Question: Where in New York were Toody and Muldoon, the cops from Car 54, Where Are You? stationed? Thank you for your help, and I'm a big fan of the column. Garry M., Mount Baldy, Cal.
Televisionary: Officers Gunther Toody (Joe E. Ross) and Francis Muldoon (Fred Gwynne, better known as Herman Munster) worked out of the fictional 53rd precinct in the Bronx, Garry and thank you for the kind words.
However, "fictional" applies to the TV show, which ran on NBC for two years beginning in September 1961, but not necessarily to the precinct itself, as far as neighborhood residents were concerned. Take the time a local housewife ran in through the front door of the studio, screaming that her husband was beating her. The Car 54 folks calmed her down, called the real cops, and made sure that was only a one-time occurrence. "Of course, that might've happened because we had a sign reading '53rd Precinct' outside the building," series creator Nat Hiken, who was also behind The Phil Silvers Show, told TV Guide in 1963. "We have since removed the sign." (As I noted in a past column, the producers also filmed using a red-and-white patrol car so no one would confuse it with the green-and-white cars the N.Y.P.D. used both of which looked the same on black-and-white TV.)
The Bronx, of course, already had cops real ones. The captain of the real-life 48th precinct, which covered the neighborhood in which Car 54 shot, told TV Guide his men got a kick out of the show. And Ross benefited from the appreciation when he, driving his own car, tried to make a left turn where such a move was prohibited. "You really didn't make the turn, Toody," a cop who spotted him said after waving him on, "and besides, I'd hate to ticket a fellow policeman."
Nationwide, cops were fans of the series, but didn't want to be too closely identified with the bumbling 54 pair. In Akron, Ohio, the two patrolmen assigned to a real Car 54 petitioned their commanding officer to make their colleagues stop calling them "Toody" and "Muldoon." Over in Dayton, the police got rid of the number 54 altogether.
And while not all New York cops approved of the show an unnamed higher-up in the department said he wanted to see 54 canceled because it made the police out to be idiots, noting that "being a policeman is a grim and humorless business, not at all funny" many local gendarmes let the actors know stories were often close to real life. One detective remarked on an episode where Muldoon and Toody gave people rides and delivered groceries. "I used to do that all the time," he said. "What do you do when you see a guy waiting in the rain for a bus and you know it isn't coming for half an hour? You give him a lift, of course!"
Behind the scenes, the 5-foot-6 Ross and the 6-foot-5 Gwynne were nothing alike. The former was a candy-store owner's son who quit school at 16 to sing in bars before moving into stand-up comedy. The latter was a Wall Street broker's son who went to Harvard, where he did Shakespeare, and made money as an ad copywriter and book illustrator while getting his acting career going.
"He's completely different from me," Ross volunteered in a 1961 interview. "He's not the type like, socially, that we'd be buddies or hang out together. If not for us meeting in this project, we'd probably never meet. He's a college graduate. I'm not. I never even finished high school. I'm strictly a saloon entertainer. I just like a little nightlife, a little swimming.... He's, like he's more of an intellectual."
"I'll sign that," Gwynne added morosely. "Up to the point about college, anyway. I think the difference between one who doesn't and the one who does to go college is, the one who doesn't have a sense of inferiority. I suppose he should have a teeny bit of inferiority the other knows the classics and so on. But whether that makes him a better man I'll weep in a moment I think Joey knows a lot I don't know. He's a kind man." Gwynne scowled for a moment. "Very kind. He tells me whenever I deliver my lines wrong."
The two insisted they got along and said working on the show would've been hell if they hadn't, but little jokes can be telling. Trying to put a good face on their relationship, Ross thought a moment. "There's a line in one of the shows about Toody and Muldoon what holds them together," he said. "The line goes, 'So that's the secret of what keeps two men together hatred! Maybe you could use that quote in your piece."