Oh, Halloween. That special time of year when television didn’t have to be corny or silly and have a moral message about family and the true meaning of Christmas or love or whatever.
It seemed every half-hour laffer and hour-long prime timer in the ‘70s, ‘80s and ‘90s put out a Halloween special. This was when a show could dress up their main characters in sexy or silly costumes and hint at the occult.
No lessons to be learned. No appreciation of good American values. Just commercialism and devil worship at its best.
Back in the day, because there was money to made and audiences to be had, TV began putting out special Halloween specials to rival those of Christmas because why the hell not.
Also, Paul Lynde and most of the cast and crew of Sid and Marty Kroftt’s production team were available.
And thus we have the The Paul Lynde Halloween Special, a holiday-themed special so bizarre in its inception it deserves a deep dive.
Like all variety show specials, it followed the model step by its Christmas predecessors: Gather a group of celebrities to sing songs and drink and discover the true meaning of the holiday.
But if the holiday is a kiddie holiday about candy…or an adult holiday about costume parties with potential hanky panky, there isn’t a lot there for a cornerstone of heartfelt family values.
The special itself kicks off with Lynde’s charming self with his maid, Margaret Hamilton, and his butler, Billy Barty. After a little confusion over the which holiday the group will be celebrating, the former center square of Hollywood Squares launches into a parody of the song “Kids” from Bye Bye Birdie.
Enter the crazy.
Hamilton then introduces Lynde to her sister Billie Hayes, who is dolled up as Witchipoo from HR Puffnstuff. Hamilton then does a quick change into her iconic Wicked Witch gear, and the two begin taking turns hitting on Lynde for the rest of the special.
This scene is followed up by a 15-minute role-playing trucker fantasy starring Tim Conway that has absolutely nothing to do with Halloween.
(NOTE: I watched this scene twice to figure the storytelling narrative and how we got here, but it lost me each time.)
ANYWHO, the scene gave Lynde the chance to dress up like a rhinestone cowboy and pretend to like girls.
Then Lynde introduces KISS who sing “Detroit Rock City.” Later on, the rockers perform two more times, including the song “Beth” and “King of the Night Time World” (?!?!). These performances are the highlights of the special, from the multiple close-ups given to Peter Criss as the plays the piano to the sheer animosity you can feel through the screen from Paul and Gene when they join Peter on stage during the final notes of “Beth.”
Between the KISS performances, Betty White shows up to declare her disappointment in the special while Florence Henderson appears in a Valentino parody sketch, then sings a disco version of “That Old Black Magic.”
It is important to note that the song “That Old Black Magic” is the only reference to Halloween in most of the sketches outside of the appearance of the two witches and their Halloween puns.
The whole special ends with Roz “Pinky Tuscadero” Kelly, who is billed using her Happy Days character’s name because the producer’s of the special had no faith in her fan base or the audience to recognize her on own. Pinky leads the group into a song of “Disco Baby,” thus ending the Halloween special.
While it is not as cringe worthy as the Star Wars Holiday Special, The Paul Lynde Halloween Special does have its moments. For example, watching the very-closeted Paul Lynde make out with mom Brady is disturbing on many, many levels.
Also, apparently it is very possible to become mentally scarred by using too many puns. Try watching this several times to figure out how a scene transitions into a trucker sketch and you’ll see what I mean.
Despite its many, many, many flaws, it is a piece of Americana, beautifully preserved on YouTube like a jar of grandma’s figs.
Watch it and learn, so we never repeat our mistakes.