What do you think of when you think of Brooklyn?
- Iconic bridges
- Delicious pizza
- That undeniable Brooklyn swagger
All of these things are represented in two of John Travolta’s first acting roles:
Vinnie Barbarino in the hit TV show ‘Welcome Back, Kotter’ and Tony Manero in the classic film ‘Saturday Night Fever’.
John Travolta played the quintessential Italian Brooklynite in both. He’s so good that it’s strange to think he isn’t actually from Brooklyn. Travolta is from Englewood, New Jersey, but let’s not hold that against him.
Here’s to the roles that put John Travolta and Brooklyn on the map!
Welcome Back, Kotter (1975-1979)
What it’s about: The show is based on Mr. Kotter (Brooklynite Gabe Kaplan), a funny and compassionate high school teacher. He ends up teaching a remedial high school class at his alma mater. The diverse group of fun loving, inner city students refer to themselves as called “Sweathogs”. Mr. Kotter formed the “Sweathogs” when he was a student at the same high school.
Travolta played Vinnie Barbarino who was the leader of the Sweathogs. He was a ladies man and his prowess with women was a running theme in the show. His classmates couldn’t get enough of his stories. Coincidentally, John Travolta was a high school dropout in real life. He left high school at 16 to pursue acting.
Vinnie Barbarino was known for being a ladies man as much as for his catchphrases and one-liners. Remember these?
“Up your nose with a rubber hose”
“I’m so confused”
“Who? What? Where?”
“Off my case, toilet-face”
Brooklyn references: ‘Welcome Back, Kotter’ took place at the fictional James Buchannan High School, but was based on Gabe Kaplan’s time as a remedial student at New Utrecht High School in Brooklyn, which you can see in the opening credits.
Saturday Night Fever (1977)
Saturday Night Fever was groundbreaking. John Travolta was one of the youngest people ever to be nominated for an Academy Award. It was one of the first times a city and a soundtrack were almost costars in a film.
Travolta was so popular from ‘Welcome Back, Kotter’ that filming was frequently stopped on the streets of Brooklyn because teenage girl would scream when they saw him.
What it’s about: Tony Manero was a 19 year old paint store clerk who lived with his parents in Bay Ridge, Brooklyn. Tony was trapped in a dead end life, but “On the weekend, and on the dance floor, Tony is king.” He lived for Saturday nights with his friends and their disco lifestyle.
Brooklyn references: The entire film was shot in the Bay Ridge, Sunset Park and Bensonhurst sections of Brooklyn.
Saturday Night Fever is when most people were introduced to how Brooklynites eat pizza. In the opening scene, Tony Manero bought two slices of pizza from Lenny’s Pizza in Bensonhurst and ate them stacked.
One of the major stars of the film is the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge. Tony and his friends would play around on the bridge, but it had special meaning to Tony because it was a symbol of escape to a better life.
What do you think? Should we make John Travolta an honorary Brooklynite? Let us know in the comments!