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Hollywood Squares began delivering bawdy one-liners 50 years ago today

Paul Lynde on Hollywood Squares (Screenshot: YouTube)

Celebrity-based game shows were nothing new by 1966. TV had already seen What’s My Line?, To Tell The Truth, and I’ve Got A Secret! by then. But producers Merrill Heatter and Bob Quigley gave the genre something different with The Hollywood Squares, which premiered on October 17 of that year and remained on NBC’s daytime schedule until 1980, with numerous revivals following. Whereas Line and Truth originated in New York, the nexus of theater and literature, Hollywood Squares was all about Los Angeles, America’s film production capital with all its gaudy superficiality. There were no publishers or columnists there, just TV and movie stars. The tone, too, was distinct. Hollywood Squares dispensed with the sophisticated, urbane wit of the East Coast quiz shows and aimed instead for wilder, more raucous humor, complete with racy double entendres. This highlight reel captures some of the show’s naughtiest moments. When host Peter Marshall asks panelist Charley Weaver how many balls one would expect to find on a billiard table, Weaver cheerfully responds, “How many guys are playing?”

No one better embodied the raunchy but playful spirit of the show than regular panelist Paul Lynde, an actor and comic who found a whole new level of fame in middle age due to his appearances in the strategic center square. Lynde’s famous quips were actually crafted for him by a team of Hollywood Squares writers, but the Broadway and Bewitched star made them seem perfectly spontaneous, as if he were just making lively conversation at a cocktail party. Unlike virtually everyone else in television, Lynde could get away with making coded references to his barely concealed homosexuality and still make the housewives of America love him. One telling exchange occurs when Marshall poses this question: “Who’s generally better looking, a fairy or a pixie?” Lynde adopts an unnaturally deep voice and says, “Looks aren’t everything!”

For the truly curious, a 1965 Hollywood Squares pilot (without Marshall or Lynde) has also been preserved.

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