Character Studies 29: Marvelous Minnie

Police officer Minnie Kaplan, played by Marki Bey, has more cameos than any other actor, as far as I can figure, and her all-too brief appearances are striking, not only because of Marki Bey’s beauty and charisma (both of which are considerable) or even the terrific lines of dialogue her character gets. It’s because she is inserted into an episode for a specific reason: to magnify the action in some way. Sometimes she gives voice to an unspoken issue, sometimes her very presence is a catalyst. Minnie, as a character, is a kind of pixie in the folkloric sense, immune to spears and arrows, whose appearance heralds – or identifies – trouble. She is both tangible and a little unreal. Even her name is cartoonish. Never out of uniform, keeping her hair short and wearing heavy black framed glasses, of indeterminate cultural and socioeconomic background, she is neither particularly (what this series likes to think of as) feminine, nor is she masculinized. Instead she is both, and neither. She’s unpredictable, deftly dodging our assumptions and our categories, a jokester, a jester and a confidante, an unexpected treat in every episode she in which appears.

We first meet Minnie as a meter maid – sorry, traffic coordinator – being hit on by Starsky and Hutch in “The Collector”, hit on, not for a date, but for a dicey undercover operation they are trying launch without official approval. Minnie’s friendship can be bought with coffee cake, but not her sensibility; she rejects their offer with a wry joke about being snowed. She’s on to them, it seems, she knows their devious ways. Rejected, they pout a little but she is unmoved. It’s a while until we see her again, in “The Avenger”, in perhaps her funniest cameo as Minnie dancin’ her way to self defence with her one-woman kung fu disco dance party. It doesn’t seem as if Hutch recognizes her, and she doesn’t know him either (she calls him “sir”). This moment is significant for many reasons. It’s the only light moment in a bleak and brutal episode. The suddenness – bam, there she is, lunging and screaming alone in the forensic lab – is in shocking contrast to the previous scene. Unlike Monique who is using men as both salvation and a kind of murderous indemnification, Minnie doesn’t even turn the volume of the music down when talking to a superior. By having fun by herself, making the best of long, boring shift, she then can be seen as troubled Monique’s exact opposite: a woman who in charge of her own life, who doesn’t need a man to feel whole, and who uses dancing not to ensnare or victimize men but to take charge of her own safety, her own sense of self. All this in a scene that lasts less than two minutes.

In “Cover Girl” Minnie has achieved the promotion promised by Starsky and Hutch, and is a fully fledged police officer with computer expertise and a crisp, no-nonsense manner enlivened by a gleeful zest for life. Starsky overtly checks out her figure and makes a suggestive comment and Minnie is unfazed. She is neither much flattered nor insulted, but breezily dismissive. She later helps Starsky with a vital clue involving the post office, and when Starsky offers to let himself into her place and “have a fire going”, the sexual banter is capped off by Minnie concluding (to herself, as he has left the room), “you’re a trashy boy, Starsky.” This is said not with either disgust or admiration, but rather with insouciance so broad it’s comic. Minnie and Starsky are play-acting. The flirtation may be real, but you always get the sense Starsky isn’t particularly serious – he isn’t interested in dating her (she might be too sassy for him, I think). His flirting is much like her teasing in this easy-going prefeminist world – it conveys respect rather than desire, it is code for “you’re one of us”.

Minnie has her smallest part in “Birds of a Feather”, but again it’s replete with meaning. She arrives to take horrible Gertrude down to get booked. Gertrude is suspicious but Starsky assures her, saying “Minnie never lies.” This is a pretty substantial comment and implies again that Minnie is more important than her brief appearances may suggest. In “Ninety Pounds of Trouble” Minnie is again prankster and know-it-all, pretending innocence as she tells Starsky “someone” won’t talk to anybody but him to report “a hit and run.” The hit and run, of course, is Minnie’s joke on Starsky: she knows all about Joey’s wretched puppy love. “Ta dah!” she says happily, throwing open the door to certain misery. In medieval times a jester was able to make pointed or political statements disguised as jokes, the only one allowed to take a poke at the king and get away with it, and Minnie, who never lies, can be seen as a similar truth-teller and king-poker.

In her last appearance in “Starsky vs. Hutch”, Minnie appears in the squad room as Starsky wearily sits, marking time, late at night. Sympathetically she hands him a cup of coffee and asks where the “beautiful blonde sergeant” is. Hilariously, she could be referring to either Kira or Hutch, implying, in her mischievous way, the factors in Starsky’s love life are pretty complicated. Reading Starsky’s discomfort she proceeds to needle him a little, trying to make him confess his feelings. This time, however, Starsky doesn’t rise to the bait and simply leaves. “Hmm, guess that answers that question,” Minnie says to herself, again commenting on the scene like she did in “Cover Girl”, electing herself as an ironic Greek Chorus. Minnie is amused by his behavior, but not in a mean or judgmental way. She understands there is tension simmering and goes on her merry way, no doubt to tease and torment someone else.

In all these encounters we note the same factors. Minnie has friendly, or sexually-loaded interaction only with Starsky but does not engage with Hutch, who is more cerebral and intemperate, although she likes him (interestingly, their one scene together in “The Avenger” is not personal in any way). She is either disruptive, insightful or supportive, never bland or invisible. Remarkably, in a series with a complicated and not altogether laudable relationship with its female characters, she is completely unfazed by flirting, appearing to give as good as she gets while absolutely not inflaming or even participating in the seduction. This is an important distinction because it’s Starsky who sexualizes their encounters, who half-heartedly but inventively makes his play: Minnie does not play, not even a little. Her appearances are always work related, no after-hours fraternizations. Minnie Kaplan is enigmatic but earthy, smart but inscrutable, teasable but untouchable. How I wish we could see more of her.

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18 Responses to “Character Studies 29: Marvelous Minnie”

  1. Louie Says:

    This is a great reflection on a wonderful, colorful minor character! Lots of the bit players in Starsky and Hutch were really awesome and memorable, but Minnie is the only one who appears in more than two episodes, as far as I can remember. I think she really would have been great as a supporting character with a more substantial role…she gives a nice rounding out to the show’s cast, and an outside balance to the main characters. I always wished there were more cops in Starsky and Hutch.

  2. Anna Says:

    Great choice for a Character Study. I always really liked Minnie and found her and her sass really memorable and entertaining. I like how you dissect and connect her appearances and behavior to other themes in the show and aspects of Starsky and Hutch’s characters, as well as the role her character plays in the narrative of episodes like Starsky vs Hutch or The Avenger.

    And great eye for detail — I didn’t notice until now that Minnie never interacts directly with Hutch in a personal way! I think, like all effective supporting characters in shows focused on a very few leading characters, she makes for a great yardstick to gauge Starsky and Hutch’s actions and characters by, a good outside perspective on them, but while still feeling like a real person with her own deal going on. Thanks for making such a thoughtful choice with this post.

  3. Laura Yearke Says:

    Merl, I’m so sorry I came late to this blog. You have written so many interesting posts and I’d love to comment on more of them. I’m very glad you wrote about Office Minnie Kaplan. She is one of my favorite recurring characters of the series. So sassy, so sure of herself. I love how she’s willing to play along with Starsky and Hutch, but she’s not intimidated by or swooning over them. You can sense that she has a fondness for Starsky and Hutch, but she’s not dependent on them, or likely anyone, for her own happiness. In most episodes the banter is almost exclusively between the boys, but when Minnie appears, she’s allowed to join in. When the moment is over, she steps back out and goes happily on her way. The “me and thee” can be intimidating and push softer characters out of the mix. They can’t hold up or even cut in, but Minnie holds her own in every scene.

    In Starsky vs. Hutch, her scene with a brooding Starsky is the only time we see her teasing possibly go a bit too far. Trying to find out if he is really in love with Kira, she goads him until Starsky refuses to answer and walks out, which she takes to be the answer itself. She seems a bit surprised that Starsky is apparently serious about Kira.

    [Short rant: Of course, she’s surprised, because KIRA IS CLEARLY NOT THE ONE FOR STARSKY, ANYONE CAN SEE THAT! Oh, sorry.]

    She curious, observant and smart, and has the makings of a good detective. Minnie is truly wonderful, and I enjoyed every clip she was in. It’s a shame she didn’t appear until season three, because I would have liked to have seen more of her.

    • Anna Says:

      Do comment more! It’s always so fun to have more commenters with more ideas to discuss!

    • Wallis Says:

      I agree with everything you say about the uniqueness of Minnie being able to join in on Starsky and Hutch’s bantering and how she is her own character and doesn’t get pushed out or overtaken by the guys’ partnership. The show is all about the partnership, and so a lot of the other aspects of the show are framed in the context of how they relate to the partnership. The partnership becomes a sort of barometer of all the other things that happen in the show. Minnie’s ability, both as a character and as a person, to join in when she wants to, brush them off when she wants to, to be fond of them without being influenced by them, says a lot about her as a person.

  4. merltheearl Says:

    Laura, Anna and Louie, thank you, I’m glad you agree with me that Minnie deserves the spotlight. Laura, welcome to the blog and I’m looking forward to reading more of your comments, I laughed out loud at your mini-rant; I’m certain everyone can relate.

  5. rycardus Says:

    A lovely analysis of one of my favourite minor characters. Thanks so much, Merl. It was a great read as always.

    Slightly OT, but in case you missed it, Paul Michael Glaser has been interviewed by the Archive of American Television. He talks at length about Starky and Hutch and I was amused to see that even today he tends to use ‘we’ when talking about the show. The link is here: http://www.emmytvlegends.org/interviews/people/paul-michael-glaser#

    William Blinn and others associated with S&H have interviews on the site too and offer a lot of background information. Worth a look if you can spare the time.

  6. Wallis Says:

    Merl, sorry that this comment is sort of off-topic but the musing about Minnie’s interactions with Starsky and not Hutch gave me an urge to ask and didn’t know where else to put it — do you know if most fans have “favorites” between Starsky and Hutch? Like, do they feel more affection for one partner than the other, or favor one over the other? I ask this mostly because while I think it makes sense — after all, the two of them have very different personalities and would appeal to a lot of different people — I’ve never been able to disentangle Starsky and Hutch from each other enough to figure out if I like one better on his own. I was wondering if anyone here (or you) had a different perspective. Or had different favorites as a young viewer vs an older one. Any thoughts?

    • merltheearl Says:

      Wallis, interesting question! Personally I could never prefer one over the other and not only because I see them as a whole in two parts, indivisible. Even as a young fan in the 1970s I could never understand the sighing, teary girls in my class French-kissing their David Soul album covers. I distinctly remember as a kid being a little afraid of Hutch’s temper, and finding Starsky’s easy sensuality a bit intimidating, even baffling, but those equivocations which may have led me to briefly prefer one over the other have long gone. Several fans on this blog have said they have an inclination one way or another and I agree that is understandable – with that in mind I open the floor to anyone who would like to add to this.

      • Anna Says:

        Ooh, cool question!

        I remember that when I first watched the show, Starsky was my favorite — I loved Hutch too, but I thought he was somewhat mean and very confusing, and sometimes I would get annoyed that Starsky usually took whatever he dished out without striking back. When I watched it again a few years later, I was more involved in fandom and discussed it/analyzed it with other fans and got a lot deeper into thinking about character motives and things like that, and so I felt like I understood Hutch better and because I understood him better, a lot of his “mean” behavior felt a lot more harmless and endearing, like the two of them were both in on an elaborate private game, a kind of “I know that you know that I know that you know why I do this.”

        I think I *like* them about equally too, but my level of interest/fascination in each character tends to fluctuate and switch back and forth.

      • Adelaide Says:

        Merl, you’ll have to forgive me for making assumptions, because I sort of thought you liked Starsky more than Hutch. Oops! I probably shouldn’t have made that assumption though, because I personally can’t choose between them if I’m thinking about them as fictional characters, even while I recognize that I’d probably find Starsky the easier one to like if they were real people. Hutch would probably be more difficult for me to like in real life, but the very same things that make him difficult as a person are a big part of what makes him so appealing as a character.

      • Louie Says:

        I thought that’s what your opinion would be, merl! You always say so many great things about how they’re so undisentanglable (is that a word?). I was a big Hutch fan when I first watched the show, and I still find him most fascinating…but later I became a lot more even-handed about my liking for both of them…that’s actually in part because of this blog. You describe Starsky’s hard-to-articulate aura of amazingness and likability so well that it now processes a lot more clearly in my brain. (It is a little weird because several fans I know have it the other way around from me – they feel Hutch is frustrating until he’s more deeply analyzed. Maybe I just relate to him a lot?)

      • Tanya Says:

        I can’t really imagine picking a favorite myself. I feel like it would be a Catch-22, because I know that if I picked one of them as my favorite, I would contradict myself? Because whichever character I picked, he loves his partner more than he loves himself, so my saying I like this character best wouldn’t really be much of a compliment to him. If that makes any sense…

        You know, a “discussion post” with more open topics than the reviews would be a great thing on this blog! I don’t know much about wordpress, is there an option to make a “sticky” post that stays at the front of the queue no matter how many new posts you make? (Or would an open discussion be a big hassle to moderate?)

      • merltheearl Says:

        Tanya, thanks so much for this comment and for the issues you bring up about comments and about a discussion board. I have to say that when I began this project in the first place I didn’t anticipate or want comments at all. To me this was a Jincy Willett-like exercise in misanthropic solitude, a series of essays and episode reviews providing a more critical and less salacious look at a series I loved. But once I started receiving reactions to what I was writing I softened my approach, and grew to love and respect so many of the readers who cared enough to contribute.

        The comments have been both wonderful and exasperating, wonderful because there are many heartfelt and intelligent contributions, and many much-appreciated corrections to my numerous mistakes. Exasperating because some merely re-review the episodes I have just reviewed or flippantly dismiss them without any regard for the critical issues I’m talking about. I have eight or nine comments waiting for me to moderate as we speak, comments requiring I go back and review the episode in question – a time-consuming job that I can’t do right now, given the intense work pressures I’m facing, but a job I will do because the writer deserves my respect. I take this blog incredibly seriously, probably too seriously, and strictly control all the content. I know this is an anathema to internet freedoms but this is a dictatorial, uptight little kingdom. I’m hoping there are verdant pastures beyond this border more congenial to what you propose.

        Like others who have answered the “who do you like better?” question, I understand Hutch because I resemble him in temperament, and I would like to be more like Starsky, because I could sure use some of that calm.

      • Tanya Says:

        If I wrote a blog like this I’d probably be hungering for the constant validation of other people’s comments, so I really admire your ability to be satisfied with your own writings! And I get your position. I know I wouldn’t have time to manage a discussion.

        I suspect people who write exasperating re-reviews on this blog probably do so because they find it tantalizing to do it in reply to your reviews, in a space where they know other fans will see them. Most other venues for fandom discussion of Starsky & Hutch no longer have much intellectual depth or creativity. They USED to…years and decades ago, there were many fan-produced amateur magazines where communities of fans sent in letters to analyze Starsky & Hutch with a lot of seriousness and thoughtfulness and detail with each other, and then it continued on the internet. But a lot of that has dried up, so perhaps the abandoned fans appropriate more personal blogs like yours for discussion.

        Now, I want to make it clear that I’m not trying in any way to argue about the things you mention. But I wanted to offer a bit of an idea of where I’d bet some commenters are coming from.

      • merltheearl Says:

        You’re absolutely right. I felt bad criticizing, even obliquely, the comments I receive, because I understand where the impulse comes from. I also have never read any other discussions having to do with the series, and I like your perspective about the way things used to be. I encourage others to make their own blogs that may fill the gap, if they aren’t out there already. I have to admit I have never done a Google search on Starsky and Hutch, which is why so many of my posts are a series of questions. I actually never imagined anyone would try to answer them!

  7. Blunderbuss Says:

    Merl, I must say that while your episode reviews are amazing in their own right, your character studies series is probably the most unique contribution anyone that I know of has ever made to the Starsky & Hutch fandom — no one else I’m aware of has studied this angle the way you have. I really love the posts about the show’s underlying themes. For example, your “Life Lessons” series. And the individual posts such as “Environment”, “Yang and Yang”, “Food Fight” and the posts, such as this one about the marvelous Minnie, on how the other characters fit into the show and how they relate to Starsky and Hutch.

    I was especially taken by your observations on how the show portrays disenfranchised people and how Starsky and Hutch behave towards them, the cynical portrayal of the upper class, government, and other institutions, and the persistent aesthetic that prefers the ugliness of most of the show’s settings over prettified, upscale locales.

    These things get ignored because the real core of the show is the partnership, but these things give such crucial context to the partnership — the partnership would not be the powerful, shining force it is if it were divorced from that context. I hope you keep these insights coming, at whatever pace is most comfortable for you.

    • merltheearl Says:

      Thank you, Blunderbuss, I appreciate it. When time becomes more plentiful I will try to add more. I haven’t watched an episode in awhile and I’m beginning to miss writing and observing!

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