Jun 18, 2013

Chico and the Man: Anglo-Hispanic Gay Couple

There were lots of African-American characters on tv in the 1970s, but Hispanic actors continued to find themselves cast as Anglo or Italian.  Freddie Prinze was one of the first to be cast as Hispanic.  The stand-up comedian (actually half Puerto Rican, half German) entertained audiences with dialect stories and catchphrase like "Ees not my job!"  Appearances on Jack Paar and The Tonight Show led the 21-year old to a star vehicle, Chico and the Man (1974-78).










Auto garage owner Ed (Jack Albertson, Grandpa in Charlie and the Chocolate Factory) is elderly, crotchety, widowed, and depressed -- until Chico (Freddie Prinze) arrives, looking for a job and a place to live.  At first the bigoted Anglo  rebuffs Chico with ethnic slurs and general nastiness -- but Chico likes Ed -- a lot -- so he keeps coming back, keeps trying, until finally, his resistance lowered, Ed allows himself to love again.  Um...I mean, the two become friends.










Who were they kidding?  They were the most obvious gay couple in 1970s tv.  All they needed was a scene of the two holding hands.














Wait, there was one.













Freddie was handsome, and obviously gifted beneath the belt, but he gave fans few shirtless shots, not even when he was interviewed for Playgirl.  

The world was shocked when the superstar, who had just signed a multi-year, multi-million dollar contract with NBC, committed suicide on January 28, 1977.  Stories appeared about depression, drug abuse, marital estrangement.

NBC bizarrely tried to continue Chico and the Man without him.  They finished up the third season with Chico "visiting his father in Mexico," and then had Ed meeting and adopting the preteen Raul (Gabriel Melgar).  But in one episode, Raul finds Chico's old guitar, and Ed explains that it belonged to someone he loved who died.  He's been widowed twice.

A tv movie about Freddie's life appeared in 1979: Can You Hear the Laughter?  The Freddie Prinze Story, starring Ira Angustain.