Mar 13, 2013

Bruce Penhall, the Last Star of CHIPS

At the end of the fifth season of CHIPS, the tv series about California Highway Patrol officers, Larry Wilcox left the series, so in the sixth season (1982-83), they needed a new cop hunk to pair with Erik Estrada's Ponch.  They hired 23-year old Tom Reilly, a former college football stat with one previous acting credit (Paper Dolls, a tv movie about fashion models),  as the brash Bobby "Hot Dog" Nelson.  But he and Erik Estrada didn't hit it off, especially after Tom was arrested for drug possession.

So 25-year old Bruce Penhall (left) came on board, with skills helpful for the stunt driving required by CHIPS: he was the World Motorcycle Speedway Champion of 1981-82, plus an accomplished auto racer. 

He played  Bobby's "younger" brother Bruce Nelson, an eager cadet who often tagged along with them, or mounted his own investigations and got into scrapes.  In some of the later episodes, Bobby was nowhere to be seen, and Ponch and Bruce had the adventure together. 

The eyes of gay boys and heterosexual girls were fixed on the tall, blond, blue-eyed man-mountain, and the teen magazines obliged with countless full-page semi-nude and swimsuit photos (while giving Tom Reilly an occasional quarter-page shot). 

 After Chips, Bruce continued his motorcycle career, but acting roles were less promising. He starred in several softcore porn actioners about female detectives with big breasts (Do or Die, Hard Hunted, Fit to Kill), and returned for the reunion Chips '99 (1998).