‘Chico & The Man’ ratings high, but stars not awed (1974)
By Arthur Unger, Christian Science Monitor News Service
A 20-year-old newcomer to show business and a 40-year veteran made it to the top of the ratings charts recently as NBC’s “Chico and the Man” took the No. 1 spot. It was a rapid rise for the new show, but Freddie Prinze is as used to rapid rises as star Jack Albertson is to slow and steady growth.
“Hunga-Rican” is what Freddie Prinze calls himself — his father is Hungarian and his mother Puerto Rican. Freddie made his national appearance first on Jack Paar’s last show, then switched to Johnny Carson, where he was spotted by the producers of “Chico” and signed during his first year in the spotlight.
Jack Albertson, who won a Tony on Broadway for “The Subject Was Roses” and appeared most recently in “The Sunshine Boys,” has been a familiar face in movies and TV shows for four decades. The now secure show is taping episodes for the remainder of the 1974-75 season in California.
Actor Freddie Prinze new to the business
Talking about life and show business Prinze says, “My mother, the Puerto Rican, wanted me to be into music, so I learned to play the guitar by ear. Then she stuck me in ballet school, which of course I hated, but wound up taking it for four years. And when I went to the New York High School for the Performing Arts, I took drama. The last few years, I started doing standup comedy in nightclubs. Now I am back to acting. Maybe soon I’ll be doing ballet again. Whatever comes, I am ready.”
Ready for the objections from Mexican-Americans who may resent an actor of Puerto Rican descent playing a Chicano?
“I don’t expect much objecting. The attitudes are only slightly different of course — for the Chicanos, this was once their country, and in a way, they are trying to get it back for themselves. Puerto Ricans are newcomers to the mainland.”
Executive producer and creator of the series, James Komack, has made certain there are enough Chicanos on the staff so the accent is made acceptable to Mexican-Americans and the ethnic gags not objectionable. The associate producer, Ray Andrade, is active in Justicia, a Latin civil rights organization.
The man is bitter, not bigoted
“Chico and the Man,” according to Albertson, is not really a show about a bigot. “I play Ed Brown as just a bitter old man who hates everybody because he’s alone in the world. Everybody who comes to the garage is open for insults. He has a love-hate relationship with Chico.”
Prinze isn’t bitter; it’s more like bemused amusement. “What I like about the show is that Chico is always pointing out the blind spots in Ed’s make-up. He tries to keep him from drinking, for instance. And sometimes he turns on Ed and tells him he said something that wasn’t very nice.”
The attack comes from both sides, and it’s not out of anger. As Albertson says, it’s just pointing out the inadequacies of thinking.
“Yes,” Albertson says, “These are two normal problems of life. Their major problem is just getting along with each other. That’s why I think this show has more going for it than most it points out that two people with different backgrounds, and even a generation gap to separate them, can manage to get along With each other.
“The Chicano aspect has never been touched before in television comedy. We are the first really American-developed situation comedy of this type. After all, ‘Sanford and Son‘ evolved from the British ‘Steptoe and Son,’ and ‘All in the Family‘ from the British ‘Till Death Do Us Part.’ We are more than just an abrasive comedy. I think the show is warm and touching.”
How do Prinze’s people react to Chico? “The young Latins like what I do. The old people — well some of them would rather nobody knew they’re in the country at all. ‘Don’t make trouble! Don’t let them know we’re around!” But the kids like the idea of somebody like me being up there, visible. I guess it’s part of a cycle.
“The black people had their wave of comics Bill Cosby, Flip Wilson, Richard Pryor. Now you’re seeing more Latins like Liz Torres and Jimmy Martinez. My father, who is a tool-and-die maker, is a frustrated comic. He tells me I’m doing everything he ever wanted to do.”