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Welcome Back Kotter aired from September 1975 until August 1979 on ABC.
Welcome Back Kotter was one of the more realistic comedies of the 1970's. Gabriel Kaplan portrayed Kotter, a Brooklyn born teacher who returned to the inner-city High School from which he had graduated 10 years earlier (the year I was born BTW lol) to teach the toughest cases-a remedial academic group. Gabe's "Sweathogs" were the outcasts of the academic system, Streetwise but unstable or unwilling to make it in normal classes. They were the toughest, and also the funniest, kids in school. Gabe was just as hip as they were, and with fine disregard for rules and a sense of humor, he set out to help them pick up a little bit of practical, if not academic knowledge . during their years at James Buchanan High. The 4 original "sweathogs" were Epstein ( Ron Hegyes), the Jewish Puerto-Rican who always brought Kotter a not from his mother; "Boom Boom"( Lawrence- Hilton Jacobs, the hip black; Horshak ( Ron Palillo), the class yo-yo; and Barbarino (John Travolta), the cool tough leader. John Travolta playing Barbarino, became a major star through this series. He branched into popular music, where he had several hit records beginning in the summer of 1976 (although the big song hit to come out of this show was the theme, as recorded by it's composer John Sebastian). Travolta also began a successful movie career, with such films as Carrie, Saturday Night Fever and Grease while he was still starring on Kotter. By 1978, he was seen only occasionally on the series.
Dozens of other students passed through the series most seen only briefly. Other regulars were Gabe's wife Julie (Marcia Strassman) and Mr. Woodman ( John Sylvester White), the assistant Principal who hated the Sweathogs as well as Kotter. Julie became pregnant at the end of the 1976-1977 season; and gave birth to twins Rachel and Robin in the fall of 1977, adding to the confusion and crowding in the Kotter's small apartment, and putting new strains on Gabe's limited income. In other developments Angie ( Melonie Haller) turned up in early 1978 with the announcement that she was becoming the first female sweathog (she didn't last long)., and a slick southerner Beau De Labarre ( Stephen Shortridge)joined the class the following fall.
He was added to replace Barbarino (John Travolta was only billed in the episodes he appeared in as a Special Guest star). Meanwhile Gabe Kaplan and Producer James Komack were involved in a power struggle which Kaplan lost. Kaplan appeared in very few episodes of the 1978-1979 season. In the storyline Kotter was promoted to Vice-Principal and Mr. Woodman to Principal. Julie became the Sweathogs substitute teacher. The Sweathogs got part-time jobs with Vinnie becoming an orderly at a nearby hospital.
Welcome Back Kotter was based on a real High School and the real experiences of Gabriel Kaplan. Kaplan had once attended the equivalent of James Buchanan High School, in Bensonhurst, Brooklyn New York, and had been a student in a remedial class there. He credits a Miss Shepard as the teacher who inspired him, and who led, indirectly to welcome Back Kotter.Like kotter, she carred about her "unteachable" students.
11 things you never knew about 'Welcome Back, Kotter'
I Love Lucy, Steve Guttenberg, the Fonz and weird ice cream cones all ties to the hit 1970s sitcom.
Welcome Back, Kotter recently premiered on September 9, 1975. If you were not around at the time, it is difficult to understand just what a cultural sensation the sitcom quickly became.
Though it lasted a mere four seasons — and after the third, most of the original writers as well as John Travolta and Kotter himself were largely absent — the television series spawned boatloads of merchandise. There were action figures, lunch boxes, comic books, board games and more. The Sweathogs were household names. Especially John Travolta.
Still, there are probably some things you don't know about the hit comedy.
1. John Travolta made his screen debut falling off a cliff on 'Emergency!'
In 1972, after moving to L.A. to pursue his acting career, a young Travolta landed his first credited television role on the second episode of the second season of Emergency!, "Kids." The soon-to-be-Sweathog plays a 16-year-old hiker who falls off a cliff. Yep, that's Barbarino lying on the ground.
2. The "Up your nose with a rubber hose" insult was originally much cruder.
The source material for the hit sitcom was Gabe Kaplan's stand-up routine "Holes and Mello-Rolls," which colorfully chronicled his formative days as a teenager in New Utrecht High School in Brooklyn. (That's the school building shown on the TV show as James Buchanan High.) Kaplan's gang of real-life Sweathogs would toss around the insult, "Up your hole with a Mello-Roll," suggesting that one stick the pictured ice cream treat you know where. Obviously, it had to be cleaned up for network television.
3. The Boston affiliate did not air the first four episodes due to racial tensions in the city.
In September of 1974, the city of Boston implemented a busing system to desegregate public schools. The mandated desegregation led to a series of riots. A year later, when Welcome Back, Kotter was preparing its premiere, racial tension was still running high in the city. The local ABC affiliate WCVB feared that a sitcom depicting an ethnically diverse classroom would stoke the flames, so it passed on airing the show. Four episodes later, Kotter was a ratings hit around the country and WCVB relented.
4. Lawrence Hilton Jacobs released a disco-soul album in 1978.
Gabe Kaplan scored a novelty hit in 1976 with "Up Your Nose," while John Travolta scored a legitimate smash that same summer with his Top Ten single "Let Her In." Overlooked in the Kotter cast's extracurricular musical endeavors is Lawrence Hilton Jacobs, who cut the coolest record with his self-titled debut. "Fly Away (To My Wonderland)" was a minor hit on the soul charts.
5. The show would have simply been called 'Kotter' if anything rhymed with Kotter.
Former Lovin' Spoonful frontman John Sebasian was tasked with writing the theme song to a upcoming comedy titled Kotter. The problem was he could not come up with any good words that rhymed with "Kotter." So the singer penned a less specific mid-tempo number with a tinge of melancholy, "Welcome Back." The network loved the tune so much, the title of the series was changed to work in the name of the tune.
6. Vivian Vance is the godmother of theme song singer John Sebastian.
All sitcoms trace back to I Love Lucy somehow. It's like Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon.
7. The show was retitled 'The Saturday Night Boys' in Italy to capitalize on Travolta's cinema success.
In 1980, one of Italy's two national networks decided air Welcome Back, Kotter due to the global success of Travolta. The actor was still riding high off Saturday Night Fever, so the Italians renamed the series I ragazzi del sabato sera, or "The Saturday Night Boys," perhaps hoping to confuse audiences into thinking the two stories were related. Here, have a listen to the theme song, "Call Me in America" by Pop Welcome.
8. Three spin-offs were attempted.
Only one, Mr. T and Tina, made it to air on its own. Yet that Pat Morita sitcom, set up with a quasi-backdoor pilot in the season two premiere, "Career Day," lasted a paltry five episodes on air. The Chicago-set comedy flopped minus the Sweathogs. Later that season, another backdoor pilot was attempted with "There Goes Number 5," which was planned to become a Horshack-centric spin-off titled Rich Man, Poor Man; Horshack! Oh, and the prior episode featured zero Horshack, to show the Sweathogs could live without him. They couldn't. Two decades later, Robert Hegyes (Epstein) announced that a sequel series was in the works with grown-up Sweathogs. That never materialized.
9. There was a bizarre, little-known crossover with 'Happy Days.'
Happy Days took place in the 1950s and 1950s. Kotter was set in the late 1970s. That temporal hurdle meant little to Frank Lyndon. A member of the Bronx doo-wop group the Belmonts, Lyndon crafted one of the strangest novelty songs in an era of strange novelty songs, "The Fonzerelli Slide." The 1976 disco ditty appeared on the Fonzie Favorites album from Juke Box International record (that's the cover pictured).
In what amounts to a skit acted out over a generic boogie beat, the Fonz rides his motorcycle into the Annual Sweathogs School Dance. Horshack asks Fonzie if he arrived to become the new leader of the Sweathogs, which seems unlikely, as the Fonz should be pushing 40. Lyndon performs all the voices. We'll put it nicely and say he misses the mark. It's truly one of the stranger things you'll ever hear.
10. Steve Guttenberg briefly played Barbarino on television.
The commercial for the Up Your Nose With A Rubber Hose board game utilized look-alikes. While the Barbarino fill-in, sitting on the far right, is hardly shown, that is indeed future Police Academy star Steve Guttenberg.
11. Groucho Marx was supposed to appear in the episode "Sadie Hawkins Day."
Kaplan was a massive fan of Marx, and based the Sweathogs off the Marx Brothers dynamic. The comedy icon was invited to appear at the end of "Sadie Hawkins Day," yet when the actor, then in his mid-80s, showed up on set, he appeared too frail. It was decided to not show him in such a state. Even the behind-the-scenes photos were reportedly tossed to preserve Groucho's dignity.
Robert Hegyes Obituary
5/7/1951 - 1/26/2012
METUCHEN, N.J. (AP) - Robert Hegyes, the actor best known for playing Jewish Puerto Rican student Juan Epstein on the 1970s TV show "Welcome Back Kotter" has died. He was 60.
The Flynn & Son Funeral Home in Fords, N.J., said it was informed of Hegyes' death Thursday by the actor's family.
A spokesman at JFK Medical Center in Edison, N.J., told the Star-Ledger newspaper that Hegyes, of Metuchen, arrived at the hospital Thursday morning in full cardiac arrest and died.
Hegyes was appearing on Broadway in 1975 when he auditioned for "Kotter," a TV series about a teacher who returns to the inner-city New York school of his youth to teach a group of irreverent remedial students nicknamed the "Sweathogs." They included the character Vinnie Barbarino, played by John Travolta.
The show's theme song, performed by John Sebastian, became a pop hit.
Hegyes also appeared on many other TV series, including "Cagney & Lacey."
He wa s born in Perth Amboy and grew up in Metuchen, the eldest child of a Hungarian father and Italian mother.
He attended Rowan University, formerly Glassboro State College, in southern New Jersey, before heading to New York City after graduation. He returned to Rowan on several occasions to teach master classes in acting, a university spokesman said Thursday.
"He was a good friend to the university," spokesman Joe Cardona said.
Hegyes continued to act after "Kotter" and was a regular on "Cagney & Lacey." He also guest-starred in shows including "Diagnosis Murder" and "The Drew Carey Show."
On his website, Hegyes wrote that he was inspired by Chico Marx, whom he had played in a touring production of a show about the Marx Bros. He also recalled how his mother encouraged him to get involved in theater as a teen.
An Article from The Baltimore Sun
Honoring 'Welcome Back, Kotter's' Robert Hegyes for being one of TV's first 'Tough Jews'
By David Zurawik
January 27, 2012
As a young critic, I liked the ABC sitcom "Welcome Back, Kotter." But I had a special spot in my heart for Juan Epstein, the character played with such energy and adventure by Robert Hegyes.
I didn't really understand my affection for Hegyes and Epstein, though, until 2000 when I wrote "The Jews of Prime Time," a study of Jewish identity on network TV. (It's really a study in self-censorship by the Jewish founders and their lieutenants.)
News of the actor's death at age 60 Thursday from a heart attack sent me back to the book, and this passage is the best appreciation and context I can offer for the TV career of Hegyes. I really do mourn his passing and how little appreciated his character was in the larger scope of Jewish characters and identity in American living rooms via TV.
"Welcome Back Kotter" falls into the same kind of Jew-not-a-Jew/crypto-Jew never-never land for its leading man, Gabe Kotter, a high school teacher in Brooklyn. Again, some viewers might assume Kotter is Jewish, because the person who played him, comedian Gabriel Kaplan, is Jewish.
But you will find no evidence in the series to clearly support that, which is rather astonishing in and of itself. There is, however, one clearly identified Jewish character in the series: Juan Epstein (Robert Hegyes), a supporting player.
In the pilot, Vinnie Barbarino (John Travolta) is introducing each of the remedial students known as "sweat hogs" to their new teacher, Kotter, when he says, "That is Epstein, the toughest kid in the school. He was voted most likely to take a life."
"Your mother's Puerto Rican?" Kotter asks in response to the introduction.
"No, my father," Epstein says. "My mother's a Bibberman."
"I didn't know there were Epsteins in Puerto Rico," Kotter says.
"Oh, there weren't until the winter of '38," Epstein says, rising to his feet, "when a boat carrying a shivering Lou Epstein from Odessa to the Bronx stopped in San Juan. 'Oy,' my grandfather says, 'look at the palm trees. Feel the heat. Look at the beach. Who needs Miami?' From that point on, there were Epsteins in San Juan."
"That's very interesting, Epstein," Kotter says. "What's your favorite subject?
"Assault," Epstein replies.
Though a comic version of it, this is prime-time network television's first recurring version of what would come to be know as the Tough Jew. A few years later in 1981, we would see another version of it in another supporting player, detective Mick Belker (Bruce Weitz) in the gritty police drama, "Hill Street Blues."
The Tough Jew -- as minor a movement as it might be in the symphony of Jewish prime-time identity -- is important to note because it plays against the dominant pattern of neurotic, weak, timid, or even effeminate depictions of Jewish men on television.
In fact, part of the underpinning for the humor in the construction of Epstein is the very notion of a Jew who is tough, though the idea here is that it comes from his Puerto Rican ancestry. And the humor in that regard relies on another ethnic stereotype, that of Puerto Ricans as violent, part of an uncontrollable, volatile, dangerous, Latino element in American urban life...
Hey, if you want enlighted ethnic depictions, don't go looking to 1970s network sitcoms. But Hegyes took this TV creation and made it into a character viewers came to know, care about and, in some cases, even fondly remember.
(The book, "The Jews of Prime Time," is a 2003 publication of the University Press of New England/Brandeis University Press. It is part of the Brandeis Series in American Jewish History, Culture, and Life.)
Sweathog’ Ron Palillo dead at 63
By staff and wire reports August 14, 2012
Ron Palillo, best known as mouthy classroom goofball Arnold Horshack on the 1970s TV series “Welcome Back, Kotter,” died Aug. 14 at his home in Palm Beach Gardens, Fla. He was 63.
He died after an apparent heart attack, said a friend, Karen Poindexter.
Mr. Palillo was inextricably linked with the character he played from 1975 to 1979 on “Kotter,” the hit ABC sitcom, in which title character Gabe Kotter returns to his Brooklyn alma mater to teach a group of lovable wiseguys known as the Sweathogs. Horshack was the nasal teen who yelped, “Oooh, ooh,” and shot his hand skyward whenever Kotter posed a question.
The show’s cast included a young John Travolta as ladies’ man Vinnie Barbarino; Lawrence Hilton-Jacobs played the always cool Freddie “Boom-Boom” Washington; and Robert Hegyes played tough Jewish Puerto Rican wheeler-dealer Juan (Luis Pedro Phillipo de Huevos) Epstein. Hegyes died in January from an apparent heart attack at 60.
The show was a ratings success and pop-culture phenomenon, injecting smart-aleck phrases such as “Up your nose with a rubber hose” into the mainstream and propelling Travolta to stardom. But the series only lasted as long as a high school education and its end, for Mr. Palillo, brought professional difficulty.
He said he felt exiled throughout the 1980s, unable to find parts, sinking into depression and rarely venturing from his apartment. When offers did come, he felt typecast as Horshack.
Ronald Paolillo was born April 2, 1949, in Cheshire, Conn., eventually dropping the first “o’’ from his surname. His father died of lung cancer when Palillo was 10 and he developed a stutter. His mother thought that getting him involved in local theater might help. He fell in love with the stage and overcame his speech impediment.
He attended the University of Connecticut and earned parts in Shakespearean productions before his big break.
He told interviewers that his dying father’s voice inspired Horshack’s trademark wheezing laugh, but when he auditioned for “Kotter” he thought he’d be passed over for others who had more of a tough-guy New York look. The casting agents knew better, and so did Gabe Kaplan, who played Kotter.
“When Ron walked into the audition and did his first line, ‘Hello, how are you, I’m Arnold Horshack,’ I said ‘That’s him. That’s the guy,’ ” Kaplan recalled in an e-mail to the Associated Press.
Mr. Palillo had been teaching acting classes at G-Star School of the Arts, a charter school in West Palm Beach, for about three years.
“I’ve always felt very at home here,” he told the Palm Beach Post in 2009. “People go out of their way for you in West Palm Beach. They don’t do that in New York.”
Survivors include his partner of 41 years, Joseph Gramm, a retired actor.
— From staff and wire reports
Marcia Strassman of 'Welcome Back, Kotter' dies
Trey Barrineau, USA TODAY Published 9:08 p.m. ET Oct. 26, 2014 | Updated 1:20 p.m. ET Oct. 27, 2014
Marcia Strassman, a versatile actress who was best known for her role as Gabe Kaplan's wife on the 1970s sitcom Welcome Back, Kotter, died on Friday, according to reports. She was 66.
Strassman died at her Sherman Oaks, Calif., home after battling breast cancer for seven years, her sister, Julie, told the Associated Press on Sunday.
"They gave her 2 ½ years to live but she lasted much longer," she said. "She was very courageous."
A friend, producer/director Bob Weide, first broke the news of her death on Twitter:
Strassman, who also made appearances on M*A*S*H and other 1970s TV series, gained fame as Julie Kotter in ABC's Welcome Back, Kotter. The show centered around her TV husband (Kaplan), who returned to his Brooklyn school to teach a classroom full of misfits that included future superstar John Travolta.
Her big-screen work included the popular 1989 film Honey, I Shrunk the Kids with Rick Moranis and its 1992 sequel, Honey I Blew Up the Kids.
Strassman also spent many years as a national board member of the Screen Actors Guild.
She's the third Welcome Back, Kotter castmate to die in recent years. In 2012, Ron Palillo, who played Horshack, and Robert Hegyes, who played Epstein, both passed away.
For more on Welcome Back Kotter go to https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Welcome_Back,_Kotter
For Tim's TV Showcase go to http://web.archive.org/web/20130103105810/http://www.timstvshowcase.com/kotter.html
For a Page dedicated to Welcome Back Kotter go to http://web.archive.org/web/20050207122323/http://tvland.classictvhits.com/WelcomeBackKotter/
For an episode guide go to http://web.archive.org/web/20040227131909/http://www.innermind.com/myguides/orphan/kotter.txt
For a site dedicated to WBK go to http://web.archive.org/web/20021202035332/http://www.geocities.com/welcome_kotter/index.html
For a Website dedicated to Welcome Back Kotter go to http://web.archive.org/web/20050307092224/http://www.rollanet.org/~khigh/kotter.html
For an Article on Welcome Back Kotter go to https://tv.avclub.com/10-episodes-that-show-how-welcome-back-kotter-was-like-1798273861
For the Official Website of John Travolta go to http://travolta.com/
For some Welcome Back Kotter-related interview videos at the Archive of American Television go to https://interviews.televisionacademy.com/shows/welcome-back-kotter
To watch the opening and closing credits go to https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5VlGyMG0ksg and https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mPaed8I3V1A
For the full version of the theme song go to https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xZzEzDkeHzI
****All my links pages from the 1950's until the 1970's have been updated. I'll get to the later ones in due time.
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Keywords: The Cast of Welcome Back Kotter (Links Updated 7/13/18)