Which TV show starred a group of remedial high school students, was John Travolta’s TV debut and took place in Brooklyn?
Raise your hand if “Oooh-ooooh-oooh” you know the answer!
That’s right, everyone’s favorite 70s sitcom “Welcome Back, Kotter”!
School starts up this week, so let’s take a class in comedy history with our favorite group of wise cracking, yet lovable, students: the Sweathogs!
1. The show was based on Gabe Kaplan’s stand up act.
Comedian Gabe Kaplan, who played Mr. Kotter, grew up in Bensonhurst, Brooklyn and went to New Utrecht High School (that’s the school shown in the opening credits as James Buchanan High). The show was about his experience as a Sweathog during high school.
2. The opening credits show us what Brooklyn was like in the 70s.
I bet you still feel nostalgic when you hear the theme song, especially if you’re from Brooklyn. This show was one of the first times the rest of the world got to see a little piece of our borough. You got to take a peek at New Utrecht High, the bus stop on the corner of Bay Parkway and 60th Street in front of Bishop Kearney and the famous Welcome to Brooklyn sign.
3. Speaking of opening credits…
Thank god nothing rhymed with the name Kotter. When trying to write the theme song for the show, singer/songwriter John Sebastian couldn’t find any words that rhymed with “Kotter”. Otter, blotter or daughter didn’t work, so he changed the feel of the song. He wrote a sentimental song about a teacher going back to his alma mater, i.e. “Welcome Back“. Originally the show was going to be called “Kotter”, but producers changed the name of the show after hearing Sebastian’s song, which became a #1 hit on Billboard!
4. Vinnie Barbarino is a real person!
Did you know all the characters were based on real people?
Vinnie Barbarino was a combination of Kaplan’s fellow Sweathog Eddie Lecarri and a tough kid named Joey Caluchi that Executive Producer Alan Sacks met in Jr. High.
Freddie “Boom Boom” Washington was named after Freddie “Furdy” Peyton.
Juan Epstein was “Epstein the Animal”.
Most of the character names were changed slightly except for Arnold Horshack. I wonder if anyone ever tried to look him up on Facebook?
5. Epstein thought he was cast as Barbarino.
Robert Hegyes, who played Juan Epstein, thought he was cast as Vinnie Barbarino until he showed up to work. As the story is told, “He got into an elevator with Alan Sacks and John Travolta, and Sacks introduced Travolta to him by saying, “Epstein, this is Barbarino.” “No, no, no” Hegyes corrected him, “I’m Barbarino.” “No,” Sacks repeated, “you’re Epstein, this is Barbarino.” After a brief pause Hegyes asked Sacks, “Do I get the same pay he does?” When he was assured that their salaries were equal, he replied, “OK, it’s fine with me.’”
6. Up your nose with a rubber hose.
The real life Horshack used to say, “Up your hole with a Mello roll.” The phrase was considered too naughty for TV use, so TV executives changed it to “Up your nose with a rubber hose“ which became one of Vinnie Barbarino’s famous catchphrases.
7. Speaking of “up your nose”, Gabe Kaplan wrote a song about it.
Yup, Gabe Kaplan wrote a song called, “Up Your Nose With A Rubber Hose” in 1977. It charted at 91 on Billboard’s top 100.
8. Here’s what the cast looked like when they reunited a few years back.
9. So many celebrities were on the show.
Everyone from James Woods, to George Carlin, Della Reese, Pat Morita, and John Astin made guest appearances during the 4 years “Welcome Back, Kotter“ was on the air. Garry Shandling even wrote an episode. There’s a sad story about Groucho Marx. Kaplan was a huge fan and imitated Marx every episode. They flew him to set, but he was simply too old and tired to be on the show.
10. How the Sweathogs got their name.
Remedial classes were held on the top floor of the New Utrech High when Kaplan attended and the school had no air conditioning. Hence the name “Sweathogs”.
11. Anyone have my Vinnie Barbarino lunchbox?
They made every kind of merch imaginable. EVERYTHING.
12. Say hello to the Groundhogs?
Gabe Kaplan was invited to the White House in 1977 to meet President Jimmy Carter who said, “And when you go back to California, say hello to the GROUNDHOGS.” Way to go Jimmy Carter.
13. What does Steve Guttenberg have to do with Welcome Back, Kotter?
Check him out as John Travolta’s stunt double in the commercial for the Up Your Nose with a Rubber Hose board game.
14. What’s with those crazy names?
The Sweathogs had names as crazy as their personalities!
Horshack’s middle name was Dingfelder. Remember the episode when he said his last name means, “the cattle are dying”?
Epstein’s full name was Juan Luis Pedro Phillipo de Huevos Epstein. Try saying that one fast 3 times.
Freddie “Boom Boom” Washington got his nickname from pretending to play the bass.
15. John Travolta sister played Horshack’s mom.
16. Brooklyn’s most famous sign.
Although the sign seen in the opening credits hung on the Belt Parkway in Brooklyn as you came off the Verrazano Bridge ramp for only a few years during the 70s, it became a symbol of the borough for people all over the world. Today the sign sits in the lobby of Borough Hall.
17. Were you voted most popular in high school?
Epstein’s character was voted, “Most Likely to Take a Life”!
18. What does Charlie’s Angels have to do with Welcome Back, Kotter?
And now that school is back in session it’s time for parents to play 😉 Hey, maybe book one of our weekday tours to experience Brooklyn in a different way!