Think back, if you will to the dawn of the 60’s, or failing that, the third season of Mad Men, when Broadway musicals could still be considered legitimate adult entertainment and Bye Bye Birdie was the hottest ticket in town.
Six months after the show’s 1960 opening, Broadway’s—soon to be television’s—latest star Dick Van Dyke, appeared on the Ed Sullivan show to introduce the rest of the country to the musical their high schools and community theaters would be performing in perpetuity.
The showcase also afforded the American viewing public their first glimpse of the man who would outlast Sullivan as a fixture in their living rooms, Hollywood’s most outrageous Square, Paul Lynde.
Lynde had his camp and ate it too in the role of a solidly Midwestern father of two who, by virtue of his association with his teenage daughter, finds himself appearing on none other than… The Ed Sullivan Show! It’s a truly meta moment. The studio audience seems to enjoy the joke, and Sullivan appears pleased too, when he wanders on after “Hymn for a Sunday Evening” as the song is properly called. According to his biography, Always on Sunday, his response upon first hearing was less enthusiastic. When the merry Broadway crowd turned to check Sullivan’s response to Lynde’s gulping final admission, (“I love you, Ed!”), Sullivan reported that he wanted the floor to open up and swallow both him and his wife.
Way to get with the joke, Ed!
Later in the episode, there’s some graceful Van Dyke footwork on “Put on a Happy Face,” a song that even the most seasoned theatergoers tend to forget originated with this show, probably because it does nothing to advance the plot.
Lynde and Van Dyke reprised their roles in the 1962 film, but in a typical tale of stage-to-screen heartbreak, Susan Watson, Lynde’s original Birdie daughter, was replaced by 22-year-old bombshell, Ann-Margret. (The deliciously bitchy remark Maureen Stapleton made about her at the wrap party turns out to be apocryphal, or at least intended more kindly than it would seem.) See what she brings to “Hymn for a Sunday Evening” below.