Eddie Egan was a natural-born narc, and a literary-and-movie rights mother lode. He had a neck that could get caught in a manhole, guts from his porkpie hat to his .38-holstered ankle—and a penchant for twisting perpetrator’s arms (not to mention the rules). But his score, in 16 years on the N.Y.P.D., was 8,741 arrests, including capture of a $32-million heroin shipment from France. That was the true-to-life French Connection case just as Eddie was the prototype of its hero, “Popeye Doyle.”
According to Egan, he was promised 20 percent of the take, but claims, in fact, to have received zip from the best-selling hardcover and paperbacks and only a paltry $30,000 from French Connection and its newly re-released sequel. Twentieth-Century Fox grossed $50 million. Worse, what money Egan did make he blew in two foundering Florida ventures, a bar called the Lauderdale Connection and a detective agency. In the meantime, the N.Y.P.D., annoyed by his notoriety, tried to demote and discharge him (he was accused of improper handling of busted drugs) just hours before he became eligible for the early retirement he sought. A judge reversed the ruling, but Eddie will not begin to collect any pension until mid-1976.
Finally, this fall, four years off the force and with his home repossessed, Eddie has, at 45, again landed steady work. He is Sgt. Bernie (Fats) Vincent in Joe Forrester, NBC’s top-rated Police Story spin-off starring Lloyd Bridges. Eddie plays his bit in uniform, the first time since he was a rookie in 1952. “All those years I was a cop and had to act like a civilian,” he says, sucking hard on an unfiltered Camel, “and now I’m a civilian and have to act like a cop.”
Neither this job nor his previous cameos in features like Badge 373 (his old number) have turned Egan Hollywood. He keeps his second wife (and her two kids) in a Florida flat he rents from his aunt. “There is nothing real out here in LA.,” he grouses. “I would sit at a stoplight for 20 minutes and then find out it was a prop.” Also, though in awe of Gene Hackman’s performance as Pop-eye, Eddie considers the fictionalized script of French Connection II “a defamation of character,” especially the sequence in which Doyle is force-fed heroin by “Frog One,” then heroically cold-turkeys his addiction. “Once a junkie, always a junkie,” snarls Egan. “With all the arrests I ever made, I never knew one guy who ever stayed off it.”
“I don’t want that image,” he continues, “and I respect the uniform when I’m wearing it today just like I did when I was on the force. I don’t smoke out on the street or go into a bar, because I’m in a cop’s uniform.” While he is reconciled to staying in showbiz (he is currently peddling four scripts he wrote himself), Egan says he misses the “police locker rooms, the promotion parties, the tragedies and miseries. Cops never get enough of the job.” Likewise ex-cops. On a break and still in costume while filming Forrester one recent night, Eddie recounts, “I walked into this store. I was reading some magazines in the corner when I hear ‘Help, help.’ I turn around and here’s this guy with his hands up. I draw the prop gun and the perpetrator picks up a bottle of Coors. I wrestled it away from him, took him outside and turned him over to a real cop.” For Eddie Egan, another day, another collar.