Interested in stock tips? I have a tip for you. Watch Car 54, Where Are You?
If you’ve never seen it, it’s a wonderfully underrated TV series, and my guess is that you’ll be quickly charmed – by the catchy theme song and mostly, the quirky, loveable characters, the humor, the plots… Seriously, this show has it all and why it wasn’t on the air for more than two seasons is beyond me.
But back to stock tips. In an episode called, “Put It in the Bank,” Car 54, Where Are You? can work as something of an introductory tutorial on how to play or not play the stock market.
As usual with a lot of these The TV Professor blog posts, you do have to kind of search for the lesson… but since we're talking about Car 54, Where Are You?, at least it’s a pretty painless way to learn about stocks.
Today's "TV Lesson" Breakdown:
- A Little About Car 54, Where Are You?
- The Stock Intel We Can Learn From Car 54, Where Are You?
- Stock Tip No. 1: You can go broke quickly in the stock market.
- Stock Tip No. 2: Hire a professional to help you with the stock market.
- Stock Tip No. 3: Don’t invest money you are afraid to lose.
- Stock Tip No. 4: Research the company you’re investing in.
- Stock Tip No. 5: Hurtful gossip can hurt a company you are investing in.
- Stock Tip No. 6: Once you invest in your stocks, forget about it. Live your life.
- Stock Tip No. 7: If the company president gives you your stock back at a healthy profit, take it.
- Stray Historical Observations
- So what can we learn about stocks from Car 54, Where Are You?
A Little About Car 54, Where Are You?
Since the series isn’t as familiar to viewers, I suspect, as some shows like Gilligan’s Island or The Mary Tyler Moore Show, I’ll give you a quick rundown of what the show was about.
Car 54, Where Are You? (1961-1963) is mostly about the misadventures of two New York City police officers, Francis Muldoon (played by Fred Gwynne) and Gunther Toody (Joe E. Ross). They work at the fictional 53rd precinct in the Bronx.
That’s really all you need to know.
But if you want to know a little more, Muldoon is the far smarter one, and Toody, not so bright. Still, while a bit dim-witted, they’re good, caring people who always mean well. Muldoon is a bachelor who lives with his mom and two younger sisters; Toody lives with his wife, Lucille. We also see a lot of other cops on the show, like Officer Leo Schnauser (Al Lewis).
A year after the series ended, Lewis and Gwynne would be co-stars in The Munsters. Gwynne, of course, played Herman Munster, and Lewis was the grandfather. If you’re not familiar with Joe E. Ross, you possibly know of him through his extensive cartoon TV series work. For instance, he was Sergeant Flint in Hong Kong Phooey and Botch on Help!... It’s the Hair Bear Bunch.
But enough of that. Let’s get some stock tips from Car 54, Where Are You?
The Stock Intel We Can Learn From Car 54, Where Are You?
So the episode, “Put It in the Bank” opens in an office of the 53rd precinct. A sign outside the doorway helpfully sets the scene: “53rd Precinct Brotherhood Club. Installation of Officers Tonight!”
It’s a pretty professional sign for one meeting, although I guess they can pull out the sign every year when they elect their officers.
Francis Muldoon is leading the meeting, and we quickly learn that Gunther Toody has been elected treasurer.
“Are you kidding?!” roars Officer Leo Schnauser. Pretty much everyone in the room agrees with Schnauser. Toody as treasurer isn't going to go well.
Officer Toody’s feelings are bruised. One officer speaks up, explaining that everybody likes Toody – but they all know he wouldn’t be good in this position.
“Give me one reason I wouldn't make a good treasurer,” Toody says.
“You can't count,” the officer says.
“Besides that,” Toody says.
So the other officers lose the argument, and Toody keeps his post, though you do wonder how he got elected if everybody’s so miffed that he won.
Muldoon stresses to Toody that with the money the officers have chipped in -- $836 – it all needs to go into the bank.
“Put it in the bank,” Muldoon stresses.
Muldoon says that they have been partners long enough for him to know that Toody is probably thinking of “being a hero” and doing some crazy investment to try and turn the $836 into something bigger.
Toody says that the thought never crossed his mind. And then he admits that his brother-in-law told him about some uranium stock…
Muldoon lectures Toody on why this is not a good idea. That $836 is all going to a summer camp for poor children that the precinct hopes to build. If Toody invests the money and loses it, poor children in the Bronx won’t get to spend idyllic summers at camp.
That argument makes a lot of sense to Toody, who is convinced that the bank is the best place for the money. In fact, Toody says to Muldoon, “I want you to make me a promise.”
“If I do anything with this money but put it in the bank, I want you to punch me right in the nose.”
“I’ll do just that,” Muldoon promises.
Well, the next morning, Muldoon waits in the squad car while Toody goes inside the bank – and then runs into two people he knows, who each invested around $800 into the stock market and became rich.
Toody, at first, resists his friends’ entreaties to invest his money in the stock market.
“OK, it's your life,” one of them says. “I suppose we have to have poor people, too.”
But just as Toody starts to put the money in the bank, he loses his resolve. So he leaves, and a few moments later, a woman comes rushing into the lobby, panicked.
“I never saw anything like it,” she tells the teller and a small crowd of customers. “Right there on the sidewalk. One policeman punching another in the nose.”
After the commercial break, the precinct's officers are all talking in a bathroom, where Muldoon is shaving, and Toody explains why he wants to invest in the stock market. Toody argues that they’re going to have $836 sitting in the bank, earning next to nothing. The officers start to get swayed, though Muldoon will have none of it.
“Put it in the bank,” he urges. It becomes a running line throughout the episode: “Put in the bank.”
However, Toody’s argument starts to make sense to officers, one of whom says, “I have a cousin who is too dumb to come out in the rain. He invested in the stock market, and now he's got an apartment on Park Avenue.”
The officers do not put it in the bank, and that’s where our stock tutorial begins.
Stock Tip No. 1: You can go broke quickly in the stock market.
As soon as the officers agree to invest in the stock market, Toody encounters the previous two acquaintances in the bank who were loaded and singing the praises of the stock market. They are now poor and luckless. One guy is being taken to jail for panhandling; another has returned to his old job of shining shoes.
Toody was going to invest in the stocks that those poor slobs had invested in. Now, he decides to take Muldoon’s advice.
Stock Tip No. 2: Hire a professional to help you with the stock market.
Muldoon’s advice? “OK, you guys voted to buy stock. Do it in the right way,” Muldoon says. He suggests the officers go to a firm where his cousin, Kevin, works at on Wall Street -- Clark Clark Clark Clark Clark and Herschowitz.
That’s just what Muldoon and Toody do. They go to Clark Clark Clark Clark Clark and Herschowitz, and they talk to a Mr. Clark. (Well, the odds were pretty good that they’d talk to a Mr. Clark instead of Mr. Herschowitz.)
Mr. Clark recommends that the two police officers invest in International Sulfur.
“Is it safe?” Toody asks.
Mr Clark replies: “Officer Toady, International Sulfur is one of the cornerstones of our country. If it goes, our country goes.”
And right away, you know something's going to happen to International Sulfur, something bad.
Stock Tip No. 3: Don’t invest money you are afraid to lose.
Muldoon and Toody invest the $824 into International Sulfur, buying two shares at $412 each. Toody wonders if he did the right thing. Muldoon assures him that he has, that the officers won’t get rich quickly, but that Toody can sleep at night.
The next scene, Muldoon is shuffling to his front door in a bathroom. It's Toody. Muldoon informs him that it's 4 o'clock in the morning.
“I couldn’t sleep,” Toody says. “Francis, I’m scared.”
“I was the one who talked the boys into buying that stock. Yesterday, I had over $800 in my hand. Now all I have is a piece of paper.”
Muldoon tries to convince Toody that it was a smart investment, and that he should relax. But Toody isn’t relaxed. He should have listened to conventional wisdom, not risked money he couldn't afford to lose, and, you know, “put it in the bank.”
Stock Tip No. 4: Research the company you’re investing in.
OK, that’s obvious, admittedly as all of this advice is, and you should do it before you invest in a stock. But Toody does go to the phone book and can see that Sulfur International is a real company. (In the Car 54, Where Are You? universe, it is. In the real world, no.) One can just imagine what Toody would have made of the internet, and all of its consumer reviews and comments on social media.
Stock Tip No. 5: Hurtful gossip can hurt a company you are investing in.
So Toody really worries about how reputable Sulfur International is – even after he visits the outside of a very impressive building. He isn't sure that it isn't a front for some shady operation.
Toody wants to look into the company president’s eyes. He figures if he does that, he’ll know if the company president is honest. Muldoon very reluctantly agrees to go up with Toody, to try to meet the company president, C.F. Cartwright.
Unfortunately, while they’re in the elevator, Toody asks the elevator operator about Mr. Cartwright, saying, “Is everything all right with him?”
There are a few people in the elevator, and two businessmen look concerned. After all, two policemen are at International Sulfur, and one of them is asking about Mr. Cartwright? That can't be good.
Upon learning that Mr. Cartwright has his own private elevator, Toody says, “He sort of keeps his comings and goings secret, huh? In other words, if he wants to sorta pack up and leave, let us say for Mexico, nobody would know about it, huh?”
Now the two businessmen behind Toody and Muldoon look positively panicked. Clearly, they figure, this officer must suspect something really bad.
Stock Tip No. 6: Once you invest in your stocks, forget about it. Live your life.
That’s the conventional wisdom with investing in stocks, and it’s good advice. Don’t obsess over how your stocks are doing. Invest it, and let it grow. If things go bad, keep waiting, and probably the stock will go back up. Of course, that’s not what Toody does.
He and Muldoon meet the company president, and Mr. Cartwright is really touched that these hard working cops would invest in his company, to raise money for a summer camp for poor kids. He gets emotional, as he sees off Muldoon and Toody. But the two businessmen from the elevator – bond traders, apparently – see a pair of policemen leaving, and one of the most powerful magnates in the country, teary-eyed.
One of the bond traders jumps on the telephone, snapping, “"J.J., hold that bond issue on International Sulfur. Don't panic. I'll explain later."
Well, International Sulfur doesn’t do so well in the market that day, and the police officers (this time, not just Muldoon and Toody but all of them) go back to Mr. Cartwright, to let him know that they’re behind him. Mr. Cartwright appreciates that and is completely touched, so moved that he gives the police a bunch of research books, so they can see how strong the company is and feel good about their investment.
Everybody who works at International Sulfur sees the police leaving with a bunch of the company’s financial records.
Now, everybody is really panicked.
The company’s worth plummets even further, and things get so bad, that the Secretary of the Treasury in Washington, D.C., is going to do an investigation to see what’s going on with International Sulfur. The cops of District 53 go to see Mr. Cartwright again, who assures them that he will get to the bottom of why things are going so badly for his company. But for now, he must catch a plane, a plane he is sure he won’t be able to make due to traffic.
Not to worry. “We’ll get you on the plane,” Toody says.
The police take Mr. Cartwright to the airport – in their squad car. That, too, doesn’t look good to the public.
The world is panicked.
Stock Tip No. 7: If the company president gives you your stock back at a healthy profit, take it.
Eventually, Mr. Cartwright realizes what’s going on, and calls Toody to tell him that he wants to buy his two shares back, and he’s going to pay $1,500 for them.
Mr. Cartwright, it should be noted, looks tired, sweaty and disheveled. He is at his desk, and next to him are seven bottles of pills and a glass of water. He has had quite a couple of days.
Toody is thrilled to have made such a healthy profit, and he promises that he’ll round up his fellow officers, and they’ll be right over.
“No, no! Don't come over here,” Mr. Cartwright urges. “I'll have it sent over.”
The company presidents add that he has a personal message about that $1,500 from the Secretary of the Treasury to Toody, the 53rd district treasury.
“What did he say?” Toody asks.
"Put it in the bank!" Mr. Cartwright snaps, and he hangs up the phone.
Stray Historical Observations
At one point in the episode, Muldoon refers to Toody as, “the boy plunger of Wall Street.”
That sounded oddly specific to me, like a reference that maybe 1960s audiences might understand but that I didn't, and so I did some digging. Officer Muldoon was referring to Jesse Livermore.
As The New York Times put it in his obituary, Livermore was "one of America's most spectacular stock market operators, known for a quarter of a century as the Boy Plunger of Wall Street."
He was referred to as the "boy" because Livermore was a young man in the early 20th century when he began amassing a fortune through stocks. And "plunger"? Well, the definition of plunger can refer to a person who acts hastily or recklessly, like, well, some stock traders.
In 1929, Livermore was worth $100 million. Still, as successful as he was -- and he started from essentially nothing, growing up on a farm -- he wound up declaring bankruptcy four times.
Livermore became a celebrity and had quite a life – and a very sad death. In the late afternoon of November 28, 1940, when the 63-year-old was apparently overwhelmed by financial troubles and marital strife with his third wife. He strolled into the public cloakroom of a hotel, sat in a chair and pulled out a Colt automatic revolver. An attendant going on his hourly rounds found the Boy Plunger of Wall Street slumped over in a chair.
So what can we learn about stocks from Car 54, Where Are You?
We'll make the lesson simple. You can get rich from the stock market, and you can get poor. It’s better to get rich.
Where you can watch Car 54, Where Are You? (at the time of this writing): You can find the two season series on TubiTV.com. It’s well worth watching.
Articles similar to this one: Well, Car 54, Where Are You? is also mentioned in the article about the history you can learn in the Maude theme song. But if you’d rather a financial post, maybe you’d like the one in which we discuss real estate investment trusts, courtesy of a Veronica Mars episode.