Those pressure groups are right: "TV's influence is insidious". Unfortunately for fans of content ratings, that influence extends way beyond sex, violence and language. Sometimes it's something simple and unpredictable as the hat a character wears or the car he drives. Like, for example, the1955 Buick Century Broderick Crawford drove in Highway Patrol - a replica of which can often be found driving down a suburban Los Angeles street, sirens screaming, lights flashing and the Highway Patrol theme song blaring over the loudspeaker.
And all because 42-year-old Gary Goltz became addicted to Highway Patrol reruns as a child. His house in Upland, California, even sports a framed copy of a 1961 first grade assignment from Pittsburgh's Colfax Elementary: "When I grow up, I wane to be a Highway Patrol man."
In a matter of fashion, he has. He has also learned to spell "want." To be absolutely accurate, Goltz's car is not a precise replica of the car used by the Highway Patrol: Only 268 of those were ever made, and Goltz only knows of two still in existence. (California's Highway Patrol didn't order many because the car never worked very well; it had poor brakes and worse maneuverability). But his is a '55 Buick Special, and it has been redone to look very much like the one driven by Crawford's Chief Dan Matthews in the old syndicated hit, which originally ran from 1955 to 1959 and was repeated endlessly into the '70s and even the early '80s.
When Goltz found his car two years ago, it was powder blue - it took a lot of time and money to turn it into the "Broderick Crawford Special." In glistening black and white, with chrome mirrors and the TV Highway Patrol logo, Goltz's auto has drawn attention from auto magazines and enthusiasts, including Jay Leno.
It also can't help but draw the attention of his neighbors. Even if they didn't hear the siren, they'd be hard-pressed to miss the "all-points" bulletin Goltz is shouting over the car's loudspeaker. Luckily for Goltz - who likes to drive the car while wearing a fedora like the one Crawford sported in the show, no one has complained to the real California Highway Patrol, which could object to his unusual added police equipment.
Technically there are a lot of things they could take issue with - everything from the scanner to the siren. But they love it. I think they see my intent is one of genuine adulation. When people see my car, it brings back good feelings about earlier days. The Highway Patrol was depicted in the show as being noble, brave and courageous. It's a good image.
A native of Pittsburgh (where his parents still live), Goltz became hooked on Highway Patrol in grade school, when it used to run every night on WTAE-TV Channel 4. ("They were terrible. They would cut them up and edit them.") The show began to leave the air in most markets by the '70s, although some smaller stations continued to run it into the '80s - which is when most of the bootleg videos were made.
When high school ended for Goltz so did his obsession. "It faded for awhile. I guess there was a period of time when I got sensible and grew up and became a businessman. But I don't know what happened to me. You turn 40, and you start to look back at things you did as a kid".
Curious, he bought a video copy of the show's pilot and, to his dismay thought it was "corny." The more he watched it, however; the more he began to appreciate the writing and the directing.
He also began to notice something peculiar about Crawford's performance "I began to watch his mannerisms. I can be brusque and abrupt with people at times, and I realized this is where I got it from. Some of his mannerisms are in my personality from watching these as a kid. It's frightening."
As a child, Goltz loved the show's cars and helicopters. As an adult, he focuses on quick cuts and edits and directorial techniques. He's become an auteur of a show most people didn't know still had fans. "To me, it has the potential to be a cult classic. Clint Eastwood made his debut in a '55 episode of Highway Patrol. It was a Trivial Pursuit question."
From that one pilot, Goltz's collection has grown to include all but eight of the 156 episodes. "Some of those episodes are so bad, they're almost unwatchable. But now it's an obsession to have them all."
A healthcare professional who is now "semiretired," Goltz readily admits his obsession is something of a midlife crisis. Still, he says, he has the time and the resources and indulgent wife, so why not indulge?
Though Goltz is devoted to his car, often driving it in parades and donating his time to charitable functions, the "Broderick Crawford Special" is not his only interest. He's a fifth-degree black belt in judo and instructor who passed on his interest in martial arts to his two sons and daughter.
So far, however, he hasn't been able to pass on his interest in Highway Patrol. Not that he hasn't tried. "I like picking my daughter up at school in this," he says while we're driving around. "That's really fun.She'll get real embarrassed, especially if I'm talking over the car's mic. I'll ask her 'Is that the boy over there you told me about?'".
At times like that, I bet his daughter wishes television had never been invented. Or at least that Goltz's parents had kept him away from TV's Highway Patrol.