This Day In Boomer History
THE BIRTH OF ROBERT HEGYES
May 7, 1951
Your dreams were your ticket out..."
The year was 1975. TV, that nursemaid of my generation, was going through a lot of changes. In January, Another World became the first soap opera to air hour-long episodes. A brand new game show, Wheel of Fortune, made its debut, and the beloved Colonel Henry Blake was killed off on M*A*S*H.
And then - in September, of course - America headed back to school, and TV did too, by way of Brooklyn. Welcome Back Kotter entered our homes - and our vocabularies - in September 1975. It was a vehicle for stand-up comedian Gabe Kaplan, and based on his own high school years. Now, the show is probably best known as the show that introduced us all to a young unknown named John Travolta.
Travolta played Vinnie Barbarino, the leader of a group of, er, academically challenged teens who called themselves The Sweathogs. Check out this video - it looks like an early audition for Saturday Night Fever, eh? The other Sweathogs were the smooth black basketball player Freddie "Boom Boom" Washington (played by Lawrence Hilton-Jacobs), the childish oddball Arnold Horshak (Ron Palillo), who raised his hand enthusiastically and yelled, "Oooh, ooh, oooh!" whenever he "knew" an answer, and the tough "Puerto Rican Jew" Juan Epstein (played by birthday boy Robert Hegyes), who had a note from his mother for every occasion.
The Sweathogs' time in high school pretty much echoed my own, and the show was canceled in 1979. As a side note, Hegyes was a Jersey boy who attended Glassboro State College (now Rowan University), which is where I took my post-baccalaureate certification classes. While I was there, Hegyes came back (a conquering hero, I guess) and took the stage for one night in a college production. I attended the production, which was a vanity piece for the local-boy-done-good, who didn't turn out to be nearly as interesting as I remembered Epstein to be. But at least he isn't getting beat up by Screech!