When I was seventeen years old, I had only one mission in my life: to meet Paul Lynde. I had taken down my Donny Osmond posters two years ago and had replaced them with the most funniest and handsome man I ever saw: Paul Lynde. I loved him best on The Hollywood Squares. There was something about his voice and humor that made me laugh more than anyone ever has. I loved the way he laughed, his wink, the mischievous look in his eyes when he said something kinky or dirty— like his answer to the following: “If the right part comes along, would George C. Scott pose nude?” Paul answered, “You mean he doesn’t have the right part?” I had never seen or heard anyone who acted the way he did. I was just so attracted to everything about him. My crush on Paul intensified. I had to meet him. I prayed to God every day for this. I was so determined that I bet my high school teachers that this would happen before I graduated. Nothing short of a miracle could explain what happened next. It was November 17, 1975 and I was in my hometown library in Levittown, Long Island, doing research on Paul. I came across a reference book of Broadway stars and it had a telephone number that said: Paul Lynde’s business number. As soon as I got home, I called the number (Los Angles, California) and I nearly collapsed when the man who answered was Paul Lynde. It turned out to be his HOME number!!!!
I said, “Paul Lynde?”He said, “Yes?”“This is Cathy Fitzgibbon; I am such a big fan of yours. I can’t believe I am talking to you!” “How did you get my home number?” he asked suspiciously. I explained one of the books at my home town library said it was his business number.He said, “No it’s my home number. It‘s supposed to be unlisted-how dare that book do that!” I laughed and told him how I admired him and thought he was so funny and talented. I asked about his upcoming shows and was surprised that he was answering all my questions and didn’t hang up. The conversation was flowing and I was on cloud nine. I was talking so fast, words spilled out of me barely letting him get a word in. I don’t know what I was thinking back then, but I boldly blurted out: “I know I’m asking a lot, but would you go to my senior prom with me?”
He said very seriously, “Yes, you’re asking a lot.”
I said, “No way?”
"Oh no WAAAAY,” he answered in his famous nasal twang, laughing.So I asked if he would want to meet me, and he gently said, “No dear, do you understand? I can’t, if I did I would have to do that for all my fans, it’s an absolute almost impossibility.”“Yeah,” I said sadly, and then I asked him about his dog Harry MacAfee and he told me the dog had something on his paw and had to get an operation. I continued asking questions about his career. I asked Paul if he ever came to New York and he said yes. So I persisted, “When are you gonna go, cause, like, you mean more to me than anybody in the world and I’d really want to meet you…and I’m seventeen and I have gone so far out to try to meet you. I would have my father take me.” Then there was the first silent moment—I held my breath.
“Well,” Paul said very hesitantly, “I may be there Thanksgiving time, and uh, well, the only thing you can do is come by and say hello.”I couldn’t believe this was happening. He told me to call him at the Pierre Hotel the week of the twenty-first and he would set something up. I thanked him and hung up. I screamed!
I called the Pierre Hotel on November 22—this time trying to sound much calmer. He answered.I said, “Hello Mr. Lynde, this is Cathy Fitzgibbon.” He said, “Oh hi Cathy.”“Did you get the get-well card I sent for Harry?” (his dog), I asked.
“Yes, I did and thank you. Harry’s doing much better now. “ Then I rambled, “Remember you said I could meet you for a picture and an autograph?” Well when would be a good time?”He asked me how far I was from the city and if I had school. I said I didn’t have to go to school, and he said,
“No, you go to school.” We arranged to meet at three in the afternoon. I did not go to school that day: I was way too excited.On November 24, 1975, I took the train with my dad to New York City. I was wearing a new skirt and blouse and trying not to throw up all over it. We stepped out of the train, and the cold air helped ease the tsunami in my stomach. I held tight to the red rose I carried for Paul, and we headed to the Pierre Hotel. I waited anxiously in the lobby, holding the rose in my shaky hands. The hotel was on fire! No one was allowed to go up or down. I was so nervous I would not get to meet the man of my dreams. Firemen were running through the lobby with long hoses, alarms were going off, and it was chaos. I had someone at the front desk ring Paul’s room. There was no answer. My heart sank.
“Cathy I think we should get out of the building.” My Dad said.
“There is no way I am leaving.” I said emphatically. I glanced at my watch, it was a little after three. I scanned the lobby, looking at every man not wearing a fireman’s uniform. I looked over at the elevators hoping he would step out of one, but they were now off limits. People were still going in and out of the hotel. I looked back toward the lobby at the revolving doors. That’s when I saw him! He was walking into the lobby. He was taller than I expected, almost six feet. He was wearing a navy blue shirt, dark jacket, and slacks. His face was tan, his sandy brown hair looked soft and it was a little windblown to the side. My heart was racing. He looked even better than I thought he would in person.I left my Dad, approached Paul, and held out the red rose.
“Mr. Lynde, I’m Cathy Fitzgibbon.” He said hello and took the rose with a smile. “I am running so late,” he said, “I went to the chiropractor and the taxi was stuck in traffic and I wanted to shower before I met you.” I told him he looked great. Again he smiled. He walked over to the front desk and I followed. He asked for his messages and then handed them to me to read, explaining he didn’t have his reading glasses with him. I was so nervous I don’t even remember what I read to him or who they were from, but I felt honored to do this.Paul wanted to take us up to his suite, but a hotel worker told Paul that he couldn’t go up there right now, as there was a fire on one of the floors. So Paul said, “Let’s get a drink down here. Go get your dad.”I motioned to my dad, who was still in the lobby, to come over. I introduced him as Jerry Fitzgibbon. They shook hands and Paul said, "Boy, you really are fans, you stood waiting for me in the smoke and the flames and with the entire fire department running around.” My dad busted out laughing. We followed this great celebrity into a dining area in the hotel.
The host stopped Paul and said, “I’m sorry, house rules; I can’t let you in without a tie and jacket.” “How can I get a tie when the hotel is on fire and they won’t let me up to my suite?” Paul asked him sounding annoyed. Then he turned to me and my dad and said, “Let’s go down to the Sherry Netherlands.” So there I was, with my dad, walking the streets of New York with Paul Lynde. He told us how he loved New York and the people in it, and what a great city it truly was. I wondered how the crowds of people didn’t notice it was Paul Lynde walking past them.We arrived and were seated at a table by the window. My Dad and I ordered a glass of wine. Paul had vodka and something, and he asked the waiter to bring him an extra glass of water to put my rose in. I took out the page that I had photocopied his phone number from the library and showed him. Paul said, “That’s my number.” He said it’s been in there for years and no one ever called it. Then we talked about his life, career, and all the shows and movies he had done. He was both witty and serious. He answered every question I asked him and was so polite. He definitely had that movie star air about him, and yet he was so gracious. Paul was not quite the comedian you see on TV, he was more on the quiet side, bordering shy, but every now and then he would do a lower key “Paul Lynde” voice. My dad busted out laughing and I giggled. We were all talking, and soon it felt very comfortable in spite of my nervousness. At one point, Paul asked me what I wanted be when I grew up, and I said, “An author.”Paul turned to my Dad and asked, “And what does she want from me?”
My dad said, “Nothing. She’s just a devoted fan.” I think at that moment Paul felt secure. I was not after him for anything. This was so different, I later learned, than what he was used to most of the time. The conversation lasted almost two hours. At one point, I asked him if he made up the funny answers he gave on The Hollywood Squares. He answered so sincerely, “No dear, someone writes them for me.”“Well they are funny anyway.” I added smiling. We talked at length. Then Paul said he had guests arriving and had to get back to the Pierre. I asked him if my dad could take a picture of us and he said, “Sure.” Then he asked me if his hair looked alright and I said, “Perfect.” As my dad got ready to take the photo with his Polaroid camera, Paul said, “Wait, let’s make sure the rose is the picture.” When the picture developed, Paul took out his pen and wrote on the back of it: “To Cathy, Our afternoon at the Sherry, Love and Laughter, Paul Lynde.” Then he wrote something on a piece of paper. As we stood up to go, Paul said, “Cathy you keep that phone number and here’s my address; so if you ever come to LA, you are welcome to visit me at my home.”I couldn’t believe what I was hearing. It was beyond what I prayed for. Paul shook hands with my dad, and I asked him if I could give him a kiss on the cheek. He said yes, with a smile, and I stood on my tiptoes to kiss his cheek. Then Paul picked up the rose, and the three us walked out to the street together. I thanked him for meeting me and my dad and for spending so much time with us. He said he would be back in New York in a few weeks for Christmas and would call and invite me to see him again. I was mesmerized. I met the man of my dreams, this huge star, and now he was forming a friendship with me. I felt like the luckiest person in the entire world. This was just our beginning.
Paul Lynde and Cathy (Fitzgibbon) Rudolph backstage Westbury Music Fair-July 1976
photographer Daphe Welds Nichols Maine, Summer of 1981