I know that The Paul Lynde Halloween Special has been covered many times over by various pop culture nostalgia websites, and there is virtually nothing left to say about it. But to not mention it would be like a science fiction blog not mentioning Alien. You have to give at least a passing acknowledgment of it, if for no other reason than to reiterate that it actually happened, and was not the result of some sort of mass hallucination. Like The Brady Bunch Hour(which was also co-written by comedy goblin Bruce Vilanch), to watch the whole thing requires a great deal of pinching oneself and checking whatever you were most recently drinking for strange residue.
The Paul Lynde Halloween Special aired in 1976, when Lynde’s career was at its peak, thanks to his regular appearances on The Hollywood Squares. His road to television fame after working in theater and a handful of films was a bumpy one, and it wasn’t until Lynde essentially began playing himself–a middle-aged queen who was always quick with a salty quip–that he became successful. Though in retrospect it seems impossible to believe that anyone with eyes and ears wouldn’t realize that Lynde was gay, evidently the fact that he never actually stated as much in public was enough to convince many of his fans otherwise–Hollywood Squares host Peter Marshall claimed in an interview that he received hundreds of love letters from adoring female viewers. Reportedly, Lynde’s frustration at playing up to stereotypes in his professional life while having to keep his personal life in the closet (a not very well hidden closet, but a closet nonetheless) exacerbated his alcoholism and anger management issues, which would eventually put his career on the decline.
You can’t keep a good bloodsucker down. Vampires may not be “in” right now, but they’ll surely rise again, because we love stories about tragic, misunderstood monsters, especially when you add in some sex and violence. There’s at least a small part of all of us who wouldn’t mind the idea of eternal life as a supernatural being who can command absolute control over anyone we want. Or at least, be able to pull off wearing a cape.
1979 was a banner year for vampires. Frank Langella redefined the lead role of Dracula. Stephen King’s Salem’s Lot was adapted into a two part miniseries. Klaus Kinski was an all too convincing Nosferatu. There was the inevitable comedy, with Love at First Bite. And, of course, there was a TV series–or at least, an attempt at a TV series, with a feature length pilot simply called Vampire.
Last Wednesday marked the not terribly untimely death of Hugh Hefner, pioneer of the sexual revolution, civil rights activist, advocate for gay marriage, and alleged supporter of the women’s movement. I say “alleged,” because it’s hard to parse that when you consider that Hefner built his fortune on the backs of nude women, mistreated his romantic partners, and palled around with some of Hollywood’s most notable rapists, including Bill Cosby and Roman Polanski.
To be fair, Hefner didn’t just make millions from publishing pictures of naked ladies, he managed to sell the appreciation of said naked ladies as an elegant pursuit, like polo or fine scotch. His gimmick was that these weren’t any old skags in the altogether, but the finest young, innocent, young, fresh faced, young, girl next door types who were also very young. Playboy Playmates were wholesome, all American, sexy without being sexual. A man could almost whack off to them with pride, because they all looked just so delighted to be there.
Nevertheless, by the end of the 70s, Playboy‘s brand of winking faux innocence was starting to flag, both in competition with Penthouse and Hustler, which did away with any pretense of “elegance,” and facing the rise of feminism. Hef and his brand needed to reach a new audience, and that audience was primetime television viewers, who by 1979 were already well stocked in all the gratuitous T&A they needed, thanks to Charlie’s Angels and Three’s Company. Nevertheless, ABC aired Playboy’s Roller Disco and Pajama Party, which, despite Hefner’s claims that he respected women and wanted them to be on equal footing with men, comes off as a sharp rebuke to that. This is a celebration of the barely clothed female form, and Hefner’s ability to throw a great party, slightly smutty wish fulfillment for schlubby male viewers.