Today in History (October 29, 1976)

Forty years ago tonight, ABC presented its sole airing of The Paul Lynde Halloween Special. Directed by Sidney Smith and co-written by Bruce Vilanch, the show features such ’70s mainstays as Tim Conway, Betty White, and Florence Henderson. It’s most renowned as the network television debut of the band KISS, and was a sought-after bootleg for decades before its DVD release in 2007.

The Paul Lynde Halloween Special holds a certain mystique for Sloan fans as well as KISS devotees. Legend has it that when the show aired in 1976, seven-year-old Chris Murphy and eight-year-old Jay Ferguson were dazzled by the presence of KISS on their TV screens. While the Halifax, Nova Scotia youngsters wouldn’t become acquainted until they were teenagers, supposedly both vowed to become rock musicians after watching the special.

Since I was a mere one-year-old when the show aired, I couldn’t experience a similar epiphany. Even so, I’ve long been curious about the special that indirectly led to my favorite band’s formation. The verdict? I enjoy cognitive dissonance, and The Paul Lynde Halloween Special will always inspire that with a vengeance. Admittedly, the pacing is a little slow here and there, and the staged numbers seem oddly subdued. (I’m not sure if that has to do with potential budget issues in the production, or network censors fearing the emergence of Gene Simmons’ tongue.) What’s more, the show missed a few musical opportunities. (I would have given Donny and Marie a song with KISS, and replaced Roz “Pinky Tuscadero” Kelly with Suzi “Leather Tuscadero” Quatro.) On the other hand, Lynde’s snark seems strangely appropriate here, and Margaret Hamilton’s charming performance will provide closure for those traumatized by The Wizard of Oz. So, why not check it out? Happy Halloween, everybody!

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