Today is the birthday of Freddie Prinze (Frederick Pruetzel, 1954-1977). I can think of few events in the annals of show business sadder than his sudden suicide at age 22. Drugs and depression and divorce are explanations; they don’t make it any less bewildering. He was so young at the time — apparently too young to know or care that things would almost surely get better for a good looking, wealthy, groundbreaking, idolized comedy star. I was about 11 or 12 when that happened. It didn’t — still doesn’t – -make any sense.
Chico and the Man was one of the top tv shows of its day (1974-1977). It was the latest in the long line of high concept “issues” sit coms: All in the Family, Maude, Good Times, The Jeffersons, etc etc. The bigot in this case was “the Man” Ed Brown, played by Jack Albertson, who has a problem with Mexicans, including his young assistant Chico (despite the fact that Prinze was one half German and one half Puerto Rican). The show was hastily devised as a vehicle for Prinze, who had just exploded as one of the top stand-up comedians in the country through successful appearances on The Tonight Show and other programs. He was a wunderkind. Here he is at age 19 on The Midnight Special:
To find out about the history of show business, consult No Applause, Just Throw Money: The Book That Made Vaudeville Famous, available at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and wherever nutty books are sold.
And check out my new book: Chain of Fools: Silent Comedy and Its Legacies from Nickelodeons to Youtube, just released by Bear Manor Media, also available from amazon.com etc etc etc