Starsky and Hutch

For Paul Michael Glaser’s birthday, a little tribute to a favorite show of my tweenhood, Starsky and Hutch (1975-1979).

S&H was an interesting transitional show, from the gritty realism of the early ’70s, to the preferred Aaron Spelling aesthetic of fashion and fantasy. Thus the titular characters, portrayed by Glaser and David Soul, were young, sensitive post-hippie detectives with shaggy hair who dressed in turtlenecks and comfy sweaters and shirts with wide collars pulled out over their jacket lapels disco-style…who often went undercover in the inner city to bust drug dealers etc, often with the assistance of their streetwise stool pigeon, the pimp-like Huggy Bear (Antonio Fargas).

Just as important as the clothes was the car, the famous “Striped Tomato”, a 1975 Gran Torino that became just as popular as any of the humans on the show. Kids had toy versions of this glamorous heap, which was always skidding and squealing around corners in pursuit of bad guys. The joke on the series was that the car was Starsky’s, whereas Hutch drove a beat up old Galaxie 500 (the same kind of car my best friend’s 85 year old grandfather drove.)

The show was incredibly popular. I was a tween when it came out, and Glaser was easily up there with the Fonz and John Travolta as the stars we considered to be the coolest idols. David Soul was more subdued, and kind of the straight man of the duo, but even he grabbed a lot of attention by releasing a #1 hit single, the insipid “Don’t Give Up On us”, which scored with the girls, anyway. Much like Henry Winkler, Glaser went from the very highest heights of fame to relative obscurity once his show went off the air. While he continued acting, as time went on his focus became more and more directing for film and tv. A factor in all this was undoubtedly a personal tragedy he suffered in the 1980s: his wife and daughter contracted AIDS through a blood transfusion, and both of them died.

On the lighter side, this seminal buddy cop action series was made into a funny tribute movie in 2004, co-starring Ben Stiller and Owen Wilson, both of whom are around my age and must have been thrilled to get to play these tv heroes.