❉ A quirky insight into Paul Lynde, one of America’s best-known television personalities in the 60s and 70s.
“If you’re interested in Paul Lynde himself, 1960s entertainment, or the state of gay culture in mid-20th-century America, Doozy is worth your time.”
I first heard the unmistakable voice of Paul Lynde as a child, during my many watchings of Hanna-Barbera’s 1973 adaptation of Charlotte’s Web. As much as I appreciated the appearance of Debbie Reynolds as the titular arachnid and the many catchy tunes, it was Lynde’s snide performance as Templeton the rat that most caught my imagination.
For a time, Lynde was omnipresent, voicing cartoon characters, popping up in Bewitched, and holding court as the ribald center square on Hollywood Squares for 707 episodes. Nowadays, people either remember him fondly or know him off-handedly through cartoons or someone else’s homage — an issue the Richard Squires documentary Doozy is looking to fix.
Doozy is an odd duck of a piece: a mix of scholarly observations, memoirs, and cartoon recreations of moments from Lynde’s life. It moves at a leisurely pace with a decidedly ‘60s aesthetic, its stiff blocking and protracted scenes occasionally evocative of a Wham City Comedy sketch… and this is clearly by design. Because as much as Doozy is downright educational in its presentation, it always strives to keep you slightly on the back foot; just a little bit off-kilter as you dig into the material.
The focus of Doozy, while straying into typical biographical information on occasion, isn’t to present you with a complete front-to-back image of Lynde’s life. Rather, Squires brings in a panel (set up in six glowing Hollywood Squares seats) of experts on psychology, animation, and sexuality in entertainment. What we end up with, at least in these scenes, is a surprising look at Lynde’s voice work as it intersected with his closeted homosexuality — and why his particular voice and style were ideal for Hanna-Barbera as they set up “others” within their animated casts.
Speaking of animation, cartoons play a major role in Doozy. We are introduced early on to “Clovis,” a stand-in for Lynde voiced by Kids in the Hall’s Mark McKinney. Clovis is blond, skinny, and slightly angular: a character one could imagine Lynde voicing for Hanna-Barbera, and indeed drawn in the studio’s signature style. He appears between interviews causing general mayhem: ordering a hamburger when a cop pulls him over for drunk driving, meeting young men for sex at friends’ houses, and streaking down the road in a woman’s wig. The dramatizations are cited at the beginning of each segment, though Clovis’s original introduction goes a bit softer and says the scenes are “said to be” from Lynde’s life. Michael Kearns, one of Hollywood’s first openly gay actors and the first openly HIV-positive actor, also has a cameo in one of the animated segments.
Many creative documentaries, docudramas, and the like run into the same issue: it’s unclear what the creator wants you to think of the subject or take away from the scenes presented. Once you leave pure fact behind and enter the realm of dramatization, things can get clumsy. Doozy, however, is fairly straightforward in its message, even as we listen to a high school friend glow about Lynde’s gregarious nature and beautiful singing voice within spitting distance of hearing him making a joke about beating children. The puzzle pieces put together show us a frustrated, unhappy man. His sexuality was unspoken of, save in an almost Are You Being Served? level of nod-and-wink. The characters he voiced in cartoons were invariably, if not explicitly queer-coded, then as close as the 1960s got. His personal life was on display, but only at a certain level as outlined by writers and producers.
Even the Clovis segments drive this dichotomy home. The things he does as Lynde’s stand-in are occasionally over-the-top funny. At other times, they’re over-the-top awkward: snapping at a woman on an airplane to reel in her wandering child or firing off obscenities at a cop (an unvoiced segment relying solely on the power of lip-reading). And Clovis is presented as a villain, completely with a sneaky walk and his own personal laugh track.
Doozy doesn’t shy away from one of the most harrowing moments in Lynde’s life, though: a prank gone horribly wrong in a hotel. Despite (or perhaps because of) the cartoonish treatment, right down to Clovis’ rictus evil grin as his eyes show his true feelings, the weight of the event is not lost.
This is not a high-budget endeavor. It’s simple in its structure but complex in its goal. Most television clips are presented either as still images with audio or just audio on its own. The animation is fairly basic, too (fortunately it imitates 1960s Hanna-Barbera, so it gets away with that). The heavy content is in the quality of information provided, as well as the insight into Lynde’s career and his behavior outside of it.
If you’re interested in Paul Lynde himself, 1960s entertainment, or the state of gay culture in mid-20th-century America, Doozy is worth your time. It’s an unexpected story, and one many won’t be aware needed telling until the end point is reached. And if you’d like to see the various cartoons and shows referenced, many of them are available on multiple streaming services. As is rightly noted by one of Lynde’s school friends, current generations would love his work. And perhaps, in some way, Doozy can present him in his entirety to this new generation. He probably would have liked that.
❉ Doozy will appear in select cinemas across the UK from 23 April – 10 May. Tickets: www.lmfyffproductions.com #DOOZYfilm @DoozYFilm
❉ Kara Dennison is a writer, editor, and presenter whose work has appeared on Crunchyroll, Fanbyte, and in titles from Titan and Obverse. Most recently, her work can be seen in the charity zine Moon Man, now available for pre-order.