Welcome Back, Kotter – Up your nose with a rubber hose!
Television sitcom, Welcome Back, Kotter, first aired in 1975. The show portrayed a group of students, fondly referred to as “Sweathogs.” This was the name given to students in the remedial class of the fictitious James Buchanan High School, in Brooklyn, New York. Each of the main characters had their own special niche and stood out for it. All the students were lacking in some way or another but generally the one thing they all had in common was that they were a little bit lazy. They only attended school because they had to and prided themselves on getting by with doing as little as possible. Fortunately, or unfortunately, depending on how you look at it, their teacher, Mr. Kotter, had their number; because he was one of the original Sweathogs!
Gabe Kotter (Gabe Kaplan), the wisecracking Sweathog teacher, fought his way out of the same class at the same school years prior, only to end up right back where he started. Because he ended up assigned to the very same class he came from, he had insight other teachers didn’t. Although he had a heart for this group of misfits, he didn’t get any support from the school in general, much less from the never seen Principle Lazarus or Vice Principal Woodman (John Sylvester White). Woodman, having been at the school when Kotter was a student, hadn’t changed a bit and thought that he was getting exactly what he deserved!
Although, essentially harmless, the Sweathogs were widely referred to as hoodlums and considered to be troublemakers. The school’s only expectation of them was to cause as little trouble as possible until they were finished, one way or another, with their school careers. Mr. Kotter’s role, as far as the school was concerned, was to babysit them in the interim. Little did anyone know that he would make a dramatic impact on the group, ultimately winning their respect.
Mr. Kotter, who was married to wife, Julie (Marcia Strassman), was at times finding himself doing less teaching and more personal-life intervention for (mainly) a certain group of four students in his class; often finding one or more of the Sweathogs on the doorstep and/or fire escape of his apartment. To him, this was every bit as important as book smarts. Kotter was able to relate to the Sweathogs on a personal level because he had been there himself. He knew they needed him, even if they didn’t always know it. He taught them as much about real-life as he did about education. The four main (student) characters are lady's man Vinnie Barbarino (John Travolta), cool-dude, Freddie "Boom-Boom" Washington (Lawrence Hilton Jacobs), tough guy, Juan Epstein (Luis Pedro Phillipo de Huevos), and the awkward Arnold Dingfelder Horshack (Ron Palillo). The group was racially and ethnically diverse which added to the allure of the Sweathogs.
Vinnie, a white, Catholic, always had a girl or two hanging off his arm and incessantly combed his lustrous hair. Boom-Boom, an African American, was the athlete of the group. He was a star on the basketball court and had that signature catch phrase, “Hi, there,” which was always delivered with a huge smile and a deep voice. Epstein, a Puerto Rican, Jew, had a reputation for being the toughest guy at Buchanan High. He was also known for his big hair and ridiculously, fake absentee notes, always signed, “Epstein’s Mother.” Oddball, Horshack, although somewhat naïve, was the class clown with an incessant laugh that resembled that of a hyena. He was actually promoted out of the remedial class but came back willingly because he felt more at home there. Another character, although not a regular, who was frequently seen and spoken about was Rosie Totsie (Debralee Scott), also known as Hotsie Totsie. Her father was a Pastor and she was portrayed to be out of control as far as keeping her virtue, although the Sweathogs grossly exaggerated her reputation. Male viewers, especially teenage boys were really drawn to her character.
Welcome Back, Kotter was based on Kaplan’s own experience in remedial education at New Utrecht High School. Many of the characters are based on real life people he knew from school. He had that one teacher who took a personal interest in him and wanted to depict that special quality. Ironically, he didn’t think the show would do as well as it did and left the series in the third season to pursue other options. He was then cast as the new Vice Principal, and was seen only very frequently on the show. Shortly after he left the show, John Travolta also left to pursue his now epic acting career. The show had essentially lost two of its key characters and two of its biggest stars. Beau De La Barre (Stephen Shortridge) replaced Vinnie as the token pretty-boy but didn’t quite fill the void. The show continued another two seasons before going off the air in 1979.
The theme song, “Welcome Back” written by John Sebastian, included the line, “your dreams were your ticket out.” It tells a story of a guy who is desperate to leave behind a painful school career and overall dismal existence. Ironically, those dreams led him, “back here where we need ya…” as the song goes; and it comes full circle.
Welcome Back, Kotter catchphrases:
- Mr. Kotter: Did I ever tell you about my Uncle Max?
- Vinnie Barbarino: Up your nose with a rubber hose!
- Vinnie Barbarino: Off my case, toilet-face!
- Vinnie Barbarino: What? Where?
- Vinnie Barbarino: I'm so confused.
- Vinnie Barbarino: Love means never having to hear I'm pregnant.
- Boom Boom Washington: Hi there.
- Boom Boom Washington: Hey, Mr. Kot-tair!
- Boom Boom Washington: I'll take that bet.
- Horshack: Hellooohhhh. How are ya? I am Arnold HorshAAAAAck.
- Horshack: (whenever he raises his hand) OOOOOOHHHHH! OOOOOOHHHHH! OOOOOOHHHHH!
- Mr. Woodman: Kotter, these kids couldn't pass a blood test without cheating!
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