Archive | March, 2011

UP YOUR NOSE WITH A RUBBER HOSE

31 Mar

66 years ago, on Saturday, March 31, 1945, Gabriel Kaplan was born in Brooklyn. Since then he has been a stand-up comedian, a financial investor, and a champion poker player… but most people know him as the creator and star of “Welcome Back, Kotter.”

From the letterhead used by “Welcome Back, Kotter” in the 1970s.

The sitcom about a man who becomes a teacher in his old high school premiered in September 1975 on ABC and ran for 4 seasons. It also made stars out of Gabe Kaplan and John Travolta.

Kaplan started doing stand-up in the late 1960s and by the early 70s got the break every comic dreamed of – a spot on Johnny Carson’s “Tonight Show.” More TV appearances followed and then Kaplan recorded a comedy album called, Holes and Mellow Rolls. As he explained in his routine, a mellow roll was a kind of ice pop. The album’s title referred to the insults or “ranks” he and his friends used to say to each other in high school. “Up your hole with a mellow roll,” “in your ear with a can of beer,” “up your nose with a rubber hose.”

It was that part of his stand-up act that drew the most attention and allowed Gabe Kaplan (along with Alan Sacks) to create a sitcom based on his high school experiences. The premise had Gabe Kotter (once a remedial student or “sweathog”) return to teach the current “sweathogs” at his old high school. And it became a hit.

Card with pre-printed autograph, sent to fans of “Welcome Back, Kotter.”

During the time “Welcome Back, Kotter” was a hit show, I was attending a real high school in Brooklyn. And since Gabe Kaplan was actually from Brooklyn a friend and I decided we should interview his parents for our school newspaper. We looked in the phone book and found a listing for Kaplan in the correct neighborhood. My friend called and did the talking. Gabe Kaplan’s mother agreed to let us come to their home to interview them. She asked us to call back the following week to set a date.

When we called again Mrs. Kaplan said Gabe never heard of our high school and didn’t think it was a real school. So he told her not to do the interview, and that was the end of it.

Months, maybe years, later I saw Gabe Kaplan on a talk show discussing fame. He said that when “Welcome Back, Kotter” became a hit people would call his parents pretending to be from phony high schools just to score an interview. I always wondered if he meant us.

For the record, we were real, our high school was real, and the interview request was real. Our school — Edward R. Murrow High School — was brand new and in just its second year of existence. That may be why Kaplan (out in Hollywood) had never heard of it. And I suppose “Edward R. Murrow” would’ve been a great name to use for a made-up school.

Gabriel Kaplan autograph signed outside the Ed Sullivan Theater on October 18, 1975.

After “Welcome Back, Kotter” Kaplan starred in several films and gave sitcoms one more try with “Lewis & Clark” (1981-82). His next act led him to the financial markets and then professional poker.

Since the late 1970s Gabe Kaplan has been a champion poker player participating in the World Poker Tour, the World Series of Poker, and winning the Super Bowl of Poker Main Event in 1980. Kaplan has earned more than $1-million playing poker professionally.

He has also been a poker TV commentator, most notably for 6 seasons on “High Stakes Poker” on GSN.

Close-up of Gabriel Kaplan’s autograph.

The cast of “Welcome Back, Kotter” will be honored at this year’s TV Land Awards in April. All the living former cast members: Gabe Kaplan, Marcia Strassman, Lawrence Hilton-Jacobs (aka Lawrence-Hilton Jacobs), Ron Palillo, Robert Hegyes, and even John Travolta are planning to attend. And if anybody’s a no-show? “Up your hole with a mellow roll.”

Oh… and Happy Birthday Gabe.

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RADIO GENIUS, TV COMEDIAN

26 Mar

88 years ago, on Monday, March 26, 1923, actor/comedian Bob Elliott was born in Boston. Though he is best-known for his work in radio, Elliott (with comedy partner Ray Goulding) starred in several TV specials and series.

Bob Elliott & Ray Goulding in the studios of WOR (AM), December 1974.

In 1946 Ray Goulding was hired to read the news for a morning show Bob Elliott was hosting on WHDH in Boston. That fateful pairing would result in a 15 minute radio show called “Matinee with Bob and Ray” and eventually their partnership as the comedy team of Bob & Ray.

Their television careers began on Monday November 26, 1951 when “Bob & Ray” (or “The Bob and Ray Show”) premiered on NBC.  Joining them in sketches and spoofs in this 15 minute program was Audrey Meadows. She was replaced by Cloris Leachman, who was then replaced by Audrey Meadows. The show lasted two years.

I had the pleasure of meeting Bob & Ray on three separate occasions, which are detailed in my previous post. Each time they were gracious and generous.

Bob & Ray in their WOR radio studio, December 1974, joined by students Sami Kenigsberg, Paul Messina, and Jerry Seigerman.

In addition to “The Bob and Ray Show,” the duo briefly hosted a TV game show and made many TV guest appearances. One highlight was the 1979 late night special, “Bob & Ray, Jane, Laraine & Gilda” with Jane Curtin, Laraine Newman, and Gilda Radner, which I attended.

Bob Elliott has also spread his comedic genes to future generations. His son is actor/comedian Chris Elliott and his granddaughter is “Saturday Night Live” cast member Abby Elliott.

In fact, for two seasons (1990-1992) Bob Elliott portrayed the father of his real-life son Chris in the FOX sitcom “Get a Life.”

Autographs in the book: “To Paul – Cheers! Bob Elliott” and “To Paul, All the Best, Ray Goulding”

Bob Elliott and Ray Goulding were inducted into the National Association of Broadcasters Hall of Fame in 1984. “The Bob and Ray Show” was inducted into the Radio Hall of Fame in 1995.

While Ray Goulding died of kidney failure in 1990, at the age of 68, Bob Elliott is alive and well and living on Long Island. Today we salute Bob wish him a Happy Birthday.

You can send a birthday greeting to Bob Elliott at: bob@bobandray.com 

…or send him a note at: P.O. Box 53, Planetarium Station, New York, NY 10024-0053. I’m told Bob usually answers his mail.

Happy Birthday Bob… and thank you.

THE SILENCE IS DEAFENING

20 Mar

89 years ago, on Monday, March 20, 1922, actor/comedian Ray Goulding was born in Lowell, Massachusetts. Though he is best-known for his work in radio, Goulding (with comedy partner Bob Elliott) starred in several TV specials and series.

Ray Goulding in the studios of WOR (AM) in December 1974.

Ray Goulding started his career as an announcer on WLLH radio in Lowell around 1939, and then moved to WEEI in Boston just a year later. After serving in World War II, Goulding was hired to read the news for a morning show hosted by Bob Elliott on WHDH in Boston. That fateful pairing would result in a 15 minute radio show called “Matinee with Bob and Ray” and eventually their partnership as the comedy team of Bob & Ray.

Bob Elliott & Ray Goulding in the studios of WOR (AM), December 1974.

Their television careers began on Monday November 26, 1951 when “Bob & Ray” (or “The Bob and Ray Show”) premiered on NBC.  Joining them in sketches and spoofs in this 15 minute program was Audrey Meadows. She was replaced by Cloris Leachman, who was then replaced by Audrey Meadows. The show lasted two years.

I had the pleasure of meeting Bob & Ray on three separate occasions.

The first time was in December 1974 in the studios of WOR radio. The comedy legends were nice enough to agree to be interviewed by 3 junior high school students. I was one of them. If you look closely we’re wearing “Wally Ballou for Mayor” buttons given to us that day by Bob & Ray.

Bob & Ray in their WOR radio studio, December 1974, joined by students Sami Kenigsberg, Paul Messina, and Jerry Seigerman.

The second time we met was in 1979. The photos we took in 1974 gained us access to Bob & Ray’s dressing room after their masterful performance in the NBC late night comedy special “Bob & Ray, Jane, Laraine & Gilda.” That’s when Bob & Ray were kind enough to autograph these photos.

From Approximately Coast to Coast… It’s The Bob and Ray Show published by Atheneum in 1983.

The third, and last, time I met Bob & Ray was in 1983 when they came up to WPIX-TV to be interviewed about their newest book; From Approximately Coast to Coast… It’s The Bob and Ray Show. I was working at the station at the time and made sure I bought a copy of their book beforehand so I could get another set of autographs. (And yes, I showed them the photos from 1974 to let them know we’d met before).

Autographs in the book: “To Paul – Cheers! Bob Elliott” and “To Paul, All the Best, Ray Goulding”

Rarely does one find geniuses to be so gracious and courteous.

Bob Elliott and Ray Goulding were inducted into the National Association of Broadcasters Hall of Fame in 1984. “The Bob and Ray Show” was inducted into the Radio Hall of Fame in 1995.

Ray Goulding died of kidney failure in 1990. He was 68. Bob Elliott is alive and well and living on Long Island. He will turn 88 next week. But today we honor Ray Goulding for bringing laughter to my world and the world of television.

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