Letters

Paul Lynde (and Flaubert) appreciated. Readers respond to "Queer as Folk" by Mike Sacks and to David L. Ulin on "Madame Bovary."


Salon Staff
August 27, 2005 12:56AM (UTC)

[Read "Queer as Folk," by Mike Sacks.]

"For most people Paul is just a funny footnote of TV history."

Not to me. I'm 45 and grew up watching Paul Lynde throughout the '60s and '70s. Over the years, I've been surprised to discover that Paul is mainly remembered as a guest on "Hollywood Squares." I watched that show religiously of course, and loved his participation in it. But for us kids who watched the sitcoms and TV movies of the period, Paul was a frequent guest star on a lot of our favorite shows. Those appearances were far more important to us. Each time his face appeared, we'd know instantly we were in for a great episode. For many of these appearances, he would dress up in some crazy costume and take over. From "F Troop" to "I Dream of Jeannie" to "Love, American Style" to "The Flying Nun" to "The Mothers-in-Law" and, of course, "Bewitched, " Paul would just take over the scenery.

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Paul was a wonder in an era where highly talented and experienced character actors were a dime a dozen. Character actors are a dying breed today, but Paul worked in an era when they were ubiquitous, where their faces (though not their names) were as familiar as family members. Paul, however, stood out because he was just so wild and undefinable. You really couldn't describe him, we just knew we loved him and whatever it was that he did. At the time I barely understood what homosexuality even was.

I think it's wrong to minimize what Paul accomplished. Paul got away with a lot. Watch him today and wonder at how he managed to do what he did in the era of Doris Day and "Gilligan's Island."

-- Sandra Necchi

I became a Paul Lynde fan in 1961, when my parents took me to see "Bye Bye Birdie" on Broadway.

Although I enjoyed him on TV in the 1960s and 1970s, I have always felt that leaving Broadway was the wrong thing for him, and resulted in a career that could have been much more interesting and rewarding. His personality was too big for the little screen, too overwhelming. Onstage, he was just right -- sort of a male Ethel Merman. And, like Merman, he didn't translate well.

Having listened over the years to interviews with other actors, it would seem that I am not the only one who thinks this way.

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Paul Lynde should have done a show every couple of years, then done character parts like Edward Everett Horton in 1930s musicals, always being himself even in forgettable parts -- a shtick for a lifetime.

-- Sue Wallace

I'm now 64, so when Paul Lynde started showing up on shows like the "Colgate Comedy Hour" in the early '50s, I was just a kid. My whole family thought he was funny. We knew who he was from then on, and welcomed his fey way without ever really thinking of it as gay. So your interview is a sad reminder that "sic transit gloria mundi," because for everyone my age Paul Lynde was as much a cultural fixture as the Beatles or Elvis or Jonathan Winters (young readers are saying, Who?).

As I attained adulthood it became evident that he was gay, and my only reaction to that was, So what? Why aren't they giving him better roles? I hated the "Bewitched" part and some of the others in exactly the same way I hated most scripted roles for Jonathan Winters; for both of these men, their genius was in their personalities, and what came out naturally. In Winters' case that was appreciated to the point that they burned him out with improvisation and then scripted him again.

That's why "Hollywood Squares" was the perfect stage for Lynde. It was largely scripted, but you won't convince me that he wasn't a happy co-author. The DVD set that must be made, chaining his "Squares" appearances and bits of biography and commentary, will be a classic.

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My favorite exchange was this one: "What do you call a female sheep?"

Paul, naughtily: "Beloved."

-- Douglas Wilson

[Read "Reading 'Madame Bovary'" by David L. Ulin.]

I have run into at least four people who are randomly revisiting "Madame Bovary" this summer. I don't know whether there's been a vast sale of Bovaries or some sort of Bovary giveaway, but Flaubert's classic seems to be on a lot of people's minds. I just finished the book last week, and now I'm encouraged to do something I never thought I could: read more French literature.

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Like most people, I didn't think I would like or even be able to stand "Madame Bovary." As a recent college graduate who's freed from the reading requirements of professors, I've found myself pursuing classics on my own as a sort of punishment for not studying more in school. "Madame Bovary" was supposed to be an exercise in academic masochism -- a part of a summer regimen where I've whipped myself with the tasseled ends of Baudelaire, Tolstoy, Genet and now Flaubert.

What instantly drew me in were the novel's details. Flowers, trees, window curtains, crenelles -- what the hell is a crenelle, why does it sound so nice, how come nobody uses it around me? Reading "Madame Bovary" makes you want to be a better reader, a more educated person, a speaker with a greater vocabulary. I felt the thrill of a book that actually challenged me to pay attention, to follow the minute, the seeming infinitesimal shifts in the breeze. If you read the book at even 50 percent attention capacity, which for contemporary readers is an achievement, you get a vivid sense of the world. As a writer I felt embarrassed, humbled and challenged. As a product of the American college and high school system I felt anger that I haven't been reading more books like this, or even had them assigned or recommended to me.

Coming down from "Madame Bovary" I made the mistake of jumping into contemporary novels. The difference is startling. Gone are the details, accumulating character traits and psychological insights. Most contemporary classics don't stand up. It felt like I went from eating filet mignon to McDonald's. That's why I went back to the library and stocked up. I've finished three Tolstoy novellas and have now begun Flaubert's "Sentimental Education" and "Three Tales." I've also started -- since I'm a contemporary, multitasking man -- F. Scott Fitzgerald's "This Side of Paradise" and the beginning of Flaubert's "Salaambo."

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Running into recent Madame Bovary converts, I feel like I've become a part of a secret club. Our eyes widen in amazement at finding another camouflaged member on the subway, in the office or at a restaurant. We nod to each other, realizing another person has opened the passage to what could be a new way of looking at reading, writing and the very act of thinking about the details of the world. Most of the time I smile and say with intentional understatement, "Good book."

-- Aurin Squire


Salon Staff

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