Party Crasher

Longshot presidential candidate Fred Karger eagerly recounts his days sneaking into the Oscars in the early 1970s. Pictured at left is actress-model Candice Bergen, with Raquel Welch on the right.

Fred Karger is getting a lot of notoriety as the first openly gay Republican presidential candidate or the first openly gay Republican Jewish presidential candidate. I like to call him the first “Welcome Back Kotter” candidate.

In my profile on Karger in The Hill, DC’s paper of record for Congressional news, I explore how the retired Republican strategist (director of opposition research for Reagan’s re-election campaign) got his career start as an actor on a failed sitcom pilot.

“If there were ever an “It’s a Wonderful Life”-type movie made about underdog GOP presidential candidate Fred Karger, it would start on the cutting-room floor of “Horshack,” a promising 1976 sitcom pilot for ABC.

Based on nerdy high school student Arnold Horshack from “Welcome Back, Kotter,” the family comedy was a career breakthrough for Karger, an aspiring actor who was cast as Horshack’s street-tough cousin Howard. After a week of rehearsals, his character was cut out of the final script. The moment was a cruel blast of Hollywood disappointment: not being good enough to appear on a show that’s not good enough to air.”

If there were a public appetite for “Welcome Back Kotter” political allegories, I would have written a three-part series on the obscure “Horshack” pilot, which clearly flopped because Horshack is the definitive supporting character role and not a leading man (frantically raise your hand and insert your best “Ooooh!  Ooooh!” here).

I tracked down the obscure pilot (it didn’t make the DVD) on some Internet site I hope didn’t give me a virus and I was thoroughly entertained.  Ellen Travolta, who played Horshack’s mother, doesn’t remember Karger or his character, but had fond memories of the pilot — it was her first TV break, too.

Karger, who is breathing fresh air into the 2012 NH Primary with his free Frisbees and bagpiper-led strolls, is a pop culture fiend. He keeps a picture of himself with Roseanne Barr dressed as a Playboy bunny on his bureau (come to think of it, Roseanne says she’s running for president, too) and he uses a “Glee” mousepad for his laptop.

Unfortunately, I couldn’t fit in those details either. But that’s what blogs are for, right?  In addition to having a place to post pictures of the original Sweathogs:

President Fred Karger's Cabinet: Kotter, Washington, Epstein and Horshack.

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