Seeing Doozy las week led me to this very trashy book on Paul Lynde (top left), where I found out he studied at Northwestern with a class that included Cloris Leachman, Patricia Neal, Charlotte Ray, Jeffrey Hunter etc. Which led me to this new biography, also very trashy, of Leachman, forever Phyllis to me. What I found interesting about her book is how, at ninety, she still vividly remembers very specific scenes from films like Waterloo Bridge (Mervyn Leroy, USA, 1940) and how often the films that most deeply affected audiences are not what are ranked and re-ranked as ‘best’. Not a new thought but still an under-explored one. Also Lynde and Leachman, instantly recognisable nationally at the height of their TV fame but never the biggest stars, are still a very powerful evocation of childhood for anyone who grew up watching television in North America in the 70s.
Chuck Jones dismissed Hanna-Barbera cartoons as illustrated radio. But in a wonderful video essay , Sound in Hanna-Barbera, Patrick Sullivan demonstrates how the fluidity of the plot of Hannah-Barbera cartoons made up for the static imagery; how plot elements like crashes were relegated off-screen and conveyed through sound accompanied by a jerking image; and how sound in general and voice in particular where the main vehicle through which action, meaning and feeling were conveyed.
I had occasion to reflect on this once more when seeing Richard Squires’ Doozy which takes Paul Lynde´s voicing of villains in Hanna-Barbera cartoons (The Hooded Claw in The Perils of Penelope Pitstop; Mildew Wolf in It’s the Wolf; Claude Pertwee in Where´s Huddles?) as a jump start to an exploration of queer villainy, hysterical masculinity, animation — the film has conceived and designed its own villain ´Clovis´in that very distinctive Hanna-Barbera style — and the inter-connectedness of voice, characterisation and star persona. ´Where does the character end and the actor begin?’
In an interview with Alt Kino, Squires recounts that the character of Claude Pertwee in Where´s Huddles was this, ‘archetypical confirmed bachelor type who seemed like the first closeted gay Hanna-Barbera cartoon villain, really. So when I started researching Where’s Huddles a little bit more, I realised it was this actor Paul Lynde who had voiced all of these cartoon villains and then I started to research him a little bit, having been vaguely aware of him in Bewitched´.
Lynde is perhaps less well-known in the UK than in the US. I grew up watching him on TV in re-runs of films like Bye-Bye Birdieor his recurring appearances in supporting parts in some of the biggest television hits of the sixties: The Munsters, Betwitched, I Dream of Jeannie, Love American Style. He had his own TV show for a while, The Paul Lynde Show, but that only ran for a season. He usually played supporting parts but was nonetheless one of the most famous faces and voices in America at that time, partly due no doubt to his being the central square in the popular game show, Hollywood Squares.
The way Lynde walked, talked, his mannerisms, his double-takes, his acidity and bitchyness, all-evoked queerness at a time when sexual relations between people of the same sex were forbidden, illegal and where being found out could have cataclysmic consequences. Yet, it was almost as if he couldn´t help himself, his ripostes in Hollywood Squares often crossing boundaries and effectively outing himself over and over again. I suppose Kenneth Williams is a similar figure occupying a similar role in Britian. That combination of evoking queerness, the conflict between hiding and asserting it, the treatment he suffered as a result of it, are all evoked in the film, often building up from little moments, asides.
Doozy is not a biopic of Lynde but it is very brilliant at evoking how a homophobic culture both deploys and destroys that type of figure and that particular person in that particular time. Megan Christopher has written that, ‘the campy villain is undoubtedly one of the biggest staples of traditional animation; this trope runs through film and television alike, regardless of audience and story. From The Lion King to The Powerpuff Girls, Gravity Falls to Wreck-it-Ralph, the comedically limp-wristed bad guy is an intrinsic part of American society’s casually homophobic output, setting up an environment where these behaviours are automatically associated with social ills´.
One of the things that make Doozy so interesting is that it´s hard to categorise. Part essay film, part documentary, with many sections of animated characters foregrounded on documentary backgrounds interspersed throughout, the film uses Paul Lynde´s voicing of three characters in Hannah-Barbera cartoons as a means to explore masculinity, queerness, social convention, what a voice can express and what a society can at first repress and then destroy. How a society can make that queerness part of the very fabric of children´s television whilst nonetheless slowly poisoning the person conveying it. These topics and more are discussed in the podcast below which is made up of two parts: the first a conversation in a pub with director Richard Squires and producer Abigail Addison just before the Flatpack screening at Vivid Projects; the second is the Q&A session following the screening. It can be listened to by clicking on the play button below:
Richard Squires and Abigail Addison will present Doozy at the Department of Film and Television, The University of Warwick, on May 7th at 4.30 and participate in a conversation with Dr. Julie Lobalzo Wright on the film.