When actress Marcia Strassman, best known for her role as Julie Kotter on ABC’s Welcome Back, Kotter (1975-79), was diagnosed with stage IV metastatic breast cancer in March of 2007, she took on a new role: patient advocate. Strassman became an active fund-raiser and made frequent appearances on TV talk shows telling her story, sharing her secrets for coping, and offering hope to others living with the disease.
“Gee, if this could happen to Marcia, it could happen to me,” she said in a 2010 interview. “I’m not a sick person, I don’t live my life as a sick person.”
Strassman’s mission came to an end on October 24, when she lost her seven-year battle with the disease. The busy actress, also known for her role in HONEY I SHRUNK THE KIDS (1989) and its sequels, kept working until nearly the end of her life, with an appearance earlier this year in the Hallmark Channel original film, LOOKING FOR MR. RIGHT. But she will forever be remembered as the sweetly sarcastic straight (wo)man to Gabe Kaplan’s beleagured Brooklyn high school teacher on the popular 1970s sitcom that spawned the immortal catchphrase/epithet, “Up your nose with a rubber hose!”
Kotter ran for four years and 95 episodes, peaking at number 13 in the Nielsen ratings during the 1976-77 season. The series spawned a trove of licensed products – lunch boxes , board games, trading cards, comic books, and action figures – I had most of them. It also helped launch the career of John Travolta, who became a teen pin-up as preening pretty boy Vinnie Barbarino.
MeTV, the nostalgia themed broadcast TV network, remembers Strassman tonight, with two Kotter episodes in which she is front and center. In I’m Having Their Baby (original airdate: February 24, 1977), a pregnant Julie Kotter gets some unlicensed pre-natal care from the Sweathogs (Travolta, Ron Palillo as Arnold Horshack, Robert Hegyes as Juan Epstein, and Lawrence Hilton-Jacobs as Freddie “Boom-Boom” Washington) while Mr. Kotter is away at a teachers conference. And in Horshack and the Madame X (airdate: February 23, 1978), Julie tries to boost the date-less Horshack’s self-confidence, which, of course, results in the student developing a crush on her.
Horshack and the Madame X may be the sweetest episode of Welcome Back, Kotter; it’s certainly the one I remember most fondly, as I, myself, had a crush on Marcia Strassman’s Mrs. Kotter and her gigantic 1970s glasses and overalls.
For fans who don’t get MeTV, Welcome Back, Kotter is also available in a new 16-disc complete series DVD set, available now from Shout Factory. A “Best of” series is also available on iTunes and season 1 is available for digital download on Amazon Instant.