Still reeling from Vietnam, and with Watergate and OPEC looming on the horizon, 1972 was a turbulent time for America. Nowhere was the zeitgeist more reflected than on ABC Thursday nights, with the debut of “Chutch.” Starring Jan-Peter Bronston in the title role, the fast-paced action series centered on the adventures of a mystic, Indian-like professor at fictional Boulder University. Based on the rugged hippie anti-hero Bronston portrayed in a skein of popular low budget drive-in biker films (including 1968’s “Tenured Losers” and 1970’s “The Angry Ones”), Chutch battled against injustice and The Man with a lethal arsenal of martial arts, mystic dialog, dirt bikes and his faithful mountain lion, Zapata.
The show’s unique combination of serious social commentary, folk music and violent desert dirtbike action sparked a brief but intense popularity among young viewers, spawning the memorable catch phrase “you heap big dead, paleface” — uttered by Chutch whenever a villain questioned his Native American bona fides.
“Chutch” rose to #16 in the Nielsens in its debut year, a level of popularity it never repeated. Ratings continued to slip through 1974, hobbled by weak scripts and the increasingly bizarre behavior of Bronston, a gifted method actor whose obsession with his role as a mystical revolutionary pseudo-Indian led to an unfortunate and debilitating peyote habit. The series was finally replaced in 1975 by the gritty police drama “Torino Squad” starring Lash LaDouche.
Plagued by typecasting and peyote flashbacks, Jan-Peter Bronston never again found steady work in Hollywood; today he operates a roadside bleached cow skull shop from his trailer home outside Hemet, California. He occasionally travels to fan fairs in the far East, where the program remains a staple of North Korean daytime TV. Although he blames “Chutch” in part for his six failed marriages and numerous unsuccessful stays in rehab, he says he wouldn’t have traded the experience.
“For a short time, I was the voice of an entire generation,” he says philosophically. “And when we were cancelled, I got to keep the dirtbike.”
EPISODE 106: BURY MY HEART AT WOUNDED EGO
OPENING TITLE SEQUENCE
Mystic flute and chime music; soft focus lens shot of a young Chutch standing in candlelit sweat lodge of his Tribal Master, Marcuse
MARCUSE: Are you ready for your final test, Angry Turtleneck?
YOUNG CHUTCH: I am ready, master.
MARCUSE: Then try to snatch the grant proposal from my hand.
Chutch deftly grabs the binder from the wizened master.
MARCUSE: With this ankh medallion I now grant you the ultimate power, Angry Turtleneck — a Master’s degree from Sangamon State University. I pray you will use it wisely.
Cue action music by Quincy Taylor Horns; split screen montage of Chutch driving Jeep, kung fu fighting, grading quizzes, playing acoustic guitar for mountain lion.
ANNCR: Chutch… in color, man!
ACT ONE – RAP SESSION ON THE CAMPUS QUAD
CHUTCH: … and that’s why the Japanese needed to make that statement — they were speaking out against The Man’s imperial colonization of the indigenous Hawaiians.
FEMALE STUDENT #1: Groovy! You really know how to stick it to The Man, Professor Churchill!
CHUTCH: “Professor Churchill” is what The Man wants you to call me, little one. In my classroom, my name is Chutch. Why do you laugh?
FEMALE STUDENT #2: Because, well… we’re not in a classroom! We’re outdoors!
CHUTCH: Haven’t you been listening? “Classrooms” are only cells in the big global prison run by The Man. The Man didn’t build “buildings” to keep rain out, The Man built them to keep you in. See? That’s why I’m holding today’s rap lab outside, in the natural harmony of nature. It is the classroom of my people, the Arapazowee people. My desk is this grass, my chalkboard is this stick, my filmstrip is that sky.
MALE STUDENT #3: Far out, Profes… I mean, Chutch. Do all the other Arapazowees have red hair like you?
CHUTCH: Easy, Zapata, the boy is young and ignorant. Billy, the path to wisdom means learning, but also unlearning. You must unlearn the Indian stereotypes fed to you by The Man. Not all Indians live in teepees, and do rain-dances, or have brown eyes. Among my people, the Arapazowees, there were redhairs, and blackhairs, and blondhairs with pattern baldness, even the Freckled Ones. We lived in peace and harmony with the elk — before The Man came and killed all the Arapazowee except me.
BILLY: I… I didn’t know…
CHUTCH: You couldn’t have known, Billy. The Man covered up the massacre in the media, and that’s when I swore my revenge. Think of it this way — if I’m not an Indian, why am I wearing this Indian hat and fringed buckskin jacket?
FEMALE #1: I think Billy has watched too many episodes of Johnny Nuance!
Everyone laughs, as the class is approached by Dean White.
DEAN WHITE: Chutch! I’ve been looking for you all over campus… teaching outside? This is outrageous!
CHUTCH: Mellow out, Dean. Real learning means getting out of that artificial plastic kaleidescope circus tent war machine you call “education.” It means sitting cross-legged out here, soaking in the sunshine of truth.
DEAN WHITE: Perhaps the students love your highly unconventional methods, but they leave me exasperated!
CHUTCH: I thought you wanted to talk to me about something.
DEAN WHITE: Indeed I do! You’ve really done it now, Chutch. The alumni are in an uproar, the Board of Regents is grumbling, and the state legislature wants your hide! I tried to talk them out of it, but after you exposed the Eisenhower-Hitler connection, they swore they were coming to take your Arapazowee sacred Talisman of Tenure!
CHUTCH: So The Man wants a little showdown, eh? Let this be the Arapazowee’s last stand.
BILLY: Chutch, over there — here they come!
Sudden sound of motorcycle engines; biker gang appears on quad, astride filthy choppers. They roar across the green, up a ramp, and vault in midair over the heads of Chutch and his students. Freeze Frame.
COMMERCIAL SPOT #1A
Go! Go! GO! With the Now Generation!
Pants! Pants! Pants! For a New Celebration!
ANNCR: New Montgomery Grants action flares! The now-scene pants with the Sta-Prest comfort that will blow your mind…
Echo-y sound EFX with pulsating lights and fuzz guitar; grainy color animation of hot air balloons and 1890 marching bands over M.C. Escher background
ANNCR (contd): Bold stripes and fringed patchwork paisleys that put The Man on notice – you are a new generation and you demand a new pair of slacks!
bellbottom rainbow arcs over polluted city — vacuuming a stream of hardhats, army generals, and cigar-chomping industrialist into its legs
VOICEOVER: Montgomery Grants Action Flares — now only $8.95 through Sunday. See the Youngwear Department of your local Montgomery Grants.
COMMERCIAL SPOT #1B
GROWLING SINGER: Chutch Power!
ANNCR: Now Action Chutch has twice the power… and twice the accessories!
BOYS: Right ON! [power salute]
ANNCR: Custom Bultaco dirtbike! Turtleneck! Life-like college grant proposals! Zapata with real growl action!
BOYS (look at each other and soul-shake) Radical!
ANNCR: And the ultimate in Chutch Power — the official Chutch Boulder University Native Studies Department, with Dome of Tenure!
BOY #1: You can’t up my teaching load, I’m going on sabbatical!
BOY #2: Grrr!
GROWLING SINGER: Chutch Power!
ANNCR: Chutch and Comrades action sets, by Plastico. Wherever fine toys are sold.
ACT TWO – THE CHOPPER GANG
Return to Freeze Frame. Airborn choppers land on quad, causing students form protective circle of solidarity around Chutch.
CHUTCH: Stand aside, little ones. This is my battle.
LENNY THE BIKER: You made a whole bunch of the wrong enemies, Injun man! Now hand over that talisman, and nobody gets hurt!
CHUTCH: I could no more give you my talisman of tenure than I could give you my state merit raise, or the very sun itself. Now go. We are humble scholars, we mean you no harm.
LENNY THE BIKER: Heh heh. Suit yourself, Chief. Let’s get ’em boys!
Choppers pop their clutches, careening toward Chutch and his class. Two choppers dig a circular dirt donut around Chutch while others snatch helpless students.
LENNY THE BIKER: Okay, Injun, we’re gonna have a little fun while you stand there and watch. But if you step out of that circle, we’re gonna kill you.
Students scream as bikers beat students with hobnailed issues of National Review and Reader’s Digest.
LENNY THE BIKER: What are you laughing at, Injun?
CHUTCH (giggling): While you weren’t looking, I stepped out of the circle three times!
LENNY THE BIKER: All right, playtime is over. Boys, get out the Nixon campaign buttons.
CHUTCH: No! Leave the students alone! I’ll do what you say. You may take… you may take the Talisman of Tenure.
LENNY THE BIKER: Now you’re thinking straight, Chief. Let’s have a look at… wait a minute! You ain’t no Injun! Haw haw! Lookee here boys! Old Pro-fesser Crazy Horse here has got hisself a headful of red roots under his war bonnet!
Gang begins laughing as Chutch goes through slow burn. Misty lens flashback to sweat lodge.
YOUNG CHUTCH: How will I know I am a true Arapazowee warrior, Master?
MARCUSE: This I will tell you — when The Man comes to question his tenure, the warrior of the true path will make himself known by his actions. And filing a formal grievance with the Faculty Diversity Committee.
Flash forward to present. Chutch reaches boiling point, clenches fists.
CHUTCH: You heap big dead, paleface!
Chutch leaps through air in fierce flying kick. Freeze frame.
COMMERCIAL SPOT #2
Aerial helicopter shot of all new 1973 DMC Groovie winding through mountain roads.
ANNCR: Jan-Peter Bronston.
Jan-Peter: The wind in my hair. It means a lot to me. That’s why when DMC asked to do the Chutch Edition of the all-new 1973 Groovie, I insisted on high performance T-Top styling, bold mountain lion decals, and rich buckskin vinyl interior.
Windshield shot of Jan-Peter taking Chutch Edition DMC Groovie through mountain switchback. Scene changes to dragstrip, as Jan-Peter dons asbestos firesuit and helmet.
Jan-Peter(contd): Performance and style is what the ’73 Groovie is all about. From the Groovie Hatchlin Squareback all the way to the high output Groovie Hugger GSXTSi — with its racing-inspired side scoops, green stripe polyglas radials, slotted mag-style hubcaps, and 105 cast iron ponies of double barrel carbureted Slant 5 power*.
*Not available in California, Kentucky or Vermont
Jan-Peter(contd): And if luxury comfort is your bag, check out the ’73 Groovie Civilienne Pescadero, with its exclusive quintaphonic 11-track sound system and a distinct opera-hole vinyl roof inspired by the great roadcars of east-central Europe.
Jan-Peter exits Groovie at exclusive Hollywood discotheque, handing keys to beaming valet.
Jan-Peter(contd): Thanks to DMC’s settlement with the UAW and new federal loan package, the ’73 Groovie is available today. Visit your local DMC dealer for a test viewing, and tell ’em Jan-Peter Bronston sent you. Maybe you’re ready to finally let the whole world know: you’re a Groovie man.
Pan Helicopter shot of Jan-Peter and Groovie on top of isolated rock outcropping; fade
ACT THREE – TAKING OUT THE TRASH
Unfreeze frame; Chutch flies through air in slo-mo, his mocassins of fury taking out two bikers; he takes out a third with a vicious kung-fu chop.
Momentarily dazed, the bikers get to their feet, swinging chains.
LENNY THE BIKER: Eat our shackles of oppression, intellectual!
BIKER: Let’s split, man! That dude’s packing endangered wildlife!
Bikers scramble for their choppers, as students pummel them with protest signs reading “FAR OUT” and “GROOVY.” Frightened, Lenny runs across the quad, but is taken down by a leaping Zapata.
CHUTCH: Good job, faithful cougar friend. (to Lenny) Now I think its time for you to tell me who sent you for the talisman, you stinking tool of the bourgeois!
LENNY THE BIKER: Aiiee! Anything, just get that wild animal off me! It was the Technocrats of Empire, over at the Boulder Savings & Loan! They were the ones! Because of your speaking Truth to Power, they couldn’t get a zoning permit to build that new ski development over the sacred Arapazowee burial ground! I didn’t have nothin’ to do with it!
CHUTCH: All right, Zapata. Let him up.
DEAN WHITE: Well, I guess that mystery is solved. Let’s all get back to class now, before anyone rocks the boat further.
CHUTCH: I’m afraid it’s not that easy, Dean. Quick, Zapata! To the Bultaco!
Chutch and Zapata leap aboard Chutch’s gleaming, fringe-festooned dirtbike and tear across campus, leaping over ivied hedges.
DEAN WHITE: Where is that brilliant fool going now?
BILLY: I’d say there’s some injustice to be undone, Dean.
Scene shifts to the boardroom of the Boulder Savings & Loan.
BALD WHITE MAN #1: Cigars and brandy, gentlemen? With our meddlesome tenured activist friend safely out of the way, I would like to offer a toast to [reveals master plan blueprints] Sacred Mountain Ski Resort! To oppression!
BALD WHITE MEN: Huzzah!
BALD WHITE MAN #1: Yes… magnificent… an exclusive paradise for the Bourgeois! And no Indians, not even pretend ones!
BALD WHITE MAN #2: Except for the ones buried there!
BALD WHITE MEN: Haw haw!
BALD WHITE MAN #1: Wait a minute… does someone hear an airplane?
Cockpit of Cessna.
CHUTCH: Okay, Zapata, this is it… put on this chute pack.
CHUTCH: Don’t worry, faithful friend. Today, the chickens come home to roost for the Little Eichmanns at Boulder Savings & Loan. Geronimo!
Chutch, Zapata and dirtbike leap to safety, as Cessna explodes into fireball into Savings & Loan. Fade out. Fade in to campfire scene, as Chutch strums his acoustic guitar soulfully for a tired Zapata.
SONG: “Colorado Kung-Fu Justice Man”
Words & Music by Tommy Terry and Danny Boycey
Performed by Jan-Peter Bronston
From the ABC-Polyglam LP, “Arapazowee Nation”
In the aspen covered Rockies there’s a legend often told
Of a tenured native shaman with a cougar, grey and gold
He had two fists of fury and a Master of Arts Degree
From accredited Sangamon State University
He was a Colorado kung fu justice man,
Fighting fascist critics across the campus land.
Office hours: Monday Wednesday Friday 9 to 10
Colo-RADO (kung fu)
Colo-RADO (kung fu)
With red hair in his hat and Arapazowee soul
Speaking truth to power was his only goal
Writing grants and lectures, a simple mountain life
A Bultaco for his horse and a cougar for his wife