The 1976 Paul Lynde Halloween Special starring a Peterbilt 359

Guys, last year I heard through boingboing.net about the Paul Lynde Halloween television special. They took delight in the appearance by the heavy metal band KISS. But I got to tell you something. The real star of the show is the Peterbilt 359!

I have the above youtube video cued up to start at the 15:00 mark when the trucking themed subplot begins. Paul Lynde makes a wish with a wicked witch to become a trucker. Not just a wicked witch. The Wicked Witch of Wizard of Oz. And she turns him into the Rhinestone Trucker.

By the way, some of you may be wondering who Paul Lynde is. He’s a comedian. Back then they’d politely call him a confirmed bachelor. So the trucking subplot is confusing because he’s supposed to marry this hot waitress named Kinky.

I mean this waitress is wicked hot. She’s played by Roz Kelly from Happy Days. Smoking! The only thing that’s hotter than her is the Peterbilt 359 that Paul Lynde crashes through the wall to stop her from marrying another trucker named Longhaul.

Whoops. Spoiler alert.

Aw it’s too late. So now I might as well tell you that a midget cook (short order cook, as Paul points out) shoves the Peterbilt 359 back through the wall. Then they start a CB radio-themed song and dance number under orange lights.

That’s so wacky. This whole halloween special is wacky. Andrea James, of the boingboing.net post says the show symbolizes the wackiness of 1976 America.

I agree! It was before my time, (I was born in 1980,) but I can testify that the late 70’s, early 80’s were a browner, fuzzier, smokier and, yes, wackier time.

There were no tweets. Jokes were told between puffs of smoke at diners. There were no internet memes. People taped cynical, snide clippings on the wainscoted wall behind the register. The tape yellowed.

And you only had one shot. There was not do over. You want to tell a joke, or make a comment, or speak to a girl? One shot. No edits.

In fact, the Paul Lynde Halloween special itself is like that. It only aired once.

Kids alive then who were lucky enough to see it cherished those unbelievable moments. Were they really really sitting there watching KISS on their TV? After a full hour of non-stop jokes? Risque jokes by the day’s biggest stars?

They gleefully told their friends about it. In the years that followed, they reminisced. In the ensuing decades they got nostalgic for the special, wondering if in fact time didn’t exaggerate its greatness.

Back then, a television special was that. Special. The networks gave you a advance warning through advertisements. If the special aired at 8:00 pm eastern time on the wednesday before halloween. Dang it, you better be sitting on the floor in front of your giant Zenith television with simulated wood grain on that wednesday as the clock on the mantle chimed eight times.

Glee rewarded those kids responsible enough to be present at showtime. You curled up on the thick brown rug in your pajamas. You turned out the lights. The CRT burned your eyes it was so bright. You took the scratchy orange afghan off the couch and wrapped it around you.

Something changed in my youth when it came to television specials. The VCR.

Right now I can sing the song to Disney’s Halloween treat. It echos in my brain right now as I think about it. It draws out the lines Mickey and company spoke. Today, if I went to my parents’ house and fired up the Sony beta video player, I could probly  recite those specials line for line.

Why? Because my brother and I watched those tapes to death. Halloween or not. We watched those tapes again and again. The auditory barrage of bongos and trumpets that heralded the CBS special presentation became commonplace.

You know what I’m talking about. The chung-chunga-chunga bongos play as you zoom into the C of Special as it turned various orange colors and rotated. Then a crescendo of trumpets. Goose pimples.

That bit that told you the following show was special. But that bit lasted only like 4 seconds.

Yet I knew exactly when it was going to come on. First Bill Cosby would pitch Jello Pudding Pops. Then a commercial for the Dukes of Hazzard. Then the sound would change a tad as it went from network to local. Bob Lobel from WBZ-TV 4 would come on and tease us. At 11 o’clock he’d be dropping a news bomb about Larry Bird hitting baskets in a win against the Lakers. Then screen would turn black for just enough time for you to notice a hissing noise.

That’s when I’d hit pause on the VCR. Not the remote. There was none. I’d hit the slim rocking button on the Sony Beta VCR.

Why? Because I had already hit record when Cosby danced around on screen with the pudding pops. The video machine spooled up the tape and set its recording heads against it. I had hit pause right away. So it was blinking red on stand-by. Then the cue, and I’d hit pause again. It was recording. Right at the bongos. But not a moment sooner.

I’ve heard those bongos so many times. Now it seems so goofy. You can go to youtube and see that bit for the CBS special presentation again and again. Hundreds of thousands of people have based on the view counter.

Specials aren’t special anymore.

The Paul Lynde Halloween special aired in a day before parents got the smart idea to tell their kids to record the special. Before parents told their whining kids they would set the timer on the VCR so they wouldn’t miss the television special while they attended the church pot luck.

But the Paul Lynde Halloween special wasn’t too long before the VCR days. As a result, people who actually saw the special expect that all specials should have been recorded by someone. After all here are some tapes of the Battlestar Galactaga finale. Where’s the Paul Lynde special. You know, that one with KISS?

No. It’s not there. Nobody recorded it. It was 1976. VCRs were not common.

So the Paul Lynde special is special because it’s a relic of specials when they were still specials but viewed by kids who were special enough to record specials on special television recording devices.

So if you saw it live maybe you shouldn’t watch it again. Perhaps you remember it as a laugh riot cumulating in a spectacular KISS concert.

If you’re dying to watch it again and you saw it live, don’t watch it.

I saw it for you.

It strikes me as having been written really really quickly. Like one draft. On a typewriter. Meaning after the writers hit the keys, they didn’t go back and make revisions. It went into production. Massive production. Big names, big lights, big hair production.

Live television then didn’t have the critical eyes they do now. It happened so quickly that you could write the jokes quickly. They didn’t need to be tight. It was the attitude of the actors that sold the humor. Your uncle would still laugh between puffs off a cigarette and sips off a can of Miller Lite.

Maybe you thought the steak at York Steak House was amazing. But if you took the Delorean to 1985 and got a tray and a number card, you wouldn’t be able to eat the food. The cigarette smoke clung to the grease on the table edges. It made a nauseating smell that would spoil your 21st century appetite.

Maybe you loved the 1986 Boston Celtics. Don’t watch clips. They look like toothpicks in short shorts running up and down that orange parque.

Maybe you and your Stonehill College buddies were crushed when the 1985 New England Patriots ran into the behemoths of the Chicago Bears. Don’t watch the youtube video of the game. There’s guys at your gym more muscular than the 85 Bears.

Special things aren’t special anymore. Nothing’s special. Except for the Peterbilt 359. They don’t make trucks like that anymore. The old Cumins engines ran better. The old giant steering wheels steered better. The hood got in the way better. I won’t have you tell me otherwise.

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