Ellis & Barnes: Serious Mothers!

Friday, July 11, 2008


(L to R: Gene Simmons, Ace Frehley, Peter Criss, Paul Lynde, Paul Stanley
Witches in Front: Billie "Witchipoo" Hayes, Margaret Hamilton.)

The other night before turning in, Husband Ted bounded into the room like Tigger carrying a Netflix envelope wearing a giant grin. "What's that?" I asked in a resigned tone. Our Netflix adventures of late haven't been so stellar. Ted picked a few flicks based on impressive past bodies of work by good directors and casts, but somehow what should have been a few really great movies turned out to be raging pieces of shit. We turned one off after fifteen minutes. Yick.

"It's a surprise!" Poor man. I like to think that I'm a little bit unorthodox and edgy, but I am the worst at surprises. I actually hate it when people say that things are "a surprise!". I especially hate: "Close your eyes and hold out your hands!" I always think it's a snake.

When I saw the shoddy quality and the words 'Paul Lynde' hidden within the INTERPOL jibberish, I knew that this was going to be something pretty great. It would have to be, to make my Darling smile at me like that.

"The Paul Lynde Halloween Special" is delightful, one of the craziest things I've ever watched and with its "story", it makes no fucking sense.

It opens with Mr. Lynde on a variety show stage, welcoming you the viewer, cracking wise with that shaky and perfectly timed cadence - an accent from a land where one syllable words are five syllables, and delivering punchlines as only he can do. Margaret Hamilton (Oz' Wicked Witch of the West) plays his housekeeper who pops in and out of frame with set-ups and punchlines of her own. All is pretty banter-y, then suddenly a dance number featuring devils happens, and Paul Lynde ends up getting shoved into a garbage can by toothy Mormon devils Donny and Marie Osmond. In the next sketch, he's in a car with Housekeeper Margaret who is driving him out of town to "get away from all the kids during Halloween". It's confusing as hell but you're buckled in for the ride.

Margaret drives him to her sister's house called Gloomsbury Manor, or something like that. (Oh no! Gloom!) A vulture guards the door. (Oh no! A vulture!) We find out that Margaret Hamilton's sister is Witchipoo from H.R. Puffenstuff (Eh?) Margaret Hamilton snaps her fingers and transforms into her Wicked Witch character which was extremely unsettling.
If you grew up with a sacred vision of the character of the Wicked Witch of the West from the film The Wizard of Oz, then you shouldn't rent this. What Margaret Hamilton does with her iconic character is really strange. If you'd like to see what the Wicked Witch looks and sounds like as a Catskills comic, then you should see this right away. It just takes a little getting used to.

I should mention that Billy Barty is their butler.

So - Paul Lynde and the witches are jokey-joking away (courtesy of Bruce Vilanch, the "go-to" Oscar banter writer) when the witches grant Paul (and I don't know why) three wishes. Of course, right away he wishes to be a truck driver dressed in a blinding-white rhinestone outfit driving an eighteen wheeler (What?)

The next scene is Paul driving a truck and talking into a CB radio to Special Guest Tim Conway. This is where it gets a little weird; Paul Lynde says something to Tim Conway to make him die in a fiery truck crash and then he laughs like a maniac about it. Tim Conway is then back as another character in another truck, before Paul tries to run him off the road as well (due to that they are both engaged to the same diner waitress; the woman who played Pinkie Tuskadero on Happy Days.) They both race to the diner (where Billy Barty is the cook!) and they have some kind of contest. (Zing!) Suddenly, Paul is back at the manor with the witches (after the dance number about CB radios.) Margaret Hamilton suggests a little "chamber music" and introduces (unsettling!) Special Guests KISS who lip sync "Detroit Rock City" happily knowing that there will probably be some poon and Southern Comfort waiting in a bus somewhere after taping.

Paul's second wish is to be a Valentino-type sheik in the desert, seducing Special Guest Florence Henderson who is a vile black hole of acting. Their sketch was pretty sleepy and I swear I thought that they were going to duet "Midnight at the Oasis". They didn't, but mentally I had ten bucks on it. I'm still surprised this didn't happen.

Back at the witches' place, Peter Criss of KISS sings "Beth" and actually looks genuinely rung with guilt at being on the road so much. (Just what can he do, Beth? What?) Margaret Hamilton then introduces each member of KISS by first name to Paul (unsettling!) Paul Lynde gives his third wish to the witches themselves, who wish to go to "a real Hollywood disco". (And there it is. I was waiting for the "disco scene". I was! Oh no! It's really happening! The Wicked Witch of the West is about to disco dance and there's nothing I can do but watch!)

Florence Henderson sings the song "Disco Lady" while descending a flight of stairs, accompanied with very unnecessary extreme close-ups of her quivering mouth. Anyone who ever set a foot on "The Paul Lynde Halloween Special" dances. Except for KISS who watch the disco from above on a balcony.

Goodnights are said, then everyone goes home to kill themselves.

Though it made us say: "What the fuck?" quite often in its surreal-ness, "The Paul Lynde Halloween Special" may have packed a wonderful punch of awesome/awful, but at the heart and soul of it is Paul Lynde; who in all seriousness was a wonderful, beloved performer and is someone missed from this world. If you feel the same way about this underrated comic genius, then the DVD has a bonus: an interview/scrapbook with Peter Marshall, a friend of Mr. Lynde and "Lynde-storian" who talks about the shy gay man of Hollywood Squares, who was who he was, in a time when being "out" in the business was unheard of.

Paul Lynde was a pioneer, and I love you Uncle Arthur from Bewitched, but this special was crazy. It made no sense at all and we had a blast watching it. So you should get your hands on it immediately.

(48 hours after watching: Disco Wicked Witch is still unsettling.)


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