The Undiluted South Bronx Truth About Freddie Prinze
There is a dearth of incensed Chicanos in Philadelphia, and so beneath the Governor’s Suite of the Benjamin Franklin Hotel, there are no pickets protesting the ethnic unconsciousness of Chico and the Man, only a tangle of adolescents with troubled skins sulking under Cover Girl, television viewers of various races and sexes frozen to the pavement beside the always attending limousine, waiting to glimpse the Governor’s Suite occupant, whom they refer to never as Freddie, always as Chico. In Hollywood, where the series is assembled, the waiting crowds have been sullen, comprised as they’ve been of representatives from the Model Cities Center for Law and Justice, the faculty of the Hispanic Urban Center, every ethnic-minority actor who wasn’t currently working (because of TV’s burgeoning ethnicity, most were), and even, incredibly, Chico’s associate producer, who is a Chicano and actually told a reporter that his new effort was “cheap, demeaning and offensive” to all Americans of Mexican descent. Of course the publicity gleaned by the enraged outside NBC, Burbank, didn’t hurt the new series’s spectacular Nielsens; neither did the press coverage of the hurried rewrite conferences, the apologetic deletions from Chico scripts of lines for Jack Albertson, the “Man,” such as “Get out of here and take your flies with you,” or “This was a good neighborhood when the Mexicans knew their place – Mexico.”
But the fans at the West Coast studio gates remain suspicious, while in Philadelphia, where Freddie Prinze has come to cohost the Mike Douglas Show, they are ecstatic just to touch Chico’s limousine, though they wait for its passenger in vain, in rain. When Freddie exits now into public streets, his black eyes hooded, his moustache a parabola, he uses side entrances; he is, after all, even more, now, than that phenomenon undreamed of through all the cultures until ours, an entertainer who materializes weekly in 50 million living rooms; he is media’s newest heroic synthesization, the macho-ghetto avatar, the iconoclastic, theomorphic super-spic, and he could spend all day signing autographs and losing bits of his clothing. As distasteful to him as the madding fan-club crowd is the press, which can be even more abrasive, to which one may lose bits of one’s charisma, so writers must wait like the pimply fans. “The problem is, there’s been so much press. How much time’s he gotta give you, an hour or something? Freddie doesn’t like interviews. Freddie just doesn’t wanta bother anymore, unless it’s the cover of Newsweek.” The Chico producer, Jimmy Komack, yawns that into the hotel phone because one has spent hours and hours and hours sitting in another of the suites, anticipating even a word with Komack’s protégé. Komack doesn’t bother to stifle the yawns because his series is so successful that Freddie, just 20 and until September an unknown Catskills stand-up comic, no longer needs publicity, good or bad. (How curious it always seems to find those who will starve or murder for public recognition so distraught when confronted with it, so distressed at scribbling their names in autograph books, so genuinely, demonstrably burdened when faced with writers.) One has cajoled, threatened and hung about the greenroom backstage at the Douglas show and outside the locked Prinze dressing room and has, to be accurate, already had the following exchange with the star:
“Uh, hi.” This he has offered en route from the greenroom to the camera; and he has smiled, which counts as a further comment, for off camera he smiles rarely. In addition he has said into his hotel-suite phone, after answering it in a disguised voice, “Oh, hi, man, they said you were coming down from New York. Uh, what’s the name again? Whew: Philadelphia. No governor ever stayed in this hole they got me in. This hotel, you can still see the sockets where the red lights were, right? The room service guys, they all got prison tattoos.” There are pauses, for laughter: Apparently it’s his habit to carry on one-sided, one-liner phone conversations, even with strangers. No, he wouldn’t be into talking for the press tonight; maybe, urn, tomorrow. “We’ll, uh, rap all during lunch break and dinner and, who knows, maybe all night!” But of course that doesn’t quite work out: Backstage at the Douglas show, he is taut, glum, unapproachable, until the mike swings in and he is cued. “Saludos, amigos,” he begins, still off camera, “Ayee’m Fredd-dee Prinze.”
This causes bedlam in the studio audience. “I have never met anyone this young with this much ability,” Mike Douglas asserts a few minutes later, when Freddie’s brought out. There’s a second applause tidal wave. “He’s got to be the reincarnation of, hmm, another person.”
Freddie responds, “Ju-dee Garlan’, maybe?” Douglas laughs apprehensively and wants to know: How does it feel, being an overnight star?