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Starsky and Hutch screech onto big screen.

Byline: Scott Maben The Register-Guard

Were you a fan, man? Did you groove to the swinging duo in the Red Tomato as they swept the mean streets of Bay City on the prowl for pimps, muggers and dope pushers?

Or were you hot for Huggy Bear?

Right on. Cool.

The wildly popular, vintage '70s television show "Starsky and Hutch" - and all the jive-talkin', bell-bottomed, tire-squealing action it spawned - is hip again with Friday's release of the big-screen comedy spoof (or is it an homage?) starring Ben Stiller and Owen Wilson. Marathon reruns of the original series already are building on the renewed interest in '70s nostalgia.

But flash back nearly three decades, to late 1975. The Vietnam War was winding down. President Ford survived two assassination attempts. NASA launched the Viking 1 planetary probe toward Mars. The freighter SS Edmund Fitzgerald sank in a storm on Lake Superior. And Bill Gates penned a letter to Paul Allen using the term "Micro-soft" to describe the emerging technology of microcomputer software.

That fall, TV viewers tuned in to ABC to watch the premiere of an hourlong cop buddy show starring Paul Michael Glaser as Dave Starsky and David Soul as Ken Hutchinson, a pair of plainclothes detectives and happy bachelors. Bernie Hamilton played their long-suffering captain and Antonio Fargas portrayed the memorable Huggy Bear, the laid-back, flashy, savvy snitch - and presumed pimp.

The other key cast member was the bright-red '74 Ford Gran Torino that Starsky and Hutch used to cruise, screech and speed through each episode. It was the coolest car on TV, until Bo and Luke Duke climbed into General Lee and led Sheriff Roscoe P. Coltrane across the dusty back roads of Hazzard County.

With a "wakka-chicka" theme song leading off each week's adventure, the police drama tried to be cutting edge and unconventional, in spite of some tired plot lines and cliched characters. Old cop shows are fertile ground for contemporary satire. But the original show took itself seriously, tackling somber themes such as drug use and prostitution. The episode titles alone revealed the perilous world in which these "bad" heroes moved: "Savage Sunday," "Death Ride," "Terror on the Docks," "A Coffin for Starsky" and "Kill Huggy Bear."

Yet it also was fun to watch and appealed to a young audience. This was no "Dragnet" or "Adam-12." The show had sex appeal, with female fans developing crushes on the health-conscious, blond Soul and the junk-food-loving Glaser's dark, curly locks.

Dozens of ubiquitous character actors from the '70s guest starred, including Richard Kiel, Lynda Carter, Veronica Hamel, Kristy McNichol, Jeff Goldblum, Joan Collins, Scatman Crothers and Danny DeVito. The first season alone featured John Ritter, Suzanne Somers and Norman Fell, all of whom went on to star in "Three's Company."

After a four-season run, the 88 episodes went into syndication, and today they symbolize some of the most laughable stereotypes of the decade.

Both leads continued their acting careers, and Soul became a recording artist to boot. Glaser went on to direct several movies, including the 1996 Shaquille O'Neal flop, "Kazaam."


An Internet guide to the hunks in the Red Tomato with the jive stripe.
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Title Annotation:Entertainment
Publication:The Register-Guard (Eugene, OR)
Date:Mar 7, 2004
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