Wednesday, October 3, 2007

X Gets The Square

A mere three months into my first tour of duty as a lowly Private in the Kiss Army, I was glued to the TV on October 29, 1976 when the band made its first-ever appearance on prime-time network TV on ABC’s semi-legendary "Paul Lynde Halloween Special".  Edited versions of the Kiss segments were already available on their Kissology-Vol. I DVD set, but now the entire one-hour show has been released on DVD, so just for shits and hoots, I rented it this week.

This show aired back in the day when entertainers—actors, comedians, singers, whatever—would often host these one-shot variety show specials on network TV, especially during the almighty ratings sweeps periods.  Paul Lynde was still a fairly big name in ’76 on the strength of his work on "Hollywood Squares" and various other TV sitcoms, but I'm afraid to say that after seeing the whole program again for the first time in 31 years, this thing was a total train wreck!  I can also safely say that Kiss was far and away the only decent part of it, even after putting aside my bias as a dyed-in-the-wool Kiss fan—and even their performance was pretty watered-down here.  I’d forgotten how gratingly hokey shows like these could be!  Cornball skits, lame one-liners, gaudy costumes, hackneyed dance numbers—this show had it all, in best ‘70s Captain & Tennille/Donny & Marie tradition.  The latter duo made a brief cameo appearance here on Lynde’s little "spookfest", along with the usual '70s game show/variety show denizens like Betty White, Florence Henderson and Tim Conway, plus Billy Barty, Billie "Witchypoo" Hayes and Margaret "Wicked Witch of the West" Hamilton, and for no particular reason, the gal who played Pinky Tuscadero (for all of what, three episodes?) on "Happy Days". Paul Lynde was certainly a lot funnier in his element on "Squares" than he was on this show, which made him look rather foolish.

As bad as the feature presentation was, the DVD made up for that with a 10-minute special bonus interview with recollections from "Squares" host Peter Marshall about PL's career that also featured some great still photos from HS and some funny anecdotes from Marshall.  Unlike today’s still-born version of "Hollywood Squares" that features "celebrities" like Bruce Vilanch and Gilbert Gottfried, the ‘60s/’70s HS was the one game show that managed to regularly draw A-List personalities to appear on it like Burt Reynolds, George C. Scott and Douglas Fairbanks, Jr., and as I previously posted on this blog, it’s a crying shame most of those old videotapes were either destroyed or re-used for other shows.  Not only was HS a classic game show, but it also provided a nice time capsule of who was who in the entertainment world during that era.  And, as Officer Hopkins on "Sanford And Son" once pointed out, where else on earth would one find "the great Jack Webb...sitting on top of Karen Valentine"?  The DVD also features some of Paul Lynde’s classic quips from the show, which were pretty funny stuff, as well as still photos from throughout his career and appearances on other game shows like "Baffle", which aired for one season in 1973-74.  I’d even totally forgotten that show was hosted by legendary sportscaster Dick Enberg, too.

According to Marshall (who, btw, was born Pierre LaCock and is the father of former Major Leaguer Pete LaCock), they would tape all of the "Squares" shows for a given week on the same day—three shows before lunch and two after, and just like with "Match Game", alcohol was readily available for the show’s celebrity panelists’ consumption, thus the verbal barbs—particularly those from Lynde, a prolific alcoholic—were just a tad more pointed on the Thursday and Friday episodes.  Lynde was a fairly mean drunk too, and he was known to take pot shots at other guests on the show whom he didn’t like, and even actual contestants who he deemed to be total morons.  Ironically, Paul Lynde died in January, 1982—about a year or so after he got clean and sober and started taking care of himself.  You don't suppose his casket was provided by Dicker & Dicker of Beverly Hills, do you?

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