March 15, 2006 -- A little quiz for fellow Sweathogs out there: If you know what part Ron Palillo wants to play in Ice Cube's new version of "Welcome Back, Kotter," raise your hand and start shouting "Ooh! Ooh! Ooh!"
Palillo shot to fame nearly three decades ago as the nasal-voiced nerd Arnold Horshack on the '70s TV show that featured Gabe Kaplan as a Brooklyn high school teacher and John Travolta as the ringleader of those troublemaking misfits, the Sweathogs.
In the new adaptation, announced this week by Dimension Films, Ice Cube will take on Kaplan's role. It's the latest in a wave of big-screen versions of TV chestnuts.
Among the signs that Hollywood has officially run out of ideas: Travolta is now in talks to star in Larry Hagman's old role as J.R. Ewing in an update of "Dallas," while Jessica Alba is said to be considering a turn in Barbara Eden's harem outfit for an all-new "I Dream of Jeannie."
Horshack's Laugh Is No Laughing Matter
At 56, Palillo is too old to play a Sweathog, but he laughs at the prospect of making an appearance in the film.
"I think I should play Mr. Woodman," he says, referring to the curmudgeonly principal who was perpetually an inch away from expelling Barbarino and the boys.
In recent years, Palillo has turned his attention to writing. His first original play, "The Lost Boy," opened last year at the Helen Hayes Theater in Nyack, N.Y.
Of course, Travolta parlayed Barbarino into "Saturday Night Fever," "Grease" and superstardom. Palillo's post-"Kotter" career has been more akin to Travolta's "Look Who's Talking" nadir with stints in such fare as "Jason Lives: Friday the 13th Part VI," "Snake Eater" and "Snake Eater II: The Drug Bust."
Palillo has cashed in on his 15 minutes of Horshack fame. On "Celebrity Boxing 2," he fought the actor who played Screech on "Saved by the Bell" -- and lost. He also made an appearance in David Spade's "Dickie Roberts: Former Child Star."
But Palillo has moved on. He has officially retired his ultimate crowd-pleaser, the Horshack laugh -- a gag that has haunted him for years.
"You know where that came from?" he says. "When I was 10 years old my dad died of lung cancer. And the last week he was alive the only way he was able to breathe was by making that noise.
"I didn't realize until I was two or three years into the show that I had actually taken my father's death gasp and turned it into a national joke. … That story itself put me on a shrink's couch for years to come."
Ice Cube issued a statement saying there was no bigger fan of the original show than him, and he's excited to be able to put a "new twist on it." Palillo says shifting Mr. Kotter into a vehicle for the rapper-turned-actor isn't that much of a stretch.
"I don't think it makes one difference one way or another. I went and did a kind of special over at the school that the show was based on, James Buchanan High, and I saw teachers of every race and color and creed, so I don't think it makes much difference."
Of course, back in the '70s, when Travolta ruled the schoolyard, the roughest thing a Sweathog would say is "Up your nose with a rubber hose." And that's not exactly what the rapper would call old school.