There was a time that Paul Lynde was one of the top comedians in America. He was on TV variety shows all the time, he played Uncle Arthur on "Bewitched" on TV and Harry MacAfee, the dazed Dad in the movie "Bye Bye Birdie," and he kept America in stitches every afternoon on the "Hollywood Squares" TV game show. This was a show that was made for the Lynde brand of snarky humor. He and the other stars appeared in a giant tic-tac-toe board and were fed questions and answers in advance, while the audience bet on whether the star was bluffing or giving the real answer. For example, when asked "What's the lowest form of humor?" Paul was 100% right when he answered, "Harvey Korman."
Well, if you check out this documentary about Paul, you'll see that he was one of thousands - millions, I guess - who achieved professional fame and fortune and never quite got happy personally. Talent took him far in his line of work, but this was in the 50s, 60s and 70s, and Paul had a secret back then, not so much a secret in Hollywood but very much not well known in Peoria - he was gay. In those days, to be so was not as well accepted as it is today, and even today, it isn't as well accepted as it ought to be. So that had to make Paul feel constricted, boxed in. Coming out of the closet was unthinkable, although he did drop hints that none of us seemed to catch on the Squares ("Man overboard" is what you say when a man falls off a boat; what do you say when a woman falls off?" was a question that Paul answered with "Full Speed Ahead!") And even though public opinion has largely turned around all the way on the topics of gay rights, same sex marriage, and the incredibly surprising desire of all people to be left alone with their lifestyles and the people they want to be around, we still hear horror stories of people being denied their freedoms.
As the story goes, it was the old story. Paul got a little bit old to play an impish wise guy. He verbally humiliated his friends and treated strangers horribly. He was the classic "mean drunk" and that was part of the downward spiral into alcohol, drugs and dissolute behavior that ended in 1980, when he got clean. His life ended, though, two years later, due to a heart attack.
They always say that if you have something unique to offer the world, success will find you. Paul Lynde brought a quick wit, a humorous way with a funny line, and a unique persona to show business, and success came to him.
What a shame that happiness couldn't come along for the ride, too.