Until I mellowed in recent years, it was not uncommon for me to hear the accusation that I was a “bitter queen.” I have also—since childhood—had an unnatural obsession with 70s and 80s television and its stars. Advancing age and therapy has played a part in my being more laid back and less bitter, but has done nothing to cure the TV obsession. So it was only a matter of time before I read the biography of Paul Lynde, the ultimate bitter queen of classic television.
I was disappointed in this biography. Not because it is poorly written (the writers Steve Wilson and Joe Florenski do an adequate job), or because it doesn’t provide adequate dish (it does), but because it completely shatters the illusion that Lynde would even have been fun at parties.
I wasn’t under the impression that his life was easy or that he was overly pleasant, but I was never aware until I read this just how unpleasant he was. Granted, he lost his brother and both of his parents in a relatively short amount of time at a relatively young age. He was also a closeted gay man during a not-so-gay-friendly era. However, the stories of his bad behavior are just ridiculous. He really was just a mean drunk. He was also a racist.
Another bubble was burst when I learned Lynde didn’t even come up with any of his zingers on Hollywood Squares. A team of writers came up with all of that for him. Apparently it was not for lack of talent, as all of his contemporaries said the wit was definitely there. He just didn’t have the confidence to pull it off.
Read the book if you want the dirt. It’s all there. It’s also interesting how many well-known celebrities he mingled with (from Charlotte Rae to Maggie Smith to Eartha Kitt). It gives interesting glimpses both of theater life and of Hollywood in the 60s and 70s. It has some laugh-out-loud moments too (read it to find out what he told the mother of a screaming child on an airplane for some really inappropriate humor), but they are almost completely eclipsed by the overwhelming sadness of his life.
In the end, you will be left wondering whether to hate Lynde (for being a mean, racist, drunk), or to just feel really sorry for him (SPOILER: he died alone, at just 55, and just after deciding to turn his life around and quit drinking). You will not walk away from this book feeling good about him.