Welcome Back, Kotter (ABC 1975-1979 with Gabriel Kaplan and John Travolta)

“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.

You see, back in the day, Gabe was part of a rowdy, “unteachable” group of kids dubbed “The Sweathogs.” Ten years later, the group still existed (with new members, natch), 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 memorably 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 ofSaturday 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. Welcome back, welcome back, welcome back…

Release History
9/9/75 – 8/3/79 ABC
 Sub Categories
Gabe Kotter Gabriel Kaplan
Julie Kotter Marcia Strassman
Vinnie Barbarino John Travolta
Juan Luis Pedro Phillipo de Huevos Epstein Robert Hegyes
Freddie “Boom Boom” Washington Lawrence-Hilton Jacobs
Arnold Horshack Ron Palillo
Mr. Michael Woodman John Sylvester White
Rosalie Totzie (1975-76) Debralee Scott
Verna Jean (1975-77) Vernee Watson
Judy Borden (1975-77) Helaine Lembeck
Todd Ludlow (1975-77) Dennis Bowen
Maria (1975-76) Catarina Cellino
Angie Globagoski (1978) Melonie Haller
Beau De Labarre (1978-79) Stephen Shortridge
Carvelli (1978-79) Charles Fleischer
Murray (1978-79) Bob Harcum
Mary Johnson (1978-79) Irene Arranga