THE PRINZE OF COMEDY

6 Dec

37 years ago tonight, on Thursday, December 6, 1973 Freddie Prinze became a star.

Freddie Prinze with Johnny Carson on a later "Tonight Show" appearance, circa 1975.

That was the night the young comedian made his first appearance on “The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson.” Throughout Carson’s 30 year reign, stand-up comedians vied for a coveted spot on “Tonight” because one good performance could literally give you a career. And while Carson rarely invited a new comedian to sit down after their first appearance, a simple “OK” sign from the “King of Late Night” was like the Good Housekeeping Seal of Approval.

Publicity photo of Freddie Prinze sent to fans of "Chico and the Man"

On December 6, 1973 Sammy Davis Jr. was seated to Johnny’s right as 19-year old Freddie Prinze came on stage for the most important performance of his life. While the audience loved him, and Carson was impressed, some say it was Davis’s fawning over the comic that prompted Johnny to wave Freddie over to the chair.

Publicity photo of Freddie Prinze sent to fans, circa 1974.

While better gigs and more money did follow for Prinze, it was more important that producer James Komack, was watching “The Tonight Show” that night.  Komack was in the process of creating the sit-com “Chico and the Man” and that confluence of circumstances would change Prinze’s life. Nine months after that fateful “Tonight Show” appearance “Chico and the Man” starring Freddie Prinze and veteran actor Jack Albertson premiered on NBC.

Letter to fans that accompanied the previous photos.

And so, a good performance on “The Tonight Show” literally gave Prinze a career. I don’t mean to suggest that he didn’t earn it; rather I’m trying to emphasize the power of Johnny Carson’s “Tonight Show,” especially in the 1970s.

Autograph sign by Freddie Prinze on September 27, 1974, after a taping of "The $25,000 Pyramid"

Freddie Prinze became a sit-com star, a Vegas headliner, and a guest host on “The Tonight Show.” He recorded a comedy album and starred in a TV movie. Prinze also had a drug problem. And in January 1977 Freddie Prinze died from a self-inflicted gunshot wound to the head. 

Publicity photo of Prinze in "Chico and the Man" that was sent to NBC stations.

Few know that Prinze was not making his network debut that December evening. Months earlier he had performed on Jack Paar’s late night show on ABC without much notice. But it was “The Tonight Show” that mattered and Prinze would always refer to his December 6, 1973 appearance as his TV debut. Sadly, viewers only got to enjoy Freddie Prinze for a little more than 3 years before his career and his life came to a tragic end.

But that story, dear friends, is best saved for another date in TV history.

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3 Responses to “THE PRINZE OF COMEDY”

  1. Barbara Willson June 20, 2013 at 12:27 pm #

    With regard to the debut performance of Freddie Prinze on the Jack Paar Show, it is true that few people seem to know that the Paar Show performance predates the Carson Show performance. But I know it, because I watched the show. Charlton Heston was also a guest. He and Paar commented on how in years to come they would both tell the story with pride that they were there with Freddie in person on the show which introduced him to the world. I always recalled it.

  2. V White January 10, 2015 at 3:27 pm #

    Too bad such a wonderful, funny person had so many demons. I guess I’ll never understand why people think illegal/legal drugs does so much for you. Drugs can heal, however it can also destroy. It’s up to the individual to ask God which drug is best for you. Make sure it is God talking to you and not the DEMON!!!!! God be with all of you.

Trackbacks/Pingbacks

  1. < SAMMY! « Raised by TV - December 8, 2010

    […] was 5 years old. What I do know, and do remember, is that I sat in the audience of a show starring Sammy Davis Jr. and guest Art Carney, which was taped in that studio. According to IMDb, Carney was a guest on the […]

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