Were they any good...it seems like they were popular. As offshoots of variety shows, they were glitzy and used popular entertainers of the day. As the descendant of old Vaudeville, I assume, we are meant to be entertained and bemused at the spectacle put on for us.
The trick is that for most of us, the closest we've ever gotten to these shows of old are the parodying of them on shows like the The Simpsons. Their an echo of the past we know by mockery.
We still don't even get the Star Wars Holiday Special. But they are all special.
And this is Halloween, we need spectacle and sites to never be unseen.
We need a Halloween Special! And what better to go with than Paul Lynde and his Halloween Special? Nothing!
In 1976 October people got a treat. ABC put the show on air on October 29th. So while it wasn't on the night, at least it wasn't on in November, or the start of the month. Besides, it was the 70's I'm sure people were too busy with fondue, cheap plastic masks, and stagflation.
When you look back at these specials the humor is definitely hokey. And sometimes we just assume that it's old, so they didn't know at the time it would be look silly/stupid/doofy later on. But we are talking about camp here. It's a style that relies on being just what it is. Just like the 60's Batman was meant to be what you saw. So we should take, and appreciate what we're given, or not.
And when you talk 70's American camp, you go to Paul Lynde. I never do know how to look at him, I always enjoyed his work as a kid, from Bewitched to Hollywood Squares. I had no clue that he gay, and that his campiness was a way to use it in entertainment, without it being "offensive to middle America sensibilities". (I still hear people, even in the entertainment industry, who seem to have a real problem with gay people being on TV and movie "flaunting it". You'd think it wouldn't pop up anymore, but it lurks among us. So I can only imagine how hard it was in that day, and before.) Gay actors had to hide it, except some like Paul Lynde who tried to find a way to use the assumptions about it, and his own sense of humor, to find success. (He was also wonderfully snarky.)
So I don't know if how people look back on it now. It's like looking at Kenneth William in British comedy. It's disappointing they have to amp it up, There is a distinct level of ambivalence in the gay community to Lynde at the time. He wasn't seen as a good representative or example. And the many issues in his personal life did not help matters. (But there's a reason why I don't like to dwell on the lives behind entertainment. So many sad, painful, and tragic tales. I mean just looking at the lives of the people in the early Universal Horror films...)
There is history and context that is available to consider in looking at these old shows and movies.
But sometimes we want a little nostalgia and humor. So I choose to enjoy this stuff. It may be a very privileged choice.) It speaks of a time, where you'd get a collection of actors, comedians, and acts together. It's a chance to get some Paul Lynde. And what else?
Special Guest Star...
A special appearance by...
And a rock and roll explosion...
Let's see how it all comes together.
|Damn it! Even in the 70's Christmas was butting in on Halloween.|
Margaret chides him. Margaret Hamilton is a long established actress who's best known for the role...we'll get to shortly.
All of this is really an excuse to slide into a music number. "Kids" from Bye Bye Birdie. He makes it about all the annoying kids in this season, who he'd like to not deal with yet again. (He had appeared in the movie, and he used the song as a go to song afterwards.)
|I don't know why, but I'm suddenly thinking, "What if Rob Zombie made|
a Halloween special?"
It ends with a quick (very quick) appearance by the musical sibling duo of Donny and Marie. They put a lid on Paul Lynde, and walk off. I'd joke that we never seen them again, what did they ever do...But most of you have probably not heard of Donny and Marie...That will likely not be an uncommon fact in looking at this show. But, hey, I've never been more than meh about their music.
Paul Lynde is sick of Halloween, so his housekeeper has a plan. He'll get out of town, and stay at her sisters home in the country. Nice and quiet.
So they head off. But the house turns out to be a castle. A creepy castle that has a storm passing by. And outside is a pet albatross. It is clear this is going to be one of those Halloweens.
|"You want to get hi-i-gh?"|
When they go in they find her sister, Witchipoo. Who is an interesting sight. She's played by Billie Hayes who is known for playing...Witchpoo! It's a character from the bizarre 70's kids how H.R. Pufnstuf. It was one of the shows created by Sid and Marty Krofft.
|"You were expecting, maybe...Dorothy?"|
Yes, it seems she is a witch. And she's not the only one. Margaret is one as well. In fact she is her most famous character. The Wicked Witch of the West, from The Wizard of Oz.
(We'll see if they reboot this special someday and have Mila Kunis do this role.) And no buddy better be wondering when Margaret Hamilton was on Broadway to play the role.
So, yes. This show is mixing together Oz AND Pufnstuf.
We also get reoccurring appearances from Billy Barty. He plays the butler Gallows. (That is an awesome name for a butler in a creepy story.) Barty had a very long career in Hollywood, and he was in Pufnstuf. Looking at his career I see he played a very small role in Bride of Frankenstein.
The sister witches explain to Lynde that they wanted him to come and visit. They want a favor. First, they need help reforming the image of witches in the public. But Lynde questions how good they can be after, Snow White, Hansel and Gretel, and Dorothy. The Wicked Witch says, '[Dorothy] \asked for it, And her little dog to."
They also want him to go on a date with Miss Halloween, they'll owe him big. Then Miss Halloween appears. It's Betty White, before people started liking her ironically. This was during her popular period, appearing on the Mary Tyler Moore Show.
|"You've paid for 5 more seconds of this smile."|
Betty isn't thrilled to see Paul Lynde. She wanted a more upscale celebrity date as a prize (She just won the Miss Halloween contest.). So she just disappears again. Bye, Betty White!
Still, the witches need his help, so they offer him a prize. 3 magic wishes.
And now you should see the structure for the rest of the show. He makes a wish, and a new segment/skit starts. Hope you're all settled in.
It may, or may not surprise you that the first two wishes take us out of our Halloween motif. Still, they are about pretend. and dressing up to be something else.
Paul wants to be a trucker. 18 wheeler. CB Radio. The Rhinestone Trucker. Big Red.
|...Honestly, he looks like the roughest toughest milkman on the route...|
I'll reference Father Ted another day.
|"I'm in big trouble here! It seems I've swerved into a holiday special and there's |
no sign of Carol Burnett, Harvey Korman, or even Don Knotts!"
Howard does get their first. And the waitress is played by Roz Kelly, best known for Happy Days.
But Big Red crashes the ceremony.
They ask her to choose, as she can't marry the both of them. That's bigamy. (Somewhere the Osmonds were sweating.) "Big of you? That's big of me!" Always steal from Groucho Marx.
She ends up marrying Big Red.
And then they start a square dance...
Just roll with it.
|This image is here just in case anyone needed to see a picture of the Wicked|
Witch reading Rosemary's Baby.
Before they go to another wish, the witches offer Paul a little peaceful chamber music.
"Detroit Rock City"
Paul Lynde, Witchipoo, the Wicked Witch, and KISS... The 70's were weird.
This time around Paul Lynde wants to be a a rich sheikh in the Sahara Desert. Ah, where do we start? Were, or are, there sheikhs in the Sahara? I thought that was cultural more Arabian and places East of that? I may be wrong.
This imagery and idea is a play on the iconic film work of Rudolph Valentino in the silent film era. It was extremely popular into the 30's. Valentino and his movies for beloved, people lost it when he died. And the imagery of his and his dashing character stuck in people's minds for decades. In later years it was emulated, echoed, and used as a short hand. In the 50's it was a quick way to reflect movie making, and a type of character the older TV owners knew, or grew up hearing about. It became the image of early movies, and of Arabian culture. And it echoed on, though people often became less and less aware of it's origins. Rudolph Valentino as a meme. Though for younger folks today, he's completely alien, like these sorts of variety shows.
This skit is also very much appropriating, stereotyping, and trivializing another culture. The sheikh who grabs beautiful white women. We were not yet past this kind of stereotyping...We are past making wide generalizations about people in the Middle East, right?
I'm just happy that the show didn't decide to throw on some shoe polish to finish the look.
In this fantasy, he's grabbed a beautiful and noble white lady, played by Florence Henderson. Hey, kids! It's the Brady Bunch lady!
|"I can't believe you dressed like that for Halloween!"|
And, well, this goes pretty much one way, in every version of this story. Kidnap woman. Force to succumb to your sexual desires. ...In retrospect you can't ponder why everyone thought this was okay. It only goes as far as a kiss and a cockatoo bribe, but...Welcome to what was acceptable treatment not that long ago,
|Yeah. She and Mr. Brady are into a lot of weird role play.|
|"So we're really doing this bit?"|
He arrests Paul Lynde, but he bribes him with the cockatoo. And, happily ever after?
For the last wish, Paul Lynde decides to go altruistic. No he doesn't go for world peace. He wants to give the witches something they want.
They want to experience a Hollywood Disco. So their home becomes one.
|Fright wigs for everyone!|
And the music starts. This is the rest of the show. One number after another.
Florence Henderson - "That Old Black Magic"
A disco version of that song...What do I say to that? At least she isn't trying to sell us on Wessonality.
KISS - "Beth"
This is followed by an awkward (purposely) interview, where KISS are unimpressed by Paul and his jokes. This is followed by...
KISS - "King of the Night Time World"
Then Paul Lynde and Roz Kelly do a version of the song "Disco Lady". "Disco Baby"
Disco. It was a thing. (And it justifies me never getting into the latest dance craze...That and my horrible dance skills.)
And it ends with a thank you from Paul Lynde.
It was another day. This is the sort of thing that is just too goofy and unironic. The show showcases an eclectic set. Even Saturday Night Live has lost the ability to not be too aware of itself. I know this show is just campy variety show schtick. But today it/s such a joke we struggle to appreciate it for what it is and was in it's time. It's like trying to look back at Rudolph Valentino.
And it is a treat to see Margaret Hamilton don that costume and makeup one more time, and have a laugh with her fans at home.
|And in case anyone needed a picture of the Wicked Witch playing monopoly|
with Paul Lynde and Witchipoo.
So we're left to ourselves, to slip back through the years to moments long past. To visit with the ghosts of Halloween's past.
...And if you needed the sight of the Wicked Witch and Paul Lynde making out...