Well, here it is — perhaps the silliest attempt so far to cash in on the already tired ’70s-nostalgia fad. With Erik Estrada: My Road from Harlem to Hollywood, the hunk who shot to fame as Ponch the motorcycle cop on the 1977-83 hit series CHiPs has produced a memoir about as engrossing and graceful as a police-academy training manual.
The book begins engagingly enough. We learn about Erik Estrada’s rough-and-tumble upbringing, during which a family friend told him, ”You don’t want to be no pansy actor.” Unfortunately, after that, Estrada spends way too much time proving that although he became an actor, he’s far from a ”pansy.” He’s a tough guy. Lived life ”with my fists up.” For starters, look at his auditions: The former security guard landed his first movie role (The Cross and the Switchblade) by pulling an actual knife on surprised costar Pat Boone, and he won over the CHiPs producer by punching a door in anger.
But Estrada really showed he had cojones at the negotiating table. His salary battles with the CHiPs studio make the Friends’ antics seem as wimpy as decaf latte. Estrada once got so ticked off, he quit the show for seven weeks. He may well have deserved all the raises he eventually got. The Latino beefcake was by far the more popular of the CHiPs duo, which apparently drove white-bread costar Larry Wilcox crazy. Indeed, the book is best when detailing the petty battles between the two actors — down to who got the shaded seat during lunch.
Yet macho as he is, Estrada wants it both ways: He asks us to see him as a victim, too. That so-called troublemaking, you see, was merely Estrada standing up for his rights! He tells us he didn’t deserve to have his post-CHiPs life reduced to foreign movies and celebrity tennis tournaments. (Estrada had a mini-comeback in 1993 with a Mexican soap opera.)
But it’s hard to have much sympathy for a man who repeatedly refers to himself in the third person (e.g., ”Who is Erik Estrada?”). And as for personal growth, fuggetaboutit. One time, Estrada was hospitalized after a motorcycle crash on the CHiPs set. His ensuing soul-searching, he says, made him realize the fleeting nature of fame and its accoutrements. And how did he evidence this new advanced state of mind? Well, as soon as he got back to work, he demanded a Rolls-Royce from the studio. Wilcox, of course, demanded one of his own.
Ah, Hollywood. C-