Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Gabe Kaplan and the Welcome Back, Kotter Cast

Welcome back, Your dreams were your ticket out. 
Welcome back, 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're turned around. 
Who'd have thought they'd lead ya (Who'd have thought they'd lead ya) Here where we need ya (Here where we need ya) 
Yeah we tease him a lot cause we've hot him on the spot, welcome back, Welcome back, welcome back, welcome back.
- Lyrics to the theme from Welcome Back, Kotter by John Sebastian        

During the 1970s, the catchy theme song from Welcome Back, Kotter (composed and recorded by John Sebastian of Lovin' Spoonful fame) was heard frequently on American television and on the radio.  It was Gabe Kaplan, along with fellow Brooklyn native Alan Sacks, who created the situation comedy about a teacher who returns to teach at the same high school he had attended as a student a decade ago.  Kaplan, of course, played the wise-cracking teacher, Gabe  Kotter.  The series was based on Kaplan's experiences as a student in a remedial class at New Utrecht High School in Brooklyn. It ran for four seasons on the ABC network, from September 9 1975 until June 8, 1979.  95 episodes were produced.

Gabriel "Gabe" Kaplan was born in Brooklyn, New York on March 31, 1944, the son of Charles and Dorothy Kaplan (Dorothy died on December 23, 2000 at the age of 85).  Since boyhood, Gabe aspired to be a Major League baseball player.  Although good enough to be invited to the training camp of the San Francisco Giants in Florida,  young Kaplan failed to make the roster of any minor league team.  He eventually found employment as a bellman at a New Jersey hotel where he watched comedians perform.  After deciding to become a stand-up comic himself, he developed a routine based on his childhood experiences in Brooklyn.  During the early 1960s, he honed his skills at nightclubs and coffee houses in New York City and then later toured the United States with his act.

Kaplan's tour succeeded in getting him public recognition and the attention of talk show host Johnny Carson.   The up-and-coming comedian  get his big break when he made five appearances on The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson during the early 1970s.  He performed on other talk shows such as The Merv Griffin Show and by the mid-1970s, he was the star of his own hit television series, Welcome Back, Kotter. Kaplan's character, teacher Gabe Kotter, sometimes regaled his students with corny jokes beginning with ""Did I ever telll you about my Uncle So-So?" and also with Groucho Marx impressions.   In those days, Kaplan resembled Groucho somewhat with his dark curly hair and his prominent moustache.

Mr. Kotter taught a remedial class at James Buchanan High School, a fictitious school located in the Bensonhurst section of central Brooklyn (The front and back views of Kaplan's actual alma mater, New Utrecht High School), are shown in the opening sequences of the show).  Kotter's students included a motley crew of misfits known as the "Sweathogs" (He was once a Sweathog himself).  This group of underachievers was led by the sardonic Vincent "Vinnie" Barabino, played by a young John Travolta who was only 21 when Welcome Back, Kotter premiered.  Travolta remained with the show even after becoming a major film star with the release of Carrie in 1976, Saturday Night Fever in 1977 and Grease in 1978, although by 1978 his Vinnie Barbaino character was only seen sporadically.  Barbarino was a cool, tough Italian-American whose favourite catchphrase was "Up your nose with a rubber hose!."

John Travolta as Vinnie Barbarino

The three other major Sweathogs were a hip African-American named Freddie "Boom Boom" Washington (Lawrence Hilton-Jacobs), the dim-witted Arnold Horshack  (Ron Palillo) and Juan Epstein, a proud Puerto Rican Jew (Robert Hegyes).  Kotter's wife, Julie, was played by Marcia Strassman.  At the end of the 1976-1977 season, Julie becomes pregnant.  At the start of the next season, in the fall of 1977, she gives birth to twins, Rachel and Robin Kotter.  By the fourth and final season of the show in 1978 -1979, the Sweathogs were well into their 20s and not too believable as high school students.  Travolta, the youngest of the group at 25, was a superstar with a blossoming film career.

Kotter and Sweathogs - L to R - Travolta, Pallilo, Hegyes and Hilton-Jacobs

After Welcome Back, Kotter left the air in 1979, Gabe Kaplan returned to his stand-up comedy routine, performing in Las Vegas and Atlantic City.  He also appeared in three feature films: Fast Break (1979), Tulips (1981) and Nobody's Perfekt (1981). In addition, he portrayed Groucho Marx in Groucho, a touring stage show.based on the life of the flamboyant comedian.  Of his performance as Marx, Kaplan told the Milwaukee Sentinel,. "I am not trying to play the stage Groucho.  I am trying to do the person he was in real life."  Grooucho was later filmed as an HBO special.

In 1981, Gabe returned to weekly television in a short-lived situation comedy on NBC called Lewis & Clark. He created the series in which he starred as Stewart Lewis, a native New Yorker who decides to pursue his dream of owning a country and western club.  Stu and his family - wife Alicia (Ilene Graff) and two children - move to the sleepy Texas town of Luckenback where Stu opens the Nassau County Cafe, named after the New York suburb he left behind.  The club is managed by a smiley hick named Roscoe Clark, played by Guick Koock.

Lewis & Clark was cancelled due to low ratings and only 13 episodes of the series were produced.  The last episode was broadcast on July 30, 1982.  It is interesting to note that two former Sweathogs, Robert Hegyes and Lawrence Hilton-Jacobs, reunited  with Gabe Kaplan as guest stars in an episode of Lewis & Clark entitled "The Uptight End" (Season 1, Episode 5, Air Date: December 12, 1981).

In a 1984 episode of  Murder, She Wrote, the popular mystery series starring Angela Lansbury, Kaplan played the role of nightclub entertainer Freddy York.  The episode is entitled "Birds of a Feather" (Season 1, Episode 2, Air Date: October 14, 1984).

Among his many  talents, Gabe Kaplan is an expert poker player.  In 1978, he made his first appearance at the World Series of Poker.  Since then, he has been a contestant in numerous poker tournaments and has won a considerable amount of money.   Gabe has commentated at live poker events and on televised poker programs such as the National Heads-Up Poker Championship on NBC.   He has also served as co-host and joint commentator along with A.J. Benza on High Stakes Poker on GSN.  In January of 2011, however, GSN replaced him as co-host with another stand-up comedian, Canadian Norm Macdonald.

Kaplan playing poker


Five days from now, on March 31st, Gabriel Kaplan will celebrate his 69th birthday.

* Ron Palillo, who played nerdy Arnold Horshack on Welcome Back, Kotter, died of a heart attack in Florida on August 14, 2012.  He was 63 years old at the time of his passing.

* Robert Hegyes, who portrayed Juan Epstein, died of cardiac arrest in Edison, New Jersey on January 26, 2012.  He was 60 years old.

* Marcia Strassman, who portrayed Julie Kotter, went on to star opposite Rick Moranis in the 1989 Disney comedy Honey I Shrunk the Kids.  She played Diane Szalinski, the wife of Moranis' character, wacky inventor Wayne Szalinski. Strassman, now 64, was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2007 and has spoken out about breast cancer awareness.

Marcia Strassman in 1977

* John Sylvester White, who played Vice Principal Michael Woodman at Kotter's school, died of pancreatic cancer in Waikiki, Hawaii on September 11, 1988.  He was 68 year old.

White as Mr.. Woodman

* Gabe Kaplan has a daughter, Rachel, from a relationship with a woman whom he has not publicly identified.  Rachel was born circa 1990.  To view a 2007 photo of Rachel and her father in Las Vegas for the CineVegas film festival, click on the link below.

To watch a video of Rachel Kaplan's first try doing stand-up comedy in 2010, click on the link below.

* Other alumni from Gabe Kaplan's Brooklyn high school, New Utrecht High, include Moe and Curly Howard of the Three Stooges, comedian Buddy Hackett and record and film producer David Geffin.

* Gabe was inspired by a Miss Shepard, his teacher at New Utrecht High School.

* In 1977, when Welcome Back, Kotter was at the height of its popularity, Gabe was invited to the White House to meet then-president Jimmy Carter.  When they met, Carter said, "Mr. Kaplan, nice to meet you.  And when you go back to California, say hello to the Groundhogs."

* In 1976, Gabe Kaplan was the captain of the ABC team in The Battle of the Network Stars. He outraced NBC captain Robert Conrad of The Wild Wild West in a showdown sprint to the finish to determine the final winner.  Hosted by Howard Cosell, it is vintage 1970s television.  To watch a video of The Battle of the Nework Stars 1976, click on the link below.

* Gabe Kaplan is the author of a book entitled Kotter's Back: E-mails from a Faded Celebrity to a Bewildered World.  The book is a humorous collection of correspondence reacting to Kaplan's prank e-mail campaign.  It was published in 2007.

* For one week in May of 1976, John Sebastian's recording of the theme from Welcome Back, Kotter topped the Billboard Hot 100 chart.  To watch a video of the opening theme from Welcome Back, Kotter, click on the link below. (It provides a good view of Brooklyn in the 1970s.  Watch for New Utrecht High School.

- Joanne

Friday, March 8, 2013

Marcia Wallace: Bob Newhart's Carol is a Survivor

I've been watching a DVD of the first season of The Bob Newhart Show.  In one of the episodes "The Crash of 29 Years," Bob's receptionist, Carol Kester (later Carol Kester Bondurant), leaves her job because she feels unfulfilled.  At the age of 29, Carol finds herself in a rut, fearing that she will never achieve more in her life than being a receptionist. After viewing the episode, I became curious about Marcia Wallace, the actor who portrayed Carol, and decided to do some research about her. I soon discovered that she is a very funny lady who has overcome a great deal of adversity in her life.

Marcia Karen Wallace was born in Creston, Iowa on November 1, 1942, the eldest of the three children of Arthur "Poke" Wallace and his wife Joann.  Poke owned and operated a general store in Creston where Marcia and her sister Sharon and brother Jim would frequently assist their father.  Marcia's childhood was a difficult one in which she had to deal with her dad's alcoholism (Poke Wallace went on drinking binges) and physical abuse.  In an article in in the 2006 Summer issue of Diane: The Curves Magazine, her father is described as not quite being able to control  his temper.  Wallace herself is quoted as saying that she had "fractious relationships" with both of her parents and that her mother "really didn't like me all that much."

Weight problems have plagued Marcia all her life and she has been bulimic. The carrot-topped comedienne has stated that "food is her drug of choice."  She told The Curves Magazine that during her youth, she felt "more than lonely" and thought she was the "ugliest, fattest kid around."  Due to her low self-esteem, she developed a self-deprecating form of humour.  She made faces and learned to poke fun at herself before others did.

Marcia attended Parsons College in Fairfield, Iowa, majoring in English and Theatre. At Parsons, she performed in productions such as Brigadoon and The Music Man. Soon after graduation, the aspiring actor  headed for New York.  While in the Big Apple, Marcia took various jobs to make to earn a living.  She did commercials, typed scripts, performed in summer stock and was a substitute English teacher in the Bronx.  She began her stage career with the improv troupe The Fourth Wall and in off-Broadway plays during the late 1960s.

Due to her imrov work, Wallace eventually  became a semi-regular on The Merv Griffin Show, appearing on Griffin's New York talk show numerous times. In 1970, when the show moved to the west coast, Merv asked her to relocated to Hollywood with him.  Once in Tinseltown, she won minor roles in two very popular sitcoms.  She appeared as Betty on a 1971 episode of Bewitched (Season  7, Episode 27, Air Date: April 15, 1971) entitled "Laugh, Clown, Laugh" and in two 1971 episodes of The Brady Bunch, "Will the Real Jan Brady Stand Up?" (in which she played a saleswoman) and "Getting Davy Jones." (in which she played Mrs. Robbins).  That same year, she also appeared in two cameo roles on the detective series Columbo in episodes entitled "Lady in Waiting" and "Murder by the Book."

Marcia finally got her big break, however, as a result of her association with The Merv Griffin Show.  Her appearance on a March 1972 Griffin show greatly impressed CBS founder William Paley.  At Paley's request, television producer Grant Tinker phoned her and offered her a supporting role on Bob Newhart's new sitcom as Bob's chatty receptionist, Carol Kester.

The Bob Newhart Show debuted in 1972 and became a hit with audiences.  Set in Chicago, the series featured Newhart as psychologist Dr. Bob Hartley and the late Suzanne Pleshette as his school teacher wife, Emily.  Dr. Hartley shared his office suite with an orthodontist, Dr. Jerry Robinson, played by Peter Bonerz. The Hartleys also had a friendly next-door-neighbour, airline navigator Howard Borden, who was portrayed by Bill Daily.  Below is a photo of the Bob Newhart show cast:  (Back row (left to right - Bill Daily, Marcia Wallace and Peter Bonerz.  Bottom Row - Bob Newhart and Suzanne Pleshette).

Viewers identified with Marcia's character, the red-haired, lovelorn receptionist with the toothy smile.  Carol Kester wasn't your stereotypical TV secretary.  In her Curves Magazine interview with Diane Heavin, Marcia describes her television character in this way: "She was different from from most secretaries in sitcoms.  She wasn't in love with her boss, for one.  She wasn't ditzy.  She wasn't super prim or a spinster.  And she wasn't a buxom beauty, yet she had lots of romances, which I thought was wonderful. She was a nice person, a hard worker, and an optimist, and she was really good at her job.  She also had a great sense of humour."

In a 1975 episode, "Carol's Wedding," (Season 4, Episode 6, Air Date: October 18, 1975), Carol announces her engagement to travel agent Larry Bondurant, played by Will MacKenzie (After being set up by Emily, the couple went on a blind date and Larry proposed that same night).  The office is buzzing with speculation about whether Carol will actually go through with the marriage to Larry whom she has only known for 12 hours.  By the way, Larry's nickname for nickname for Carol was "Big Red."

Bob Hartley (Newhart) congratulates Carol and Larry 

The Bob Newhart Show ended its run in 1978 after six seasons.  For the next thirty years, Marcia made numerous appearances as a game show panelist on such shows as Hollywood Squares, Match Game, To Tell the Truth, The $25,000 Pyramid and Family Feud.  She became good friends with fellow Match Game panelist Brett Somers.  Somers, who was married to Jack Klugman, died of colon and stomach cancer in 2007.

Marcia Wallace on Match Game

During the 1980s and 1990s, Marcia appeared as  a guest star on such series as Magnum P.I. (1981), Murder, She Wrote (1986), Alf  (1987), Night Court (1988), Charles in Charge (two episodes as Mrs. Dodo in 1989, 1990) and Full House (four episodes as Mrs. Carruthers (1993-1995).  Since 1990, she has had a recurring role as the voice of Edna Krabappel on the popular animated series The Simpsons. Edna is Bart Simpson's Grade 4 teacher at Springfield Elementary School. Like many of the teachers at the school, Edna is a heavy smoker.  Her catchphrase is "Ha!" and she once told Bart that she "never thought she would say this to a child but you are bad on the inside."  In 1992, Wallace received an Emmy for Outstanding Voice-Over Performance for her work as Edna Krabappel. .

Marcia and Edna 

From February 11, 2009 until April 30, 2009, Marcia appeared in 14 episodes of the daytime serial The Young and the Restless.  She portrayed a character named Annie Wilkes, a bumbling kidnapper who threatened wealthy industrialist Katherine Chancellor (Jeanne Cooper).

On May 18, 1986, when Marcia was 43 years old, she wed hotelier Dennis Hawley at the Buddhist Temple in Cucamonga, California.  The two had been introduced to each other by Jo Anne Worley, who was performing in a musical with Marcia at the time. Dennis was the general manager of the hotel next door and Worley set them up.  In 1985, just three days after Hawley's marriage proposal, Marcia was diagnosed with breast cancer.  She underwent a lumpectomy and radiation treatment.  The cancer never returned and Marcia became a passionate advocate for breast cancer awareness and early detection.  She gives inspirational lectures on the subject and in 2007 she received the Gilda Radner Courage Award (named after the late comedienne who died of ovarian cancer) from the Roswell Park Cancer Institute for her work in educating Americans about the disease.

Dennis and Marcia at their wedding

Wallace and her husband adopted a son, Michael "Mikey" Hawley in 1988 and they chose Brett Somers to be their child's godmother.  Sadly, Dennis succumbed to pancreatic cancer in June, 1992, leaving Marcia to raise the young boy on her own. Of her son, Marcia has said that he's funny and a great mimic.  He apparently does an imitation of his mother.

In 2004, Marcia published a memoir, Don't Look Back, We're Not Going That Way.  In her autobiography, she chronicles her battle with breast cancer, the death of her husband and her nervous breakdown.  The book's title is a quote from her father, who gave her that advice often during childhood.  Its subtitle is "How I Overcame a Rocky Childhood, a Nervous Breakdown, Breast Cancer, Widowhood, Fat, Fire & Menopausal Motherhood and Still Managed to Count My Lucky Chickens."

To watch a 2010 interview with Marcia Wallace, click on the link below.  The interviewer is Nancy Brewer, Editor of The Lamp, Delta Zeta Sorority's national magazine (Marcia is a member of Delta Zeta Sorority and was honoured as the 2010 Delta Zeta 2010 Woman of the Year at the Biennial National Convention in Tucson, Arizona.


EDITOR'S UPDATE (October 27, 2013): Marcia Wallace has died at the age of 70, Simpsons executive producer Al Jean announced yesterday.  Jean stated, "I was tremendously saddened to learn this morning of the passing of the brilliant and gracious Marcia Wallace.  She was beloved by all at The Simpsons.  It's "a terrible loss for all who had the pleasure of knowing her." Jean said that Marcia's character, teacher Edna Krabappel, would not be replaced.  

According to TMZ, Marcia Wallace passed away on October 25, 2013 in Los Angeles.  Her son Mikey stated that his mother died due to pneumonia complications.

- Joanne

Saturday, March 2, 2013

Looking for video of The Highwayman starring Lous Hayward. Can TV Banter readers help?

Lous Hayward

A reader named Terry has written to me for assistance.  He (or maybe a she) is trying to find a recording of a 30-minute 1958 television production of The Highwayman starring Louis Hayward in the title role.  Terry was advised to contact Schlitz Playhouse, but had no luck.  He now wonders if a recording of this show even exists. I suggested that he search for stores that deal with rare and vintage videos. I also sent him a link to a list of rare video and DVD dealers that I found online.

The Highwayman is the story of an 18th-century English aristocrat, James MacDonald, who becomes a highwayman at night.  A sort of Robin Hood, he seeks vigilante justice for all the wrongs perpetrated against the poor and the farmers.by landlords and government.  It was written by Anthony Haslett and directed by Robert Day.  Its lead actor, Louis Hayward, was a South-African born actor who was educated in Britain and began his career in British films.  He is particularly remembered for his portrayal of Simon Templar in the 1938 crime film, The Saint in New York.  Hayward, who died of lung cancer in 1985 at the age of 75, was once married to actress/director Ida Lupino.

Readers, I'm asking for your assistance if  you have any further information that may help Terry.  He really wants a recording of this show and is willing to pay for it.  He's been searching for a long time.  If you have any knowledge about obtaining a copy of The Highwayman, you can contact Terry by e-mail at
elelijacomes@hotmail.com.  Someone out there must know something!

- Joanne