Thursday, February 11, 2016

Silliness for Adults

When I was a boy and I watched episodes of Bewitched, one of my favorite characters was Uncle Arthur. He was played by Paul Lynde, who was kind of like his generation's version of Robin Williams, I guess — kind of manic.

They were different personalities, of course, Robin Williams and Paul Lynde, and I can't say that I know much about Paul Lynde outside of his work on Bewitched and, later, Hollywood Squares — although I do know that he made guest appearances on many TV shows in the '60s and '70s. He made 10 appearances in all on Bewitched, the first time as Samantha's rather jittery driving instructor. He was so well received that the character of Uncle Arthur was written especially for him.

Forty–five years ago tonight, Paul Lynde made his final appearance on Bewitched.

I don't know if he did much standup, or how spontaneous his wisecracks were. He had some salty one–liners on Hollywood Squares, always delivered in Lynde's signature snarky style.

Uncle Arthur was a practical joker, but in the episode that debuted on this night in 1971, "The House That Uncle Arthur Built," Uncle Arthur was in love with a witch who didn't like practical jokes — so Uncle Arthur gave Samantha's house custody of all his practical jokes. He was going on the wagon.

In the process a torrent of practical jokes was unleashed on Samantha (Elizabeth Montgomery) and Darrin (Dick Sargent) — and anyone who happened to be in the house. That could be kind of difficult to explain.

The house, it seemed, simply could not stop. For Uncle Arthur, it was a funhouse (complete with a barrel full of monkeys). For Samantha and Darrin, it was a house of horrors — especially when one of Darrin's clients came over with his wife.

And Samantha was incapable of doing anything about it. As devotees of Bewitched knew, there was a weird kind of Wiccan logic to the rules for witches. One rule was that a witch could not interfere in the spells cast by another witch. Uncle Arthur was the one who cast the spell, and he was the only one who could remove it.

With some witches, like doddery old Aunt Clara, it was merely a nuisance. Like as not, she had forgotten the spell and, therefore, could not reverse it.

But, as I say, that was merely annoying.

Uncle Arthur and certain other witches, like Samantha's mother and cousin, would refuse to reverse spells. That went beyond annoying.

As was often the case with Bewitched, the story was silly, slapstick, strictly for laughs. That alone should tell you what things were like when Darrin's client and his wife came over.

As a child, I found it entertaining. And sometimes I think that adults still need some of that silliness in their lives. Lord knows, there's plenty of another kind of silliness in adults' lives. We need something to balance it out.

Yes, Paul Lynde reminds me a lot of Robin Williams. They both would do or say just about anything — to get a laugh. If all else failed, Lynde would lapse into his rather nervous laugh, and you couldn't help laughing with him. Darned if you knew what you were laughing about, though ...

I guess that wasn't really an issue with Robin Williams. I always knew what I was laughing at with him. Lynde was far more ambiguous in that sense. His humor was less topical, more physical. Slapstick.

But he served the purpose. He brought that silliness into the lives of the viewers.

Good thing, too.