As a stand-up comedian Freddie Prinze, whose comedy performances were famous for a political edge that was poignant and raw, frequently took to the stage sans prepared material. Prinze was a self-titled "observation comic" whose routines included impressions of ethnic minorities and film stars such as Marlon Brando. One of his most famous impersonations was of his Puerto Rican apartment building superintendent who, when asked to fix a problem in the complex, would say with a thick accent, "Eez not my yob." The line became a national catch phrase in the early 1970s.
Because he was a heavyset child, Freddie Prinze's mother enrolled him in ballet classes at an early age to help him reduce his weight. Even though Prinze aspired to be a star --in particular, a musical entertainer, and not a dancer-- Freddie would later continue his ballet studies while attending Fiorello H. LaGuardia High School for Music & Art and Performing Arts.
Although born Frederick Karl Pruetzel, Freddie Prinze changed his name to its Spanish derivative, Frederico Carlos, and billed himself as Freddie Prinze. According to his friend and fellow comedian, David Brenner, Freddie's last name selection was his second choice. He wanted to be known as the "King" of comedy, but since comedian Alan King had already assumed that name, he settled for Prinze, a play on the word "prince."
Freddie Prinze, who had many rumored romances with glamorous Hollywood types, was a self-proclaimed lover of older women. His wife, Katherine Cochran, was three years his senior.
Reacting to Freddie Prinze's first appearance on The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson, Carson said "You know, there's no greater thrill personally [than to be a comedian] who's unknown, and stand up in front of an audience and wipe them out on there first appearance coast to coast."
In 2001, the TV Land cable television network briefly resurrected the successful 1970s sitcom Chico and the Man, airing it in rerun twice daily. Repeating the comedy series, which starred Freddie Prince, rekindled its initial fans' interest and the show became popular once more, earning it and Prince a whole new generation of followers. At present, TV Land occasionally presents an episode of Chico and the Man.
There are various arguments as to why Freddie Prinze described his ethnic background the way he did. Prinze was born and raised in the Hispanic milieu of the Washington Heights section of New York City, a working poor, multi-ethnic neighborhood on the Upper West Side. His father, Karl, was a German immigrant from post-Nazi Germany, who worked as a tool and die maker and his mother, Maria, was a Puerto Rican factory worker. Some sources, including Freddie's own biography (as told by his mother), say his father was a Hungarian Jew. Freddie's death certificate does not support this allegation, listing his father as being born in Germany. Playing on the name "Nuyorican," as many New York Puerto Ricans identify themselves, Freddie described himself as "Hungarican," although he considered himself to be Puerto Rican.
Freddie Prinze and Katherine Cochran, a travel agent Prinze met while vacationing in Wyoming in 1975, where married in Las Vegas in August of that same year. The couple's only child, Freddie James Prinze, whose middle name was after James Komack, the producer of Prinze's NBC sitcom, Chico and the Man, was born on March 8, 1976 in Albuquerque, New Mexico. Fearing Freddie's escalating drug dependence was endangering her and their baby's safety, Katherine filed for divorce just fifteen months after she and Prinze had wed.
Freddie Prinze's fame allowed him to squire several attractive female performers, including actresses Lisa Farringer, Pam Grier, and Raquel Welch. He was also linked to Kitty Bruce, whose father, controversial comic Lenny Bruce, was one of Prinze's idols. At one time, it was rumored that Freddie and Ms. Bruce were engaged, but that claim was never substantiated.
As well as a diverse ethnic background, Freddie Prinze came from a broad religious background. His part Jewish father and his Roman Catholic mother chose to send him to a Lutheran elementary school as a compromise. Upon his mother's insistence, Freddie attended Catholic Mass on Sundays.
Freddie Prince was raised in Washington Heights, New York, where fellow Latino notables, professional baseball players Manuel "Manny" Ramirez (Los Angeles Dodgers), Alex "A-Rod" Rodriguez (New York Yankees) and Baseball Hall of Fame member Rod Carew, also grew up.
Freddie Prinze was nominated for a 1977 Golden Globe in the category of Best Performance by an Actor in a Television Series - Musical or Comedy for his role as upbeat, optimistic Chicano street kid Chico Rodriquez in Chico and the Man. He and his fellow nominees, Hal Linden (Barney Miller), Alan Alda (M*A*S*H), Sammy Davis Jr. (Sammy and Company), Michael Constantine (Sirota's court), and Tony Randall (The Tony Randall Show), lost to Henry Winkler for his portrayal of Arthur "Fonzie" Fonzarelli in Happy Days.
Freddie Prinze: (about comedy) When you think about it, it borders on masochism. If someone from another planet saw a comedian standing up in front of a crowd of people who were laughing at him, he'd say, 'You're sick.' It's crying out for attention, and getting it. It's saying, 'Look at me!'
Freddie Prinze: I never saw Lenny Bruce, but I know all about him. I heard every tape. I talked with his mother. His daughter is like a sister to me. Can you imagine missing someone you never knew?
Freddie Prinze: (in response to Johnny Carson's interview remark about him attaining show business success in less that a year) I've been busier than a set of jumper cables at a Puerto Rican funeral.
Freddie Prinze: It was rough on the streets; you had to keep a step ahead of everyone just to survive. You could do it if you were tough-- or if you were funny. I was funny.