Tuesday, March 19, 2013

License to Pawn

 There are fewer less-likely television stars than the Harrison family (known to their fans simply as Rick, “The Old Man,” and “Big Hoss”) and Austin Russell (the loveable walrus-shaped guy everyone knows as “Chumlee”).  But that is exactly what they are these days, and their television show, Pawn Stars, is the main reason that The History Channel is thriving to such a degree today.  Now Rick Harrison, who first conceived and nursed the idea of a pawnshop-based television show years ago, has co-authored a book telling how it all happened.  That the history of the Harrison family is not always pretty only makes the level of their success even more remarkable.  Rick, with a little help from his three co-stars, tells us all about it in License to Pawn: Deals, Steals, and My Life at the Gold & Silver.

The Old Man, it seems, was a hustler from the beginning, always on the lookout, even during his navy days, for ways to bring a few extra bucks home to his family.  The family, after the San Diego housing market crash crushed its real estate business, moved to Las Vegas where the elder Harrison opened a “gold and silver shop.”  Rick, largely a self-educated man, suffered from epilepsy as a teen and was a serious drug abuser.  Corey (Big Hoss) one-upped his father when it came to drug addiction, and he is lucky to be alive.  Even Chumlee was heavily involved with drugs at one time – but he wised up long before Corey did.  Although Rick tells most of the story, his father, son, and Chumlee each get a chapter of their own to personalize their individual experiences.  And, in frank detail, that is exactly what they do.

Pawn Stars Cast
Perhaps most interesting are Rick’s accounts of how the business and the television show actually work.  He includes numerous stories reminiscent of the show about some of the most interesting customers and deals that he has seen over the years.  Pawn Stars fans will certainly enjoy the stories but might be surprised to learn how much things have changed for the guys since the show became such a hit.  (Hint: huge crowds, combined with limited floor space, do cause problems.)

Like so many first-person narratives of this type, License to Pawn has more the feel of a transcribed and edited tape recording than of a written narrative.  But, as is often the case, the style works perfectly for those whose voices and deliveries are as familiar to readers as those belonging to the Pawn Stars cast.  No, this is not great literature, but is fun - especially for fans unlikely ever to get any closer to the Gold and Silver than the pages of this book.


  1. I really enjoyed this book. It was one of my favorite reads from last summer. I'm a big fan of the show.

  2. I pretty much enjoyed "License to Pawn," Susan, but I was hoping for more show detail. I wish Rick would have walked us through the production of a typical show but I suspect that would be too much like watching sausage get made - and would remove lots of the enjoyment from watching the actual television shows. I suspect there's not a whole lot that happens before it is thoroughly researched and vetted.