Catching Shade From Your (and the Beastie Boys') Favorite TV Cop
WHY YOU SHOULD CARE
Because fame is a weird two-way wonder.
By Eugene S. Robinson
After seeing The French Connection, William Friedkin’s 1971 policier about the grittier side of New York cops and crooks, I was caught. In rapid succession I inhaled them all: Serpico, The Seven-Ups and the TV shows, first Toma and then Baretta. Then at the end of a four-year run when the formula had started to run thin, Starsky & Hutch hit in 1975.
A cop drama, lovingly lampooned in the Beastie Boys’ video “Sabotage,” it offered a twist. Sure it was gritty and had all of the outsized macho elements in place. But by the mid-’70s, Starsky & Hutch had hit on a funny bone. Not a full-on dramedy, it used comedy to leaven the heaviness that had become standard. And the comedic foil to Hutch, the more serious half (played by David Soul, who in another twist shared a birthday with me), was Starsky.
Played by Paul Michael Glaser, Starsky became a fan favorite, in the same way and for sort of the same reasons that Ringo was a lot of people’s favorite Beatle. He was hilarious and never seemed like he wasn’t having a good time.
So imagine my surprise in 2006 — 27 years after the show shone for the last time in anything but reruns — when with my daughter on my shoulders, none other than Starsky pulled up next to me at a horse corral in Southern California.
All of my daughters were obsessed with vaulting, a kind of gymnastics on horseback, and the sport took us all over the place, often to the edge of horse corrals to watch people flip and twist on and off the backs of trotting horses. Thrilling and a little scary. Standing at the railing, it was very much how I felt: STARSKY’s here.
But before I could turn my brief glance into the bloom of full recognition, he had started to do that thing to me that’s very particular to people in Los Angeles with even the slightest bit of juice. He started giving me what I’ve come to call the “Hollywood Fade.” It’s a combination of “Look at me, don’t talk to me” and “Oh, my god, the rigors of fame … but if I must!”
Which in the brief interregnum between him being recognized and me recognizing the Fade, had the effect of just making me … I would say angry here because that seems more macho, but it wouldn’t be true: It just made me sad.
See, I had loved the sweater-sporting Starsky through the show’s entire run and even its racially dubious politic of street hustlers (balanced out by a Black police chief, but still). Beyond that I followed Glaser’s career as an actor, director, poet, photographer and even the much-publicized deaths of his wife and young daughter, victims of then-nascent AIDS. His public owning of it during a time when people were still weird about it was … righteous.
So to get shade from him? Nah. This would not stand. I turned my Fade up to STUN.
Which was easy since my daughter Ruby and I were yammering about the competition and the runs of her teammates and her and her sisters’ runs. There was a lot to talk about. I could hear Glaser snapping photos next to me and so, yeah: detente.
And then: “Have you done this sport long?”
I stared straight ahead. I mean at 240 pounds, no one wanted me to be doing any flips on horseback. Which is to say: He wasn’t talking to me.
“Yeah!” And he and Ruby chatted back and forth, easily, comfortably. He was just a 63-year-old guy with a camera to her. Not the driver of a badass Gran Turino whose hood he was routinely sliding across on his way to apprehend “street scum.”
Well, good for them. My feelings were still hurt and I was in a snit and would not be mollified. Eventually their conversation wound down enough for me to say, “Come on, kid. Let’s see how your sisters are doing.”
And then the strangest of strange things happened. As I turned to my left to go, Ruby still riding on my shoulders, Glaser turned to his right and forward a bit. Facing me dead-on now, he was blocking my path, and for the first time since my thwarted glimpse, I looked at him. That is, I returned his look.
His look? A mixture of “Eh?! Eh?!?” and “I look like anybody you know?!?!”
Then I got it. He had wanted the romance of being what he once was, something I was denying him in my pique. And it was so … charming? That I had no compunction at all about giving it to him.
“Huge fan of your work.”
He, Starsky, Paul Michael Glaser, stepped back. Courtly almost. And he bowed his head and mouthed the words: “Thank you.”
“Have a nice day.” And off we went. I tried to explain to Ruby what had happened, and she listened, but I didn’t raise my kids with television so she listened and heard but didn’t necessarily grasp how crazy of a moment this brief moment was for me.
Starsky. Goddamn it! I loved that guy. And now I will tweet this at him to tell him so.