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: