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American Television, Situation Comedies  
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Lynde's television appearances were not, however, limited to Hollywood Squares. After stints on The Phyllis Diller Show (1967), The Jonathan Winters Show (1967), Dean Martin Presents the Golddiggers (1968-1969), and two Gidget TV movies (1969 and 1972), Lynde starred in his own sitcom, The Paul Lynde Show. The show debuted on ABC in 1972 and featured Lynde as Paul Simms, a respectable attorney who lives a quiet life with his wife and two daughters. However, when Howie, the new husband of Simms' eldest daughter, takes up residence in the Simms household, Paul is driven to distraction.

Unfortunately The Paul Lynde Show had little chance to succeed. It was scheduled against formidable competition from NBC's police drama Adam-12 and Carol Burnett's comedy-variety show on CBS. Moreover, viewers were also uncomfortable with Lynde's over-the-top outrageous onscreen behavior and wholly unbelievable portrayal of a "family man." The show lasted one season before being cancelled.

While these queer stars did not play openly gay characters, nevertheless their presence in notable sitcoms and variety shows lent to television a palpable queer sensibility that audiences could see and tacitly accept, if not completely understand. This "covert openness" would, indeed, ultimately lead to more open portrayals of queer sitcom characters in subsequent decades.

First Sightings: The 1970s

In 1970, one year after the Stonewall riots in New York City that heralded the advent of the gay liberation movement, the NBC comedy show Rowan and Martin's Laugh-In first acknowledged the subject of gay men and their lifestyle openly. As Kylo-Patrick R. Hart has pointed out, Laugh-In created the stereotypically effeminate character named Bruce, who was subjected to long strings of anti-gay jokes about gay men and gay liberation. The distinctly unfunny "Bruce" remained a part of the show's repertoire until Laugh-In's demise in 1973.

In 1979 Laugh-In was revived and the show's writers replaced the outdated "Bruce" character with the campy comic duo of gay ventriloquist Wayland Flowers and his Phyllis Diller/Tallulah Bankhead-esque puppet "Madame," who dressed like a drag queen. By providing salacious show business gossip and hilarious sexual double entendres to Laugh-In's viewers, she was an instant hit and went on to host "her" own show, Madame's Place in 1982. However, despite Flowers' self-evident (if backgrounded) homosexuality, much of "Madame's" routines typically relied heavily on bitchy gay repartee and thus, for viewers, "her" humor implicitly reinforced stereotypical representations of queers, even as it also often satirized heterosexual duplicity and hypocrisy.

But even while queers were being played primarily for laughs, several sitcoms were quietly striving to move beyond stereotyped representations of homosexuals. In 1971, during its first season, All in the Family featured the bigoted Archie Bunker (Carroll O'Connor) learning that one of his best drinking buddies (and a retired professional athlete) was a happily well-adjusted gay man.

In 1973 The Mary Tyler Moore Show episode "My Brother's Keeper" revealed that the brother of Mary's longtime friend Phyllis Lindstrom (Cloris Leachman) was gay.

In the 1975 episode "Archie the Hero," All in the Family again featured a gay character, female impersonator Beverly LaSalle (Lori Shannon), whose life Archie saved before he realized that "classy dame" Beverly was really a male. Shannon twice reprised his/her role, first in the 1976 episode "Beverly Rides Again" and then in the memorable two-part 1977 episode "Edith's Crisis of Faith."

"Edith's Crisis of Faith" was both daring and disturbing because of its handling of and violence against gays. In the episode's first part, Beverly drops in to visit the Bunkers and invite them to her revue at Madison Square Garden. Archie is, predictably, uncomfortable attending a show featuring Beverly's "kind of people," but following some good-natured cajoling from Edith (Jean Stapleton) and Beverly, he grudgingly agrees to go. Flush with triumph, Beverly rushes out to get some celebratory champagne, but on the way to the liquor store she is attacked and killed by muggers.

Beverly's sudden, shocking death triggers Edith's crisis of faith, and the segment ends as Edith angrily asks God how He could allow a sweet and gentle soul like Beverly to die so needlessly and violently. Edith's obvious affection for and unblinking acceptance of Beverly give this episode special poignancy; it was nominated for an Emmy Award for Outstanding Writing in 1977.

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