Billy Eichner is embarking on a new project that may end up being his most important role to date: playing actor Paul Lynde. Eichner and producer Tom McNulty are teaming up to make Man in the Box, a film on the life of Lynde.
Lynde’s career took off when he played the role of Harry McAffe in the 1963 film adaption of Broadway musical, Bye Bye Birdie, which also starred Dick Van Dyke, Ann Margaret, and Janet Leigh. Two years later, Lynde went on to play Uncle Arthur in the ABC sitcom, Bewitched for 9 episodes. Lynde also was known for his time on the Hollywood Squares. Unlike gay actors during the ‘60s, Lynde did not make his sexuality a secret and he would make little innuendos about gay sex on the Hollywood Squares.
In an interview with Deadline, Eichner talked about why it was important for him to make a film about Lynde’s life:
“Unlike Rock Hudson, and Tab Hunter, and Cary Grant, and all these other actors, he wasn’t pretending to be straight. You didn’t see him getting set up on dates with women, or having phony relationships with women, to try to present to the world as a straight man. I think that was very admirable, for the time, and also, if you look at those jokes on Hollywood Squares, he comes as close to admitting he’s gay as you possibly can.”
Eichner observed about Lynde and his limited career:
“You can’t pin it all on the gay issue. It’s more complicated than that, and I like that it’s more complicated than that, because again, he’s not just a symbol. He’s not just some gay victim. He’s a complicated person, who didn’t always believe in himself, as much as he should have.”
Eichner also expressed the ways Hollywood is still blacklisting openly gay actors:
“What’s happened is that, when someone comes out of the closet, we celebrate them. We applaud them. We put them on the cover of magazines. We say, thank you for living your truth, and thank you for being brave, and you’re such a role model for our gay kids. And then instantly, that actor gets taken off so many casting lists in the business. This is exactly what happened to Paul, and if it’s still happening today, which I can tell you from my own career, having lived it on the day to day, for almost 20 years now, it happened to Paul in even more extreme ways, and he felt very limited by that.”
Eichner also called out the casting of straight actors to play gay icons like Freddie Mercury, Elton John, Harvey Milk, and others.
“I don’t have to go sit with 30 gay people and try to find out what it’s like to be gay. I know, and no one knows better than me and my friends. I think we need to stop undervaluing that, the feeling that if a gay person plays a gay person it’s not acting but if a straight person plays a gay person, we give them an Oscar.”
Openly gay actors are praising Eichner for his interview with Deadline.
This is one of the best and most considerate conversations I have ever read about gay actors in Hollywood. I'm so filled with gratitude and emotion to @billyeichner for speaking this way. I feel so seen. https://t.co/nHHpGJcAE8
— Daniel Franzese (@WhatsupDanny) July 21, 2020
— Colton Haynes (@ColtonLHaynes) July 21, 2020