NBC
NBC

14 Things You Might Not Know About CHiPs

NBC
NBC

As counter-programming to the heavy police procedural dramas of the 1970s, NBC’s CHiPs—which premiered on September 15, 1977—took a lighter approach to law enforcement. Amenable California Highway Patrol officers Frank “Ponch” Poncherello (Erik Estrada) and Jon Baker (Larry Wilcox) rarely encountered anything more serious than a freeway pileup; families enjoyed the low mortality rate, and the series developed into a solid merchandising and ratings success. In honor of the series' 40th anniversary, cruise through 14 facts about co-star turmoil, off-screen accidents, and why your ChiPs toys had a tendency to turn toxic.

1. CAITLYN JENNER ONCE REPLACED ERIK ESTRADA.


Warner Bros.

When Estrada left the series during the beginning of its fifth season over a salary dispute, producers hired Olympian Caitlyn (then Bruce) Jenner to replace him: the athlete, who was already working for NBC Sports as a commentator, also happened to be an experienced motorcyclist. When Estrada came to an agreement with MGM and returned to work, Jenner’s character slowly evaporated from the series, lasting just seven episodes in total.

2. ERIK ESTRADA AND LARRY WILCOX DID NOT GET ALONG.

Onscreen, co-stars Estrada and Wilcox had each other’s backs. Off-camera? Different story. When Wilcox got married in 1980, he told People magazine he made a point of not inviting Estrada and noted the two had argued ever since the show began. "I thought it was asinine to pick someone just for being photogenic," he said of Estrada’s casting. “Erik and I are just totally different human beings, and I can't get a good relationship going." Describing it as an “ego problem,” Wilcox said Estrada was not his “best chum” and “never will be.”

3. THE COPS ALMOST NEVER DREW THEIR GUNS.


Warner Bros.

For a cop show, CHiPs had a pretty conservative approach to ammunition. According to some fan tallies, a gun was drawn by police in just three out of 139 episodes—and never by Estrada or Wilcox. Estrada told ABC News that the show’s 8 p.m. family time slot contributed to the pacifistic approach. “It was about helping pedestrians, people in trouble, the young kids who are straying,” he said.

4. ESTRADA WAS BADLY HURT DOING A STUNT.

Unlike many of the actors working in primetime today, Estrada insisted on doing many of his own motorcycle stunts. While shooting a 1979 episode, the actor was critically injured after he lost control of his bike while cruising around for a scene. Braking abruptly, he flew into a parked car chest-first, the bike landing on top of him; he broke eight ribs, his sternum, his collarbone, and his wrist. When he returned to work, MGM gifted him with a $100,000 Rolls Royce Corniche. (Not to be outdone, Wilcox flipped his motorcycle the following year and suffered a concussion.)   

5. WILCOX LEFT THE SHOW.


Warner Bros.

With the tension between Wilcox and Estrada unresolved, Wilcox elected to leave the show just as it was beginning its sixth and final season. The character of Baker was replaced with Bobby “Hot Dog” Nelson (Tom Reilly), with the switch prompting a decline in ratings. Reilly made news in December of 1982 when United Press International reported he was arrested by actual motorcycle officers for suspicion of driving while under the influence of drugs. Reilly pled innocent to the charges, his role was reduced, and the series was eventually canceled.  

6. ESTRADA INSPIRED THE VILLAGE PEOPLE COP.

Though he didn’t get top billing in the show, Estrada’s blindingly-white smile and good looks quickly became a pop culture staple. According to TV Guide, Estrada’s appearance had some major influence over Victor Willis of the Village People: Willis took notice of his extra-tight patrol uniform and adopted it for his role as the “cop” in the musical group.  

7. PONCH WAS SUPPOSED TO BE ITALIAN.

The role of Frank Poncherello was originally Poncherelli; producers envisioned an Italian character. They changed their minds when Estrada auditioned, possibly out of abject fear: Estrada punched a door during the meeting, frustrated he had flubbed a line.

8. IT WAS ALMOST CANCELED IN ITS FIRST SEASON.

Critics and media observers were indelicate in describing CHiPs’s ratings performance during its first season in 1977 to 1978, describing it as “dreadful.” The show’s fortunes improved in season two, when NBC moved it from Thursdays to Saturdays and where it began winning its time slot.  

9. THE TITLE FOR SYNDICATION MADE NO SENSE.

After completing five seasons, CHiPs was sold into syndication in the fall of 1982. To help avoid viewer confusion between reruns and new episodes, MGM re-titled it CHiPs Patrol. This was redundant, as “CHP” is an acronym for “California Highway Patrol,” making the complete series name California Highway Patrol Patrol.  

10. THE TOYS WEREN’T BUILT TO LAST.

Mego toy company was quick to pounce on the popularity of the series, offering 8-inch action figures and vehicles. Their CHiPs products were said to have reused a lot of molds from other lines—Fonzie’s motorcycle, Klingon boots from Star Trek—but the real disappointment came when the Ponch and Jon figures sat on shelves for too long. Owing to Mego’s uneven quality control, the plastic used for the bodies seemed to react poorly with the plastic on the packaging, tinting their heads from flesh-colored to a sickly gray. Collectors call it “zombie disease” and it’s reputed to be potentially toxic.

11. WILCOX GOT BUSTED.

In 2010, media had a delightful time with the irony of Wilcox finding himself on the other side of the law: The actor was arrested and charged with securities fraud. According to the Sun-Sentinel, Wilcox had unwittingly solicited kickbacks to fund his mining business from an undercover FBI agent in 2009. To help avoid serious repercussions, Wilcox wore a wire for authorities to nab two others involved in the scheme. In 2011, a judge sentenced him to three years of probation.

12. A REUNION MOVIE HAPPENED IN 1998.


Warner Bros.

CHiPs ’99 picked up the adventures of our asphalt-hugging heroes more than 15 years after the series went off the air. Wilcox returned to join Estrada in combating an automobile hijacking ring, with a subplot involving a dog obstinately pooping in Jon’s yard. The movie aired on TNT in October 1998; by all accounts, the co-stars got along this time. (Then again, the project took just 17 days to shoot.)

13. IT GOT A BIG-SCREEN REBOOT IN EARLY 2017.

Warner Bros. was betting big on nostalgia for the series when the studio enlisted Dax Shepard to write, direct and co-star in a relatively straight-faced adaptation. Previously, Wilmer Valderrama (That ‘70s Show) had allegedly earned an informal commitment to play Ponch after showing up to a studio meeting in a California motorcycle cop uniform and saying, “Funny, right?" But Michael Peña ended up playing the role.

14. ESTRADA BECAME A REAL COP.

Estrada had been quoted as saying his original intention was to become a police officer before he got into acting. That didn’t quite work out, but he eventually got his chance. In 2006, Estrada became a reserve officer for Muncie, Indiana’s police force. Originally deputized for a reality series, he returned in 2008 to work a night patrol shift. He currently works for the Southern Virginia Internet Crimes Against Children Task Force.    

nextArticle.image_alt|e
Marvel Entertainment
10 Facts About Robert E. Howard’s Conan the Barbarian
Marvel Entertainment
Marvel Entertainment

Nearly every sword-wielding fantasy hero from the 20th century owes a tip of their horned helmet to Robert E. Howard’s Conan the Barbarian. Set in the fictional Hyborian Age, after the destruction of Atlantis but before our general recorded history, Conan's stories have depicted him as everything from a cunning thief to a noble king and all types of scoundrel in between. But beneath that blood-soaked sword and shield is a character that struck a nerve with generations of fantasy fans, spawning adaptations in comics, video games, movies, TV shows, and cartoons in the eight decades since he first appeared in the December 1932 issue of Weird Tales. So thank Crom, because here are 10 facts about Conan the Barbarian.

1. THE FIRST OFFICIAL CONAN STORY WAS A KULL REWRITE.

Conan wasn’t the only barbarian on Robert E. Howard’s resume. In 1929, the writer created Kull the Conqueror, a more “introspective” brand of savage that gained enough interest to eventually find his way onto the big screen in 1997. The two characters share more than just a common creator and a general disdain for shirts, though: the first Conan story to get published, “The Phoenix on the Sword,” was actually a rewrite of an earlier rejected Kull tale titled “By This Axe I Rule!” For this new take on the plot, Howard introduced supernatural elements and more action. The end result was more suited to what Weird Tales wanted, and it became the foundation for future Conan tales.

2. BUT A “PROTO-CONAN” STORY PRECEDED IT.

A few months before Conan made his debut in Weird Tales, Howard wrote a story called "People of the Dark" for Strange Tales of Mystery and Terror about a man named John O’Brien who seemed to relive his past life as a brutish, black-haired warrior named … Conan of the reavers. Reave is a word from Old English meaning to raid or plunder, which is obviously in the same ballpark as barbarian. And in the story, there is also a reference to Crom, the fictional god of the Hyborian age that later became a staple of the Conan mythology. This isn't the barbarian as we know him, and it's certainly not an official Conan tale, but the early ideas were there.

3. ROBERT E. HOWARD NEVER INTENDED TO WRITE THESE STORIES IN ORDER.

Howard was meticulous in his world-building for Conan, which was highlighted by his 8600-word history on the Hyborian Age the character lived in. But the one area the creator had no interest in was linearity. Conan’s first story depicted him already as a king; subsequent stories, though, would shift back and forth, chronicling his early days as both a thief and a youthful adventurer.

There’s good reason for that, as Howard himself once explained: “In writing these yarns I've always felt less as creating them than as if I were simply chronicling his adventures as he told them to me. That's why they skip about so much, without following a regular order. The average adventurer, telling tales of a wild life at random, seldom follows any ordered plan, but narrates episodes widely separated by space and years, as they occur to him.”

4. THERE ARE NUMEROUS CONNECTIONS TO THE H.P. LOVECRAFT MYTHOS.

For fans of the pulp magazines of the early 20th century, one of the only names bigger than Robert E. Howard was H.P. Lovecraft. The two weren’t competitors, though—rather, they were close friends and correspondents. They’d often mail each other drafts of their stories, discuss the themes of their work, and generally talk shop. And as Lovecraft’s own mythology was growing, it seems like their work began to bleed together.

In “The Phoenix on the Sword,” Howard made reference to “vast shadowy outlines of the Nameless Old Ones,” which could be seen as a reference to the ancient, godlike “Old Ones” from the Lovecraft mythos. In the book The Coming of Conan the Cimmerian, editor Patrice Louinet even wrote that Howard’s earlier draft for the story name-dropped Lovecraft’s actual Old Ones, most notably Cthulhu.

In Lovecraft’s “The Shadow of Time,” he describes a character named Crom-Ya as a “Cimmerian chieftain,” which is a reference to Conan's homeland and god. These examples just scratch the surface of names, places, and concepts that the duo’s work share. Whether you want to read it all as a fun homage or an early attempt at a shared universe is up to you.

5. SEVERAL OF HOWARD’S STORIES WERE REWRITTEN AS CONAN STORIES POSTHUMOUSLY.

Howard was only 30 when he died, so there aren’t as many completed Conan stories out in the world as you’d imagine—and there are even less that were finished and officially printed. Despite that, the character’s popularity has only grown since the 1930s, and publishers looked for a way to print more of Howard’s Conan decades after his death. Over the years, writers and editors have gone back into Howard’s manuscripts for unfinished tales to doctor up and rewrite for publication, like "The Snout in the Dark," which was a fragment that was reworked by writers Lin Carter and L. Sprague de Camp. There were also times when Howard’s non-Conan drafts were repurposed as Conan stories by publishers, including all of the stories in 1955's Tales of Conan collection from Gnome Press.

6. FRANK FRAZETTA’S CONAN PAINTINGS REGULARLY SELL FOR SEVEN FIGURES.

Chances are, the image of Conan you have in your head right now owes a lot to artist Frank Frazetta: His version of the famous barbarian—complete with rippling muscles, pulsating veins, and copious amounts of sword swinging—would come to define the character for generations. But the look that people most associate with Conan didn’t come about until the character’s stories were reprinted decades after Robert E. Howard’s death.

“In 1966, Lancer Books published new paperbacks of Robert E. Howard's Conan series and hired my grandfather to do the cover art,” Sara Frazetta, Frazetta's granddaughter owner and operator of Frazetta Girls, tells Mental Floss. You could argue that Frazetta’s powerful covers were what drew most people to Conan during the '60s and '70s, and in recent years the collector’s market seems to validate that opinion. In 2012, the original painting for his Lancer version of Conan the Conqueror sold at auction for $1,000,000. Later, his Conan the Destroyer went for $1.5 million.

Still, despite all of Frazetta’s accomplishments, his granddaughter said there was one thing he always wanted: “His only regret was that he wished Robert E. Howard was alive so he could have seen what he did with his character.”

7. CONAN’S FIRST MARVEL COMIC WAS ALMOST CANCELED AFTER SEVEN ISSUES.

The cover to Marvel's Conan the Barbarian #21
Marvel Entertainment

Conan’s origins as a pulp magazine hero made him a natural fit for the medium’s logical evolution: the comic book. And in 1970, the character got his first high-profile comic launch when Marvel’s Conan The Barbarian hit shelves, courtesy of writer Roy Thomas and artist Barry Windsor-Smith.

Though now it’s hailed as one of the company’s highlights from the ‘70s, the book was nearly canceled after a mere seven issues. The problem is that while the debut issue sold well, each of the next six dropped in sales, leading Marvel’s then editor-in-chief, Stan Lee, to pull the book from production after the seventh issue hit stands.

Thomas pled his case, and Lee agreed to give Conan one last shot. But this time instead of the book coming out every month, it would be every two months. The plan worked, and soon sales were again on the rise and the book would stay in publication until 1993, again as a monthly. This success gave way to the Savage Sword of Conan, an oversized black-and-white spinoff magazine from Marvel that was aimed at adult audiences. It, too, was met with immense success, lasting from 1974 to 1995.

8. OLIVER STONE WROTE A FOUR-HOUR, POST-APOCALYPTIC CONAN MOVIE.

John Milius’s 1982 Conan movie is a classic of the sword and sorcery genre, but its original script from Oliver Stone didn’t resemble the final product at all. In fact, it barely resembled anything related to Conan. Stone’s Conan would have been set on a post-apocalyptic Earth, where the barbarian would do battle against a host of mutant pigs, insects, and hyenas. Not only that, but it would have also been just one part of a 12-film saga that would be modeled on the release schedule of the James Bond series.

The original producers were set to move ahead with Stone’s script with Stone co-directing alongside an up-and-coming special effects expert named Ridley Scott, but they were turned down by all of their prospects. With no co-director and a movie that would likely be too ambitious to ever actually get finished, they sold the rights to producer Dino De Laurentiis, who helped bring in Milius.

9. BARACK OBAMA IS A FAN (AND WAS TURNED INTO A BARBARIAN HIMSELF).

When President Barack Obama sent out a mass email in 2015 to the members of Organizing for Action, he was looking to get people to offer up stories about how they got involved within their community—their origin stories, if you will. In this mass email, the former Commander-in-Chief detailed his own origin, with a shout out to a certain barbarian:

“I grew up loving comic books. Back in the day, I was pretty into Conan the Barbarian and Spiderman.

Anyone who reads comics can tell you, every main character has an origin story—the fateful and usually unexpected sequence of events that made them who they are.”

This bit of trivia was first made public in 2008 in a Daily Telegraph article on 50 facts about the president. That led to Devil’s Due Publishing immortalizing the POTUS in the 2009 comic series Barack the Barbarian, which had him decked out in his signature loincloth doing battle against everyone from Sarah Palin to Dick Cheney.

10. J.R.R. TOLKIEN WAS ALSO A CONAN DEVOTEE.

The father of 20th century fantasy may always be J.R.R. Tolkien, but Howard is a close second in many fans' eyes. Though Tolkien’s work has found its way into more scholarly literary circles, Howard’s can sometimes get categorized as low-brow. Quality recognizes quality, however, and during a conversation with Tolkien, writer L. Sprague de Camp—who himself edited and touched-up numerous Conan stories—said The Lord of the Rings author admitted that he “rather liked” Howard’s Conan stories during a conversation with him. He didn’t expand upon it, nor was de Camp sure which Conan tale he actually read (though it was likely “Shadows in the Moonlight”), but the seal of approval from Tolkien himself goes a long way toward validation.

nextArticle.image_alt|e
iStock
The Annual Festivals That Draw the Most People in Every State
iStock
iStock

Every state has that one big event each year that draws residents from across the region or even across the nation. Louisiana has Mardi Gras. Kentucky has the Kentucky Derby. South Dakota has Sturgis. Genfare, a company that provides fare collection technology for transit companies, recently tracked down the biggest event in each state, creating a rundown of the can't-miss events across the country.

As the graphic below explores, some states' biggest public events are national music and entertainment festivals, like Bonnaroo in Tennessee, SXSW in Texas, and Summerfest in Wisconsin—which holds the world record for largest music festival.

Others are standard public festival fare. Minnesota hosts 2 million people a year at the Minnesota State Fair (pictured above), the largest of its kind in the U.S. by attendance. Mardi Gras celebrations dominate the events calendar in Missouri, Alabama, and, of course, Louisiana. Oktoberfest and other beer festivals serve as the biggest gatherings in Ohio (home to the nation's largest Oktoberfest event), Oregon, Colorado, and Utah.

In some states, though, the largest annual gatherings are a bit more unique. Some 50,000 people each year head to Brattleboro, Vermont for the Strolling of the Heifers, a more docile spin on the Spanish Running of the Bulls. Montana's biggest event is Evel Knievel Days, an extreme sports festival in honor of the famous daredevil. And Washington's biggest event is Hoopfest, Spokane's annual three-on-three basketball tournament.

Mark your calendar. Next year could be the year you attend them all.

A graphic list with the 50 states pictured next to information about their biggest events
Genfare

SECTIONS

arrow
LIVE SMARTER
More from mental floss studios