Billy Eichner is all set to play trailblazing TV star Paul Lynde in an upcoming biopic. Eichner is currently developing the movie, which is titled Man in the Box. Eichner and producer Tom McNulty are basing the upcoming project on a script by Edwin Cannistraci. The pair are currently looking for a production team. The biopic will tell the complicated story of Lynde's life in show business during the 1960s and 1970s, while concealing his sexuality.
Paul Lynde is a television icon, known for his quick wit and comedy talents. Lynde had a campy and snarky persona, which often took aim at his closeted sexuality. He played Uncle Arthur on Bewitched, Harry MacAfee in Bye Bye Birdie, and as the regular "center square" panelist on The Hollywood Squares for over a decade. Lynde also voiced animated characters for four Hanna-Barbera productions, including Templeton in Charlotte's Web, Mildew Wolf from Cattanooga Cats, Claude Pertwee in Where's Huddles?, and Sylvester Sneekly for The Perils of Penelope Pitstop.
For openly gay actors like Billy Eichner, Paul Lynde was a pioneer, though he was also very complicated. While he was not openly gay, he was as open as one could be during that time in television history, which came with a price. He began to abuse alcohol and became frustrated with hiding his private life, which did not bring out the best in him. Eichner had this to say about Lynde.
"He was way ahead of his time in terms of his willingness to be as overtly gay as one could be in that era on television. Which is not to say he was out - because he wasn't - but I don't think that would have been a real possibility at that point. Considering that it's still challenging for actors and comedians even 40 years later, and he was on television all the time and he was beloved, he probably was the first gay person - whether he was using that word or not - to show up regularly in a lot of people's homes across America."
While Paul Lynde never came out as gay, he inspired a lot of young actors in Hollywood who felt the same way. "He didn't ever pretend to be straight," says Billy Eichner. "He wouldn't let publicists and studio execs set him up in some fake relationship with a woman that the tabloids get photos of so that America would be more comfortable with him." This is something that Eichner found to be influential. He explains.
"So even though he didn't come out and say, 'I'm gay,' he really wasn't faking it either - which is what the majority of gay actors at that time felt that they had to do."
While the entertainment industry has come a long way in the nearly 40 years since Paul Lynde's death, there's still some complications when it comes to being openly gay in Hollywood, according to Billy Eichner. He says, "Luckily, it's 40 years later, so things have evolved for gay people in Hollywood to a point where I can have a more diversified career than he was allowed to have, and I can also be completely openly gay..." Eichner adds, "but the industry is still narrow-minded when it comes to gay actors." Man in the Box does not yet have a release date or production start set. Deadline was the first to report on the Paul Lynde biopic.