1 9 7 5 – 1 9 7 9 (USA)
95 x 30 minute episodes
Debuting on 9 September 1975, Welcome Back Kotter introduced Jewish teacher Gabe Kotter (Gabe Kaplan) who returned to his former Brooklyn high school (James Buchanan High) to teach Social Studies and History.
His homeroom class were a bunch of semi-literate delinquents – all seemingly well past school age – nicknamed ‘the Sweathogs’.
The Sweathogs were led by Vinnie Barbarino (John Travolta), who had a penchant for rhyming insults (“up your nose with a rubber hose”, “Off my case, potato face”).
This was the role that made Travolta a major star and set him up for a successful movie career with films such as Saturday Night Fever. After just one season, Travolta was already a sensation, second only to Happy Days Henry Winkler.
With 7,500 pieces of fan mail coming in each week, he was featured on posters and records and was leaning heavily on Scientology to maintain his sanity.
The other main Sweathogs were Juan Epstein (Robert Hegyes), a Puerto Rican Jew; cool streetwise black kid, Freddie “Boom Boom” Washington (Lawrence Hilton Jacobs); and Arnold Dingfelder Horshack (Ron Palillo).
A real-life schoolteacher who was sick of her students imitating Horshack’s famous laugh – which Palillo invented on the spot at his audition to differentiate himself from the competition – wrote to him “I sometimes wish your show had never come on the air,” and Palillo found himself constantly forced to do Arnold’s trademark laugh for strangers who approached him in restaurants.
In 1978 Angie (Melonie Haller) became the first female Sweathog, and Southerner Beau De Labarre (Steven Shortridge) joined the class. Also in 1978, Kotter was promoted to vice-principal and Mr Woodman (John Sylvester White) became principal.
Gabe Kotter and his wife, Julie (Marcia Strassman), lived initially in a small apartment (3C) at 711 East Ocean Parkway, and later – after the birth of their twins, Robin and Rachel – they moved to the more spacious apartment 409 at 1962 Linden Boulevard.
Based on the British TV Series Please Sir! (which in turn was based on the 60s movie, To Sir With Love), Welcome Back Kotter amassed a huge following during the 70s. But it didn’t please everyone initially.
Executive Producer James Komack originally hated the concept and had little enthusiasm for Kaplan’s comedy. So he walked out on the show three times before warming to both and deciding to stay.
A group of station managers hated the Sweathogs and, after viewing only the pilot, said the show was “glorifying hoodlums.”
The National Education Association tried to force the show to accept an adviser in order to “protect the image of schoolteachers” and Boston’s ABC affiliate initially banned the show, saying it “advocated the kind of bad attitudes that are not proper behaviour in the classroom.”
Your dreams were your ticket out
To that same old place that you laughed about
Well, the names have all changed since you hung around
But those dreams have remained and they’ve turned around
Who’d’ve thought they’d lead ya?
Back here where we need ya?
Yeah, we tease him a lot ’cause we’ve got him on the spot
John Sylvester White
Vincent (Vinnie) Barbarino
Juan Luis Pedro Phillipo de Huevos Epstein
Freddie (Boom Boom) Washington
Lawrence Hilton Jacobs
Rosalie “Hotsie” Totsi
Beau De Labarre