Welcome Back Kotter Cast

Wednesday, April 27 by Sandi Harrison

“Welcome Back Kotter” was a 1970’s sitcom that featured Mr. Kotter (Gabe Kaplan) and the Sweathogs, and here are some short bios of the “Welcome Back Kotter” cast members then and now. The show was actually based on some of Gabe Kaplan’s experiences in a remedial class at his rea high school, and centers around the character of the teacher who actually inspired him when he was a youth.

  1. Marcia Strassman (Julie Kotter, 1975-1979). Julie was Kotter’s wife who had to listen to her husband’s continual stories about Uncle Max and endure visits from the Sweathogs. After the show ended she appeared on shows like “Magnum, P.I.,” “M*A*S*H*, and “Touched by an Angel.” She also appeared in “Honey I Shrunk the Kids” and television shows like “Tremors,” “Third Watch,” and “Providence.”
  2. John Sylvester White (Michael Woodman, 1975-1979). Principal Woodman fought Kotter on his permissive methods of teaching and put down the Sweathogs. Inside, however, he had a heart of gold which he kept undercover. Prior to Kotter, in 1951 he was an original member on “Search for Tomorrow.” He appeared on several television shows, until he tragically died of pancreatic cancer in 1988 at the age of 68.
  3. Robert Hegyes (Juan Epstein, 1975-1979). Half-Jewish and half Puerto-Rican, Epstein’s full name was Juan Luis Pedro Phillipo de Huevos Epstein. He was the tough Sweathog. He was well known for the excuse notes he brought to school which were signed by “Epstein’s mother.” He has been married four times and has six children. After doing various guest shots and small roles, he became a teacher in Venice, California. He developed a delinquent-teen web series, partially based on Kotter, entitled “The Venice Walk.” He is also Jon Bon Jovi’s cousin.
  4. Lawrence Hilton Jacobs (Freddie “Boom Boom” Washington, 1975-1979). Every group needs a jock, and in Kotter it was Boom Boom Washington. They started calling him Boom Boom because he worked as a radio DJ, was the coolest Sweathog, and was always playing air-bass. He later played roles in “Cooley High,” “Roots,” “Death Wish,” and played Papa Joe in the miniseries “The Jacksons.” He stays involved in the industry by writing, directing, and composing.
  5. Ron Palillo (Arnold Dingfelder Horshack, 1975-1979). Horshack and his nasly laugh appeared to be the biggest goofball of the Sweathogs. In actuality he was the only student that made it out of the remedial program, but returned because he didn’t like being normal. After Kotter he straightened his hair and got a nose job to help get acting parts. He primarily makes his living as a college drama teacher, book illustrator, and graphic designer.
  6. Gabe Kaplan (Gabe Kotter, 1975-1979). The role of Mr. Kotter was co-created and played by Gabe Kaplan. A former Sweathog himself, he bonded with his class and shared banter and life lessons with them. After Kotter he became a financial advisor and later on a professional poker player. He still does standup comedy and commentating on ESPN.
  7. John Travolta (Vinnie Barbarino, 1975-1979). After playing some small roles, John Travolta played Vinnie, the charmer who always got the girl, on Kotter. His famous comeback was “Up your nose with rubber hose!” He went on to do “Grease” and “Saturday Night Fever” in the 1980s, and in 1994 starred in “Pulp Fiction.” He has played in several other hit movies like “Hairspray” and “Wild Hogs,” and continues to pilot his five planes.
  8. Stephen Shortridge (Beau De Labarre, 1978-1979). After playing in a few episodes on Kotter, Stephen went back to his painting and has done over 50 commercials like Mennens, Certs and Coke.
  9. Helaine Lembeck (Judy Borden, 1975-1978). Helaine played the girl the Sweathogs loved to hate. For the past 22 years since Kotter, she and her brother took over her father’s classes at the Harvey Lembeck Comedy Workshop. She also does private coaching.
  10. Vernee Watson-Johnson (Vernajean Williams, 1975-1977). In addition to her part on Kotter as Vernajean, she played on “Sister, Sister,” “Fresh Prince of Bel-Air,” “The Young and the Restless,” “Days of our Lives,” and numerous other shows. She also is a voice actress and a dancer with her own studio in L.A.
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