It's rare that an actor is so closely identified with a television show that it's impossible to think of one without the other. That's the case with Mr. Kaplan, who's "Welcome Back, Kotter" series ran from 1975 to 1979 and featured a certain actor named John Travolta. Mr. Kaplan has had only a few minor roles in television. and films since the show ended, but not to worry -- he apparently was a whiz at investing and is a self-made millionaire.
Gabe Kaplan has had three careers, two have been very successful, but the first, the one he wanted the most, never materialized.
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Back in high school Gabe was a hot-shot baseball player who could hit the "long ball." Convinced by his coaches and teammates that he was major league material, he packed up his Louisville Slugger and set out to break the major league home run record. After two years he couldnít even make a minor league roster, and it was soon clear to him that organized baseball disagreed with his coaches and concluded that he was high school material.
Disappointed, Gabe licked his wounds and got a job as a bellman at a resort hotel in Lakewood, New Jersey. This particular hotel featured stand-up comedians three times a week. After several months of watching, he kept thinking the same thought. I could do that too.
With some "borrowed" comedy material, Gabe criss-crossed the country to perfect his timing and hone his performing skills. Long before the comedy-club explosion, he became a regular in small nightclubs, coffee houses, and the Playboy club circuit.
He started writing his own act, developing routines based mostly on his experiences growing up in Brooklyn. His big break came when he appeared on The Tonight Show in the early seventies. He was an instant hit and was soon appearing regularly on all the many talk and variety shows on television at the time. He even did an unprecedented stand-up performance on an Emmy Award telecast.
He then created a situation comedy based on his high school class and the characters that were there with him. Instead of being their contemporary he made his character the teacher and "Welcome Back Kotter" was born. After six weeks, the show made its way into the top ten and remained there for most of its four season run on ABC.
When "Kotter" ended, Gabe made the jump to movies, starring in three feature films, "Fast Break," "Tulips," and "Nobodyís Perfect," while continuing to perform stand-up act in Las Vegas and Atlantic City. He also appeared in two legitimate theater productions, originating the role of "Groucho, A Live In Review" and starring in the national touring company of the successful Broadway comedy, "Doubles." "Groucho" became a well-received HBO special, and has since been performed around the world.
While "Kotter" was running, Gabe became involved in the financial markets and enjoyed matching wits with Messer, Dunn and Bradstreet. His investment strategies have been written about in several leading financial magazines. Gabe also gained notoriety as a world class poker player and gambler. He was a two-time champion of both The Super Bowl of Poker and the Commerce Clubís Low Ball Tournament. He won the Knights of The Round Table Championís Tournament the only time it was held in 1986. Although heís never won a World Series of Poker event, he has placed second and third several times.
In the last year, Gabe has renewed his interest in stand-up comedy, performing at different venues all across the country. He talks about the "Kotter" days and how his life has changed with his new career. Asked if back to stand-up comedy is where his life is going, Gabe says, "who knows, I havenít given up my dreams to be a baseball player."
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