could have been on one of his TV specials, or a '70s talk show like Dinah Shore's, or during his legendary stint as the center square on Hollywood Squares.

He was not kidding. The comedian and actor was full of tongue-in-cheek one-liners, usually delivered with a withering voice, his hand fluttering up to his ascot. Except for Liberace, and maybe Snagglepuss, there was no one else on TV that shamelessly gay.

Lynde was something rare: A popular gay man on TV who wasn't a punch line. Instead, he made them:

Host: Why do Hell's Angels wear leather?

Lynde: Because chiffon wrinkles too easily.

While he is most recognizable for his stint as the center square, Lynde had a long career in theater, film, and television. He wasn't out of the closet, but he certainly wasn't trying to butch it up. The man appeared in People magazine in a caftan.

'He was so blatantly gay that nobody believed it. This is the world that thought Rock Hudson and Rip Taylor were straight,' says Michael Airington, an actor who portrays the comedian in his show Oh My Goodness'it's Paul Lynde. 'He was a total fruitcake, but that was partly what made you laugh. A straight man couldn't do that kind of biting comedy.'

Lynde, like most funny people, had a challenging childhood. An overweight kid who longed to be famous, he grew up poor and lost his mother, brother, and father
in one year.

'At Halloween Mom would hand me the shower curtain. And it didn't fit. So she let it out and I went as the Hindenburg. It was a disaster,' he said on his 1976 Halloween special with guest stars KISS, Florence Henderson, Donnie and Marie Osmond, and Roz 'Pinky Tuscadero' Kelly. Do yourself a favor and YouTube the disco finale (see above).

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