Out and About with Dana Miller

A Square Peg:Remembering Paul Lynde
Dana Miller

Hollywood Squares Host: Paul, in the movies, Frankenstein’s monster was always big and ugly. And he had lots of scars. What was his biggest fear?

Paul Lynde: That the girls would be turned off by his big nuts!

Host: Paul, according to the old song, “At night, when you’re asleep, into your tent I’ll creep.” Who am I?

Paul: The Scoutmaster!

It’s amazing to me that Paul Lynde has been gone for 32 years now. He was a terrific character actor and comedian, and he was my friend.

Lots of people know Paul and his sniggering delivery as Uncle Arthur on Bewitched or as the befuddled father in Bye Bye Birdie on both the stage and screen. Yet Paul is best known for over 700 hysterical appearances as the center square on the classic game show Hollywood Squares.

I first met Paul at NBC when he guested on a Dean Martin show I was working on. I was a twink, and Paul was gay as a goose. It was ‘like at first sight.’ I thought he was one of the funniest humans on the planet, and thankfully since his preference went to rough trade, all he was after with me was a friendship.

Friends we became. Paul was funny, silly, rich, an amazing cook and one of the most creative people I have ever met. I would soon come to discover he was also miserably unhappy and perhaps the nastiest drunk I’ve ever met.

When we met, Paul was doing a boatload of Squares every weekend. They taped at NBC in Burbank on both Saturdays and Sundays to accommodate visiting celebrities’ schedules. The show was so popular there was both a network and syndicated version running at the same time. The shows were quick, but the days drawn out. Between shows, all Paul had to do was change his shirt. The women in the boxes took forever to change outfits and redo hair and makeup. This left little for Paul to do but drink, and drink he did—all day long.

After a day of taping we would pile into his car and make the drunkenly dangerous trip over the hill to The Carriage Trade, then a gay bar and restaurant that is now Chef Suzanne Tracht’s Jar on Beverly.

By the time we fell into the joint, Paul was feeling no pain. Fans would come up to him and toss a compliment, and Paul’s retorts were generally vile. But anything that came out of Paul’s mouth was supposed to be funny, so people just laughed. They always laughed.

By just a year or so, Paul escaped the intense torment and inconsolability AIDS caused so many of us. But one night at his spectacular home on North Palm Drive in Beverly Hills—after copious cocktails—Paul revealed to me an event that I believe tragically affected him until the day he died.

On July 17, 1965, Paul and a boy he loved named James Davidson were getting hammered in their room at San Francisco’s Drake Hotel. As a hoot, James decided to have some plastered fun and dangle from the balcony. As Paul went to grab him, James fell to his death, taking with him Paul’s joie de vivre. Paul Lynde never forgave himself.

Paul died at home of a heart attack when he was just 55. Last week, a gent tracked me down and asked if I could meet him regarding Paul. Intrigued, I said yes. Over coffee the mystery man revealed Paul and I had taken him back to Paul’s home from The Carriage Trade 35 years earlier. In his personal process of making amends, the man handed me a watch of Paul’s he had stolen that evening.

I accepted the Rolex and gave it to a charity, forgiving the man on Paul’s behalf. I didn’t dare say what Paul really would have said had he been alive. It doesn’t really matter, though—the gent would have just laughed anyway.

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