Freddie's younger years in Washington Heights
From Bananas Vol 1 1975:
"I was always as funny when I was a kid," Freddie says. "I was always imitating my mother’s accent and doing bits. Then one day I got beat up by a bunch of guys. The next time I saw them coming, I started yelling one-liners at them. They cracked up. Before long, I was doing half-hour comedy bits in the boys’ room at school. Kids used to ask each other, ‘When’s Freddie playing the boys’ room today?’ Being funny was my way to survive."
Freddie in his early teens
The building where Freddie once grew up in the
poor area of Washington Heights Freddie lived in apartment 64 at 550 West 157th Street
Freddie (second from the left) in Kindergarten
Freddie, top center, with classmates
Freddie enjoyed playing drums
Riding merry-go-round at Palisades Park
Riding the family car. (1960)
Freddie celebrates his third birthday surrounded by girls, ofcourse
Hi Suzanne! Your absolutely right, next Tuesday is Fred's 50th birthday.
When I told Maria about your request she was happy to share about Fred's birthdays. In fact she can't believe that she is still with us to see the day. She says that Freddie's birthdays were a great time of celebration back in NYC. He always had a nice birthday cake with lettering and candles on it, even though his favorite desserts were strawberry shortcake and pistachio ice cream. The apartment would fill up with friends and family and it was as much a party for the adults as it was for the kids. Fred's dad and grandmother would provide some of the entertainment by playing songs on a baby grand piano. Grandmother Eleanor Shultter Pruetzel (I hope I'm spelling her name right) was formerly an opera singer and concert pianist in Germany and would sing "Ave Maria" in English, as well as birthday songs. She lived to be about 98 years of age. At one birthday Fred joined a group of boys that wanted to start a band and played the drums and bongos to the delight of the adults. A great time was had by all and Freddie was the center of attraction and a lot of love. As you may know, on his 15th birthday he decided to dedicate himself to comedy and the rest is history. ..
It was really nice to hear Maria laugh as she reminisced about Fred's birthdays. Thanks for your request and I hope it is as heart warming for you as it was for me.
Luis A. Rivera
June 24, 2004
Freddie's performance of West Side Story
Freddie learned a great deal, but there was one thing he didn't like about the school. "They didn't’teach comedy. They’d stress how tough it was going to be when we got out of school. That was a realistic approach, but it didn't give us much of a chance to dream. I did OK in most subjects. I was good in history and geometry. English and Spanish were no problem. But my best subject was lunch!"
Economics gave him problems, thought. It was his first class of the day and he had trouble getting there in time for it. "In the summer of 1972, before my senior year in high school, I was doing comedy bits in the neighborhood and a guy said to me, ‘Hey, there’s a place called the Improvisation. You ought to go there.’ That sounded great. I wanted to act! I had spent the two previous summers doing West Side Story in street productions around New York. So I joined the improvisation group and really did well. I started going every night during my senior year. I’d get up early and go to school from 8:20 A.M. to 2:25 P.M. From there I’d go to dance class. Four days a week I’d usher in a movie house- then I’d go perform with the group. After that I’d take the subway home and end up getting about three hours of sleep a night."
His economics teacher didn’t think kindly of his budding career. "At the end of the year I passed drama, which is what I was there for, but I failed economics, so they wouldn't give me my diploma. They gave it to me almost a year later when I went back to do a benefit performance. On stage I did a bit about not getting my diploma. Afterwards, the principal said,’ you didn’t get your diploma?’ I said no. I ended up getting it, so everything came out OK."
Life was never dull in Freddie’s household. "We lived in a bad neighborhood, but we were OK. We were pretty much middle class. We had good times. My older half brother, Eddie, and I slept in the same room. We used to tease my half sister, Rita. We’d tell her she was adopted and had a year to go on her probationary period. She believed us! We’d say, ‘Go get us a soda or you’ll have to go back.’ It worked out find until she discovered the truth. Then she stopped running errands for us!"
"My best friend was black, another was Polish, one was Italian, some were Puerto Rican.... Sure, we had gangs. I belonged to the Purple Aces and the Social Lords. All your friends were in them. If you weren’t they made you miserable!"
I played some football till I was 16. Then someone thought it would be good to eat my knee."
He tried a number of jobs in his spare time. "Once I worked in a factory putting heels on shoes. It was in Brooklyn. It to me an hour to get there on the subway. I got paid $1.55 an hour. I did it because I wanted to buy a set of drums."
From TV Closeups
Scholastic Arrow Book Club
NEIGHBORHOOD HI-JINKS--Freddie Prinze, star of NBC-TV's new comedy series "Chico and the Man," takes time out to engage in hi-jinks on a recent visit to his old neighborhood in Manhattan's Washington Heights.
The show is colorcast Fridays (8:30-9:00p.m. NYT) on the NBC Telvision Network.
Freddie took the train every morning with my sister Wanda. She went to another high school but they rode together. They became pretty good friends.Funny how he lived on 157th Street, but he hardly ever came out to play with the rest of us as kids. He was someone people saw and said hi to, but his crowd was elsewhere (I think). I am just a few months older than he, but I didn't meet him until we were young teenagers. I wonder where he was all that time? When I ask other kids from the neighborhood, they say the same. Anyway, he was quite the guy. I used to call him the "barrelina" because he would dance like one. He was tall and did these jumps and twirls much like a ballerina. Freddie went to all of my high school dances at Mother Cabrini High School (all girls school) and some of the ones at Bishop Dubois(all boys school). We had a lot of fun with him!! The last time I saw him was just before he died. He was getting into a cab on the corner of 157th St. I had just reached the corner when I saw him. He looked right into my eyes. Neither of us said a word. I was hesitant because, after all, he was famous. He hesitated as well, but I knew that he remembered me. He got into the cab and it sped away. I will always regret not having talked to him, or at least waved hello. I wish things had been different for him.
Rona Barrett’s Gossip Magazine May 1975:
Interview with Freddie Prinze:
Q. Can you recall your very first ambition in life?A. To be liked. Because when I was very little I was fat, a fat little kid.
Q. Were you "outcast" because you were fat and you felt inferior?A. No, I was just doing something all the time that nobody could understand... And coming from a Puerto Rican/Hungarian background, I always felt Puerto Rican. My father even spoke Spanish and he’s Hungarian. Then I was a hooky player and I got left back in 7th grade and, about this time, I started getting slim, taller, and filling out and started taking self- defense classes and started dancing ballet which ruined my credibility in the neighborhood. So then I played football to balance it out.
Q. How did you get into comedy?A. Well, I always wanted to make people laugh. In my neighborhood, there was a lot of sadness. A lot of things like shootings and all kinds of things.
Q. When did you start looking towards entertainment as a career?A. When I decided that I was too lazy to do a regular job. Honestly!
Q. Did you think at the time that acting and comedy would be an "easy life"?
A. No, I just thought that it would be more of the kinds of thing that I would like to do... where I could choose my own destiny. Then I said: "Oh I’ll try for the High School for the Performing Arts in New York City." And I went in there as a Sophomore in High School and I was taking drama and ballet all the time and I was doing good with acting. Yet they were very regimented, very phony. So I would cut classes to go to the bathroom and the guys would come in and hang out and I’d start doing "bits" on the teachers outside. After a year of this, I realized I was drawing fans in the men’s room. Even girls were coming in the men’s room! One day the principal walked in and said, "We are having a cabaret night next week, a talent show, and you’re going to perform there."
I had no set bits of material, just off the top of my head, and I went out and they were laughing and I got them. As it turns out, I was on for one hour and 15 minutes! So I got a manager, a man saw me and he was really nice and he wasn’t trying to beat me or anything, so I signed with him. And then the Jack Paar people called my manager and told him they had a few shows coming up. I did the show and I killed them. I ripped them up and Charlton Heston, at the end, said; "I’ll be glad to say in five years that I was on the first show that he was ever on!" and I thought WOW!
Q. How did your parents feel about you wanting to make it in show business?
A. I have to thank them because they always were behind me whatever I did. They said: "Okay. If it’s wrong, you’ll find out. We can’t shelter you all your life, do it on your own!" Especially my mother. she’s what I call a "heavy down spic." She’s say: "Go ahead, do what you want, but if you fall and break your behind, don’t complain to me. Be a man."
Q. Do you have brothers and sisters?
A. Yes. An older brother, Eddie, and an older sister, Edith. Yes I am "the baby" of the family.
Q. Are either of them in show business?
A. No. My brother is a contractor in Puerto Rico and my sister is married and has wasted her life, because in this country that’s what women are taught to do... "Hey, marry yourself a good man, wash clothes, etc."
Q. Do you believe that marriage for a woman is a waste?
A. Depending on who they marry. My sister was going to be a doctor- she’s brilliant. She was in medical school and she met some shlub who swept her off her feet and she gave it all up ‘cause he said: "Well, I won’t marry unless my wife stays home and kids, etc."
Q. How did your neighborhood friends react to you when you maybe said to them that you wanted to be a comedian?
A. After I went through the "fatboy" trip, I was accepted and they all said: "Hey, he’s a funny dude" and I said I was going to do it for money and they said: "Yeah I wish you all the luck in the world. We hope you get out."
##Thanks Luckymama for the fabulous articles and Miss Dani for the picture of Freddie
Yearbook pictures taken Jan/Feb 1973.
Believed to have been signed early 1974 Courtesy of Connie Comisi
My name is Connie Comisi , and I went to the HS of Performing Arts with Freddie. In fact, the two of us shared a page together in our Class of 1973 yearbook. He was the first "guy" friend I had in my life. We shared really fun times together, and were quite relaxed with each other, since I knew he liked lots of my girl friends in the school....it was never flirting, with me....were were just pals. He made me laugh, and I helped him get through some rough academic hurdles. I am sure Freddie was smarter than I was academically; it was just that he wanted to focus on his talents (and he had a great deal of talent: acting, comedy, singing, dancing ...he did it all!!!). He was so much more mature than I was, as he was living such a fast paced life already at that time, working towards what he wanted to do for the rest of his life; and I was just doing the normal high school thing...
I always chuckle when I think of the times Freddie would call my house for help with a math homework assignment, and my Dad would get annoyed when we were on the phone for a long time, as it was getting late, and he would say : What's the matter with that boy, doesn't he listen in class....he should, you know, cause that is what you need to do to be successful....A few years later, when Freddie was a great success on TV, and my dad saw him on Johnny Carson...I heard him say to my mom: I knew that kid would be something!!!!
Freddie, did not make graduation as he was already on his way to the big time, and our economics teacher had given him a rough time, so he had not signed my yearbook then. However, about a year later, my friends mom had seen that Freddie was performing at a NY comedy club, so she took me and I went backstage with my yearbook and he signed it. His name appears in the yearbook below his picture as Freddie Preutzel, however he signed my yearbook, with a funny little note ending with Peace, Freddie Prinze.
I am pleased that his son has become a successful entertainer
I went to school with him until he left, before 8th grade. I am trying to remember how many years he was with us. Maybe from 5th to 7th grades. We sat next to eachother in 7th grade, when we had Mr James West for our homeroom. I find it rather odd that the Lutheran school is never mentioned by name, but it was St. Matthew Lutheran School and Church. They have recently demolished it due to $$ problems. It was the oldest Missouri Synod Lutheran Church in America. Was 300 years old in 1964, and located on Sherman Ave, NY, NY. (I have been in touch with the principal in the last year or so.) To us, Freddy was a class clown, and this seemed to get him into trouble.... alot! haha I can remember one time, in 5th grade in Mrs. Bohls class, when he was popping his finger in his mouth, making a loud "pop" as he popped his finger out of the side of his mouth. I felt bad when he had to stand in front of the class and had to do this for maybe 50X. Mrs. Bohl was strict!! He never was really a mean kid, and always talked about being a big name. Of course, when you are in grammar school, who thinks that someone will REALLY make it big? I was living in Fl when the show started and a fellow classmate, Christine Turner, called me and asked "what did I think of the new guy on the show?" I told her I thought he was cute and so funny. She excitedly told me "that's Freddy Pretzel", she could never remember his right name and called him Pretzel, not Pruetzel. Chrissy was always like that, had a hard time remembering the right pronunciation. I honestly had no idea that it was him, as it had been maybe 4-5 years since we had seen him. He turned out to be a great guy, and all of his joking really paid off. I was in shock when he died like that. I remember I was at work and heard it on the radio. Just pure shock and what a waste. Only 22, my same age. He would be 55 now, depending on his birthday. I will be 56 next month. It was great to see his son follow in his footsteps, and wonder why he never used his real name.
A look back at the most versatile and talented actor comedian ever! Remembering the legendary Hungarican Freddie Prinze