in selected cinemas Tue 23 Apr 2019
The American entertainer Paul Lynde may not be a household name on these shores, but was a popular face and voice on US TV in the 60s and 70s. He is possibly best known here for his appearances in Bewitched and as the voice of the Hooded Claw in the Hanna-Barbera cartoon The Perils of Penelope Pitstop. He was a closeted gay man at the time when the media would occasionally refer euphemistically to a ‘bachelor lifestyle,’ but would otherwise leave people in that situation to their own devices. Think a US version of Larry Grayson and you’d be on the right lines.
Director Richard Squires uses an experimental approach to tell Lynde’s story. There are the inevitable talking heads (including, charmingly, a lovely old classmate who doesn’t seem to have twigged he was gay), but Squires also directly refers to his subject’s career through his presentation. Lynde was a permanent fixture on the game show Hollywood Squares, so Squires has created an approximation of the set in which a panel of academics analyse Lynde’s life and career. Squires often cuts to stock footage of the show’s host Peter Marshall nodding as if in agreement to their contributions. This works well, with the interviewees raise interesting points about how people’s voices can be a contributing factor to their ‘othering,’ which explains Lynde’s popularity in the roles of supercilious villains, but also how it led to the typecasting that frustrated him throughout his career.
Less successful is Squires decision to use animation in dramatising moments in Lynde’s life. His animated cypher is Clovis, The Cartoon Villain, a sinister and obviously predatory gay man. Clovis is animated in the cheap and economical style that characterised the Hanna-Barbera brand and which allowed them to be so insanely prolific at their peak. You can see what Squires was aiming for, and the approach is undeniably interesting. However, besides the acrid taste of insensitivity at this portrayal of a gay lifestyle, it firmly straps Lynde back into the career straitjacket which he tried to escape. It can be argued that it was this frustration that led to the more questionable episodes in his life that Squires chooses to depict through Clovis. This approach feels like a retrograde return to the innuendo-strewn eyebrow-raising that the media used to report on such incidents at the time, rather than a serious examination of Lynde’s personal issues. It’s all a little tabloid.
These glaring missteps aside, the more analytical material which places Lynde, his career, and his personal life in a wider societal context make Doozy more than worthy of your time. It’s a brisk barrel through the life of an interesting and complex figure who will be unknown to most viewers in this country. How wide an audience it will have is debatable, and it does rather reduce Lynde to his sexuality, but as a snapshot of the time and the attitudes prevalent then it’s a fascinating case study.