Peter Marshall and other friends share their fondest memories of the beloved Hollywood Squares funnyman.
At tapings of The Hollywood Squares, Paul Lynde would sometimes get tipsy during the dinner break and once got pulled over while he was driving home. “The cop walks up, Paul rolls down the window and says, ‘I’ll have a cheeseburger and fries,’” pal Rose Marie tells Closer. “The cop burst out laughing, recognized Paul and offered to drive him home.”
With his trademark snark and perfectly timed one-liners, Paul could disarm anyone. “He was the funniest man I ever knew,” says Rose, who frequently occupied a square alongside his on the classic game show. “He was very dear, sweet, and such a good friend.”
His life, however, wasn’t always a laughing matter. He grew up the son of a straight-laced butcher in Ohio and sometimes clashed with his dad at the family business. “He was more interested in joking around than being a serious butcher,” says Steve Wilson, co-author of Center Square: The Paul Lynde Story. When he told his family he wanted to go into showbiz, “my dad hit the roof and I hit the road simultaneously,” Paul joked.
He capitalized on his flair for comedy while studying theater at Northwestern University, where one of his classmates was future Facts of Life star Charlotte Rae. “He was so sharp, quick and outrageous,” Charlotte recalls to Closer. “His irreverence was far ahead of its time.”
Paul first found fame as the flustered father in the musical Bye Bye Birdie, both on Broadway and in the 1963 movie. He soon became an indemand guest star on TV shows like I Dream of Jeannie, The Munsters, Donny & Marie and Bewitched, which created the recurring role of Uncle Arthur for him. “Guest starring was what he was best at,” says Wilson. “People found his persona fun in small doses.”
Paul’s naughty wit really flowered in The Hollywood Squares’ coveted center square from 1966–’79. (Asked if Snow White was a blonde or a brunette, he quipped, “Only Walt Disney knows for sure.”) “Paul had his own style, and it always garnered a laugh,” recalls host Peter Marshall.
Still, he grew frustrated with being relegated to second-banana roles — and having to hide his sexuality in those less gay-friendly days — and turned to alcohol and drugs. “He was not fun to be around when he was drinking,” says
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Peter. “But he got sober before he passed away, and he was a delight.”
The emcee fondly remembers the last time he saw Paul. “We were at an airport, and he was going to New York to do a commercial and he looked great,” Peter says. “Near the end, he found his happy place.”
He died too young, of a heart attack at 55 in 1982, but Paul left a legacy of laughter that resonates to this day. “He influenced just about every outrageous comic actor from Robin Williams to John Candy, but Paul was unique,” says Charlotte. “There will never be another Paul Lynde.” — Bruce Fretts, with reporting by
Ilyssa Panitz and Jaclyn Roth
“Everyone loved working with Paul,” Hollywood Squares host Peter Marshall tells Closer. “He was wonderfully funny.”