Wednesday, May 1, 2024

Lost 1970s Show Found! The Chicago Teddy Bears


If you’re even an occasional visitor to this blog you know I’ve been making my way though the network prime time schedules for every night in the 1970s. The next feature in this series, covering Sunday 1974, will appear next week. 


My goal for this excursion, beyond the nostalgic fun of revisiting my favorite decade of television, is to find out whether it’s possible to watch at least one episode from every ‘70s prime time series. Those that remain elusive are added to a “Shows Missed” list. 


I’m not sure if I’ll ever get to see them all, but thanks to YouTube I can now remove one show from that list. 


The Chicago Teddy Bears debuted on CBS in September of 1971, and was canceled less than three months later. Only 13 episodes were produced. The odds were remote that any series this short-lived, that aired before most homes had a videocassette recorder, would be accessible outside of archives like the Paley Center. But about three weeks ago, the fourth episode of the series, entitled “The Alderman” suddenly popped up. 


Ready to take a closer look? Me, too. But first, some background.


The Chicago Teddy Bears was a situation comedy set in Prohibition-era Chicago, certainly a captivating and intense time in that city’s history. Most of the action takes place at Linc & Latzi’s, a speakeasy owned by Linc McCray (Dean Jones) and his Uncle Latzi (John Banner). The third member of the family, “Big” Nick Marr (Art Metrano) is Linc’s cousin, a gangster always looking to take over the action. He is aided by two bumbling assistants, played by a pre-MASH Jamie Farr and a post-Bowery Boys Huntz Hall. Marvin Kaplan, who will always be Choo-Choo on Top Cat to me, played the club’s nebbishy bookkeeper. 



According to Wikipedia, the series was originally conceived as a comeback vehicle for Ann Sothern, who would have played a flower vendor that tried to keep the peace between Linc and Big Nick – but she was written out of the show after the pilot. Maybe that was a mistake, because anyone who remembers her appearances as the Countess on The Lucy Show knows how she can perk up a sitcom. 


“Alderman” was certainly a familiar term from my Chicago-area upbringing, and you didn’t have to go back as far as Prohibition to find plenty of crooked ones. So it’s not surprising that in this episode, Big Nick decides to run for that office despite his shady past. Linc sees how dangerous power would be in someone that corrupt, and tries to sabotage his election. 


What’s the verdict? I guess it isn’t surprising that the show didn’t work for me, given its quick exit from the CBS schedule. Wikipedia says it ranked #70 out of 78 shows. I liked Dean Jones, though, whose natural leading man charisma shines through even here. He had such an interesting career, from those frothy Disney films with Hayley Mills and Herbie the Love Bug, to starring in the original Broadway production of Steven Sondheim’s groundbreaking musical Company. Here the role isn’t much but when he’s in charge of a scene he holds your interest.


John Banner is so closely associated with one classic TV character that it can be hard to see him in anything else. But if he hoped to avoid further Sgt. Schultz typecasting, he probably should not have played another character in Uncle Latzi who is also lovable, loud, and mostly clueless. 


As for Art Metrano, I’m convinced he was hired because of resemblance to Al Capone. But as a gangster he’s about as intimidating as Riff Raff on Underdog.



Why was the show called The Chicago Teddy Bears? This episode did not provide any insight on that. But if you’re still curious to check it out, you can
watch the episode here.

As for me, the next time I want to get some laughs out of vintage gangsters, I’ll re-watch the Star Trek episode “A Piece of the Action.” 




1 comment:

  1. According to the Radio Times guide to TV comedy this series was shown in full here in the UK on channel 4 in 1983. I remember the title but don't recall if I ever watched an episode. Maybe I'll check out the episode on YouTube