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Freddie Prinze: From 'Chico And The Man' Comedy To Tragedy

Culture | September 29, 2017

Source: IMDB

In his standup comedy act and on Chico And The Man, Freddie Prinze showed a gift for humor and making audiences laugh. He was a success in comedy clubs as a teenager, and landed a starring role in a network TV sitcom when he was barely 20 years old. Prinze battled depression, and it was a battle he ultimately lost, committing suicide in 1977.

Chico And The Man Were An Odd Couple

Chico and the Man, created by James Komak, first aired on NBC in 1974 and ran for four seasons. Prinze starred as Chico Rodriguez, and Jack Albertson played Ed Brown, also known as "The Man." Brown owned a washed-up auto mechanic garage and Chico, a young Chicano was pretty much desperate for a job. The obstinate garage owner was a heavy drinking widower who had worn out his welcome in the East L.A. neighborhood where he lived and ran his business. He reluctantly hired Chico because nobody else would work for him. Chico lived in his van, which he parked in Ed’s garage.

There Was A Lot Of Freddie Prinze In The Character Of Chico

While Chico was a proud Chicano, he was smart enough to realize that they equally needed each other. Ironically, they both eventually saw something in the other that was valuable. Although Ed would never come right out and admit it, he warmed up to Chico. Ed soon came to consider Chico as much as a son but would never come right out and say it in so many words. As the sitcom evolved, Chico’s ancestry was always in question with Mexican, Puerto Rican and Hungarian roots. He fondly referred to himself as Hungarican -- a term from Prinze's standup act. Chico was well known for spouting off multi-lingual rants that no one could really interpret, although his meaning was always clear.

Chico And Ed Were Boosted By A Strong Supporting Cast

In addition to Chico and Ed, the show had an awesome supporting cast. Mando (Isaac Ruiz), Chico’s closest friend, would pop in from time to time; Louie Wilson (Scatman Crothers), the lovable trash man, always seemed to show up at just the right moment to add his two cents. Mabel (Bonnie Boland), the mail lady, would appear in the middle of a dilemma to speak her mind; Della Rodgers (Della Reese) was Ed’s landlady and neighbor, being far from his biggest fan; and Reverend Bemis (Ronny Graham), who at one point asked Chico to stand in for him as a man of the cloth.

'Chico And The Man' Was A Success, While It Lasted

The show was very popular although short lived due to the untimely death by suicide of Freddie Prinze. In its first two seasons, Chico and the Man ranked among the top ten most popular sitcom television shows. Chico and Ed had endeared themselves to their audiences and had an undeniable, although admittedly dysfunctional, chemistry.  

Freddie Prinze Was A Comedy Prodigy

Freddie Prinze’s short entertainment career was impressive to say the least. He emerged from a humble beginning and worked his way to stardom through hard work and determination. Born Frederick Karl Pruetzel in New York City, Prinze grew up in the Washington Heights area of Manhattan, the son of a German Lutheran immigrant father and Puerto Rican Catholic mother. Though he quipped that he was "Hungarican" in his standup act, that appears to be a white lie, as there is no evidence he was of Hungarian descent. Frederick Preutzel took ballet lessons from a young age, then gained entry to the LaGuardia High School for the Performing Arts. 

He discovered his talent for standup and dropped out during his senior year -- and adopted the stage name "Prinze" as a joke to himself. He couldn't be the king of comedy, as Alan King had already locked down that designation, so he elected to be comedy's "prince." He was recognized in the entertainment world by many successful personalities, including Johnny Carson. Prinze was 19 years old when he appeared on Carson's Tonight Show, and after doing his standup routine he was invited to come sit on the couch and talk to the host, a sign of appreciation from the TV legend that had to be earned. Prinze was the youngest standup to receive the honor.

Although Prinze enjoyed success as an actor, comedian and singer, he suffered from depression which ultimately was his undoing. We can only imagine what might have been.

'Chico And The Man' Tried To Go On Without Prinze

After Prinze’s death during the 3rd season in 1977, NBC considered cancelling the show, outright. After careful consideration, they attempted to make a go of it. They wrote Chico out of the script by portraying that he had gone to visit his father in Mexico. In the 4th season, the writers attempted to replace Chico’s character with 12-year-old, Raul (Gabriel Melgar), who was an orphan, later adopted by Ed. Ed saw something in Raul that reminded him of Chico. While Raul was a lovable character and the fact that the script played out by focusing on him as well as the other characters, the show never really gained back the momentum it once had.  

Tags: Career-Defining Moments | Chico And The Man | Freddie Prinze | TV In The 1970s

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Rebeka Knott

Writer

Rebeka grew up in the 1960’s & 1970’s and has always subscribed to the theory that a positive attitude will take you far! She is a wife and mother of 3 with a fun-loving spirit, believing that family and relationships are invaluable.