Today is the birthday of Clarence Williams III (b. 1939), a.k.a Linc from The Mod Squad (1968-1973).
When I was younger I thought that his name was a bit of an affectation. Back then it wasn’t common (as it is now) for people to have lengthy screen names with hyphens and modifiers and qualifiers. His co-stars after all were Michael Cole (Pete) and Peggy Lipton (Julie). It wasn’t until I was working on a Travalanche post that I discovered that it wasn’t pretention at all but pride: his grandfather, the original Clarence Williams was an important early jazz musician — that’s something to flaunt if you’re in show business, especially if it happens to be your real name. (Read more about Clarence the First here).
At any rate, the premise of The Mod Squad was always absurd; over time and with perspective it has only become more so. The gimmick was that three counter-cultural youths with troubled pasts are given a second chance by police Captain Adam Greer (Tige Andrews).
They become an elite unit of adjunct hippie undercover police officers, a “Mod Squad”, if you will. Their beat? The drug pushers and the communist revolutionary bombers and the acid freak-out kidnappers: territory where no squares like the guys on Dragnet could ever infiltrate, baby! (Although they seemed to somehow, too).
The unique, iconic breakdown of the trio gave it a certain power, and whenever three kids (two boys and one girl) were playing outside together, they would always end up playing The Mod Squad. (We used to “play” tv shows. Do kids do that any more? Do kids play any more? And furthermore, get off my lawn!)
I watched the show recently for the first time in decades and was amused at the super-serious tone it has…the humorless threesome, dealing with the weight of “the times” never smile or joke, and in fact move and act sort of like they’re all on downers. Occasionally one or more of them will get whiny and have an outburst, but the others will always “talk them down” and “cool them out”.
Because of the tricky times in which the show was produced everything was done with kid gloves. Linc is clearly some sort of Panther or former black activist — but you’ll never hear him say anything that would alienate millions of white television viewers. He just LOOKS real cool: Black Power Chic. Likewise, there’s no way Julie doesn’t have some sort of promiscuous sexual past – -she was a teenage runaway. That too is hinted at but bowdlerized. It all takes us back to that hilarious name: The Mod Squad. “Mod” of course always referred primarily to a fashion — the most superficial aspect of the sixties or any other era, but usually the one we love and embrace the most.
And now, The Mod Squad credit sequence, possibly the most exciting and melodramatic one ever devised (with the possible exception of Hawaii Five-O):
To find out more 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 please 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