Welcome Back, Kotter

Welcome Back Kotter

“Welcome back,
Your dreams were your ticket out.
Welcome back,
To that same old place that you laughed about…”

You can go home again. Or so Gabe Kotter discovered. Plenty of people head back to high school for a ten-year reunion, stick around a few days, and realize things aren’t quite like we thought they’d be ten years before. But Gabe came back to Brooklyn’s James Buchanan High for a much longer stay – this time as the enemy, a teacher- in the hit 70s sitcom, Welcome Back, Kotter.

Back in the day, Gabe was part of a rowdy, “unteachable” group of kids dubbed “The Sweathogs.” Ten years later, the group still existed (granted, with new members), and Gabe figured nobody was better suited to teach this rambunctious lot than he was. And so Mr. Kotter got welcomed back to James Buchanan, ready to take on a new gang of Sweathogs.

The regulars of the group made up an odd foursome: Puerto Rican/Jewish kid Juan Epstein was known for his daily notes, excusing everything from his homework to his tardiness, and always signed “Epstein’s Mother.” Shy, nasal geek Arnold Horshack had the strange habit of raising his hand while shouting “Ooo, Ooo!” Next in line was Freddie “Boom Boom” Washington, the cool, hip dude whose million-dollar smile accompanied his favorite phrase: “Hi there.” And last, but definitely not least, was Vinnie Barbarino, the dumb, but oh-so-good-looking girl magnet whose vocabulary consisted of “What…Where…When?,” “I’m so confused,” and the occasional insult catchphrase like “Up your nose with a rubber hose.”

Along with Mr. Kotter and the ‘hogs, the main cast included vice principal/archenemy Mr. Woodman, whose anthem was “Every day is Be Cruel to Sweathog Day!,” and Gabe’s wife Julie, who had the unenviable task of listening to Gabe’s tales about his daft family (“Did I ever tell you the one about my Uncle Murray…?”). Several other students passed through Kotter’s classroom doors as well, but none as memorable as the faithful core of Sweathogs.

Gabe eventually broke through the kids’ wall of suspicion with humor and sincerity, but it wasn’t without hurdles. This bunch was capable of anything. In one episode, Epstein painted a nude female on the school wall as part of his art assignment, enraging Mr. Woodman. Mr. Kotter came to Epstein’s defense – at least until he noticed the nude woman’s face looked awfully familiar.

Welcome Back, Kotter was actually a sort of homecoming for star/co-creator Gabe Kaplan (Mr. Kotter himself), who had attended remedial classes as a high-schooler. That kind of real-life experience with the subject matter helped make the show a solid hit, propelling John “Barbarino” Travolta to teen idol status and to superstardom.

After the success of Saturday Night Fever in 1977, Travolta began to appear less often on the show, but new additions helped maintain the Sweathog equilibrium. Angie Globagoski made it her mission to become the first female Sweathog, joining the cast in 1978. She didn’t stick around for very long, but oft-expelled Southern boy Beau De Labarre filled the void for the rest of the run. Back on the home front, Julie gave birth to twin girls, Rachel and Robin, which put a bit of a strain on Gabe’s meager public schoolteacher’s salary.

Welcome Back, Kotter left prime time in 1979, but its point was already proven: not only could you go home again, you could stretch that out into 95 episodes of high school hijinks and, along the way, endear yourself to a whole lot of television viewers looking for a few laughs at the expense of some sorry students.

Welcome back, welcome back, welcome back …

If you were a fan of this 70s sitcom, we hope you’ll take a moment to share all of your favorite Welcome Back, Kotter memories with us in our comments section below.

One Response to “Welcome Back, Kotter”

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  1. Gina says:

    I love WBK. The first three seasons anyway. The fourth season was a nightmare, what with Vinnie and Mr. Kotter being gone most of the time, and Horshack getting married while he was still in his teens. It’s not that I can’t see Horshack getting married, I just feel he should have waited. And he could’ve done better than Mary Johnson. For goodness’ sake, she doesn’t even have a funny last name!

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