Tucsaonan Isaac Ruiz almost had the lead role in the 1970's
sitcom 'Chico and the Man' and became great friends with the man who beat him out, Freddie Prinze.
Citizen Assistant Living Editor
Ruiz made the audience go 'nuts'
Cable TV network TVLand kicked off a 48 - hour marathon of
the classic situation comedy "Chico and the Man" this morning, running through 4 am. Monday. It's a show that Tucsonan Isaac
Ruiz looks back at with fondness and sadness.
Ruiz was on the show from 1974-77, playing the role of Mando,
the friend of Chico's, played by Freddie Prinze. Jack Albertson played garage owner Ed Brown ( the Man), and Scatman Crothers
played Louie the garbage collector.
"I think the humor will stand up real well, especially the
shows from the first season, all of them directed by Peter Baldwin," said Ruiz, now a corprate relations officer for Dedicated
Dental Service. "Peter really pushed for quality, regardless of the cost.
"There was tremenous chemistry on the show. There was that
spark between Jack and Freddie. We worked hard to get things right, but we had alot of fun too."
The show will go on a regular weekly rotation on TVLand,
starting Monday. It will air at 10:00 p.m. Tucsan time.
Ruiz left the show after the 1976-1977 season following Prinze's
death on Jan. 29,1977, from a self - inflicted gunshot wound to the head. Prinze had a drug problem and was going through
a bitter divorce at the time.
"What a waste. That was so sad, some of the toughest days
in my life," said Ruiz.
Ruiz had dropped by the set earlier on Jan.27, even though
he wasn't in that weeks episode, because Prinze had seemed so unhappy when they had talked on the phone the day earlier.
"Freddie was in bad shape that, barely able to work," Ruiz
recalled." I had my wife and baby boy with me, and he came up and hugged us and held my son for a while. He was going through
the divorce and wasn't able to see his son ( now actor Freddie Prinze Jr.) and he missed him terribly. He asked me how I was,
and I said I was surving. And the last thing he said to me was, "Zack, you've always been a survivor.' And a little
while later he was gone."
Prinze shot himself Jan.28 but wasn't taken off the respirator
untill the following day.
" I was hoping for a miracle, but there wasn't going to be
one," Ruiz said.
Ruiz had a close relationship with Prinze, who would often
try out his stand-up- comedy routines on him.
" He thought I was his toughest critic, so if he could
get me to laugh, he knew his stuff was good," Ruiz said. "He was a good guy. A lot of stories floating around him are just
Ruiz chuckled about how after Prinze's death, people were
making a big deal about Prinze showing up late for rehersals and tapings that last season.
"Well Freddie was always late. He was never on time," Ruiz
said, laughing. " He would peek into our meeting room from an angle where only I could see him, to get the reaction
about how mad Jack was. Jack was always early, and he'd get bummed sometimes about Freddie being late. So I'd give him
a sign, and then he acted accordingly to try to smooth things over with Jack."
Ruiz originally tried out for the Chico part. He, Prinze
and Larazo Perez made the final cut. The actors, along with James Komack, the show's executive producer, and other NBC brass
went to Toronto, where Albertson was preforming the stage version of " The Sunshine Boys", so screen tests could be made.
"Jimmy Komack told me that it was really between me and Freddie
for the part of Chico, that only NBC president liked Lazaro, " Ruiz said. "A little while later, Jimmy showed me
the test of Freddie with Jack. They obviously worked well together, and I was naive enough to say that to Jimmy when he asked
me about it. I should of said, " No, I was better." But they liked me so much, they made sure I was a part of the show."
Ruiz, 57, was 31 when he auditioned for the role of Chico.
"I lied about my age," he said with a laugh. "They all thought
I was 22. Freddie was only 20, I believe, at the time, I looked 22, but if they had known how old I was, they would have gone
with someone younger to play Mando."
The show dragged on for another year without Prinze, with
12 year old Gabriel Melgar joining the cast, the ratings sagged, the show was canceled.
"Who knows? Maybe we could have gone on for years if Freddie
had lived," Ruiz said. "It was a groundbreaking show with a Hispanic in a main role. It really opened the door for alot of
Ruiz continued to act after the series ended, doing guest
roles on TV series, filming several movies and doing many commercials. But he got tired of the Hollywood scene and left for
Arizona in 1983.
He has a couple of photo albums his mother compiled from
those days and hopes to meet Freddie Prinze Jr. this year to show them to him.
" I'm sure I have alot of things that he has never seen,
that a few people have never seen," Ruiz said. "I'm glad Freddie Jr. is doing well. I know his dad would of been
proud of him."
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