October 1976: When KISS Blew Up on "The Paul Lynde Halloween Special"

Margaret Hamilton and Gene Simmons
Photo Credit
Gene Simmons and Margaret Hamilton on set (ABC TV)

In the fall of 1976, KISS was on the verge of... something. The band had broken out of the rock and roll pack with the 1975 Alive! album, cementing the group's arena-headlining status across the country. It was enough to propel the follow-up March 1976 studio release, Destroyer, up the charts to peak at #11 on the Billboard 200 in May of that year.

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The ambitious album had paired KISS with producer Bob Ezrin, a studio taskmaster who pushed the band to make Destroyer into something of a concept album, adding lavish production touches including a children's choir and even a string section.

When the album stalled and fell to the bottom of the charts by the end of the summer 1976, KISS needed something to boost the band in an even bigger way than the Alive! LP. Enter subversive comedian, Paul Lynde.

Achieving fame in the 1960s on TV shows including Bewitched and The Hollywood Squares, Lynde created a wildly popular snarky public persona that often traded on the comic making puns and wink-wink jokes about his alleged homosexuality.

In the '70s, Lynde took his shtick to the major TV network variety show circuit, which in 1976 included The Paul Lynde Halloween Special, which originally aired on October 29 of that year. The show's big draw was an appearance by original Wizard of Oz actress Margaret Hamilton reprising her role as the Wicked Witch of the West, alongside '70s stars including Tim Conway from The Carol Burnett Show and Roz Kelly, who was then best known for her role as "Pinky Tuscadero" on Happy Days. The show would also feature performances by KISS. 

"The producers asked us to appear, and at first I said no," remembered KISS' legendary manager, Bill Aucoin, in KISS: Behind the Mask. "When they explained how we fit into the concept of the show, I knew it was right. The appearance was well received, and pushed their career up a bit more. Mass exposure helps in small doses."

Introduced by Lynde, The Wicked Witch of the West herself and H.R. Pufnstuf character Witchiepoo, KISS would descend to the stage in a wrought iron elevator, emerging to play the Destroyer single, "Detroit Rock City." With fire, smoke and explosions, the high-energy performance was followed by the group making jokes with Lynde and company, followed by two more Destroyer  tunes from the band: "King of the Nighttime World" and the unexpected B-side ballad hit, "Beth."

The response to the appearance was immediate. Overnight, KISS had become the talk of school kids across America, many of whom were being exposed to the shock-rock outfit for the very first time. Shortly after the TV appearance, the band would release their follow-up to Destroyer: the album Rock and Roll Over. It would be the first KISS album to ship Gold. By the time the band would release their next album in 1977, Love Gun, the Gallup Poll would determine that KISS was the most popular band in America.


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