Ohio’s Comedian: Paul Lynde

Paul Lynde First State Bank Advertisement Photograph, 1975. Courtesy of Knox County Historical Society. Via Ohio Memory.

There are some famous names from Ohio that many recognize, such as Clark Gable and Dean Martin, but there is another actor from the tail end of Hollywood’s Golden Age who brought laughter and a new sense of comedy. Paul Lynde was an American comedian, actor, and game show panelist. A character actor with a distinctively campy and snarky persona, Lynde was well known for his roles as Uncle Arthur on Bewitched, the befuddled father Harry MacAfee in Bye Bye Birdie and a regular “center square” panelist on the game show The Hollywood Squares from 1968 to 1981. Mel Brooks once described Lynde as being capable of getting laughs by reading “a phone book, tornado alert, or seed catalogue”.

Paul Lynde Childhood Photograph, ca. 1930-1940. Courtesy of Knox County Historical Society. Via Ohio Memory.

Paul Lynde was born in Mount Vernon, Ohio, to Sylvia Bell Lynde (née Doup) and Hoy Corydon Lynde, who owned and operated a meat market. He was the second youngest of six, with three brothers and two sisters. He attended Mount Vernon High School and graduated in 1944 before attending Northwestern University in Illinois where he was active in the school’s theatrical productions. After graduating from college, Lynde moved to New York City, taking odd jobs while looking for his show business break.

His first appearance as a stand-up comic was at the famed supper club Number One Fifth Avenue. He made his Broadway debut in the hit revue New Faces of 1952 in which he co-starred with fellow newcomers Eartha Kitt, Robert Clary, Alice Ghostley, and Carol Lawrence. In his monolog from that revue, the “Trip of the Month Club”, Lynde portrayed a man on crutches recounting his misadventures on the African safari trip he took with his late wife. The show was filmed and released as New Faces in 1954. After the revue’s run, Lynde co-starred in the short-lived 1956 sitcom Stanley opposite Buddy Hackett and Carol Burnett, both of whom were also starting their careers in show business. That year, he guest-starred on NBC’s sitcom The Martha Raye Show. Lynde returned to Broadway in 1960 when he was cast as Harry MacAfee, the father in Bye Bye Birdie, a role which he also played in the 1963 film adaptation.

Paul Lynde Photograph, ca. 1960-1970. Courtesy of Knox County Historical Society. Via Ohio Memory.

In 1965, Lynde landed a recurring role as Uncle Arthur on the ABC sitcom Bewitched. Lynde introduced small-screen audiences to a new kind of trope–a gay-seeming character who wasn’t a victim or object of mockery, but a man who fearlessly dished up snarky comebacks. He became a household name as a regular on The Hollywood Squares, a game show in which contestants played tic-tac-toe with each square occupied by a celebrity, often a comedian. Noted for his sharp tongue, Lynde was a popular fixture in the center square from 1968 to 1979. Frequent quips were thought to reference Lynde’s alleged homosexuality, but the comedian never publicly stated that he was gay.

Sadly, Paul Lynde died young, at the age of 55, in his Beverly Hill home. He is remembered for his unique and campy characters and a sense of humor that people still remember, and sometimes quote, to this day. Lynde once said that, while he would rather be recognized as a serious actor, “we live in a world that needs laughter and I’ve decided if I can make people laugh, I’m making a more important contribution.”

Find more photos and blogs of famous Ohioans on Ohio Memory at ohiomemory.org.

Thank you to Ashely Rodriguez, Digital Projects Coordinator at the Ohio History Connection, for this week’s post!

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