John Travolta: An Illustrated Biography By Suzanne Munshower

TV’s most popular Sweathog and one of today’s most promising actors!

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Pity the poor celebrity biographer, charged with turning out a quickie mass-market paperback on a star that may turn out to be HUGE, but at the moment is a 24 year old that has done little of note.

This is the dilemma author Munshower must have been faced with in 1976, when writing this extremely lightweight volume on John Travolta, less than a year into stardom thanks to “Welcome Back, Kotter” (I have a second edition [!!!] with a 1976 & ’78 copyright, which can only speculate on how much people will surely love him in his upcoming roles in Saturday Night Fever and Grease).

Hence the book is constantly repetitive (we hear at least twice in every chapter about how he’s wants to settle down and get married), contradictory (he is happy “playing the field” when it comes to dating), then repetitive (HE TOTALLY WANTS TO SETTLE DOWN AND GET MARRIED, GIRLS!). Even with dozens of pages of EXCITING PHOTOS, that still barely takes us to the 80 page mark, so the last chapters are padded out with a biography of Kotter star Gabe Kaplan, biographies of each of the other Sweathogs actors, a lengthy analysis of his horoscope, and finally (yes!) a chapter about Scientology.

Some Highlights:

Is there anyone in the entire United States of American who isn’t crazy about John Travolta? Some days it seems a sure bet that the answer is no.

Munshower maintains that the mid-1970s had sunk into a state of Teen Idol malaise:

Just a few years ago, the teen magazines and teen-related business were in the doldrums. It was sad, but there just weren’t any exciting young guys making waves in Hollywood.

Only Donny Osmond hung in to reign as the number one teen idol in America, with minimal competition. Those were the dog days, indeed.

She lists David Cassidy, Jack Wild, the Monkees, Bobby Sherman, Billy Mumy and Michael Gray as the young men who had abdicated their duties, leaving girls in a virtual Soviet Union-type state (“You want idol? You get Osmond.”)

(I had to look up a couple of those: Jack Wild was a co-star in Oliver! and human in the Sid & Marty Kroft nightmare-factory; Michael Gray was the star of Shazam! A live-action Saturday morning show that Gen Xers remember far more fondly than it deserves.)

(I can only assume that Chad Everett had already been eaten by Grasshopperhus by the time of the book’s publication)

(There is also like 5 pages on how John Travolta is not Henry Winkler, which I guess I could see how they might want to clear that up in 1976.)

Where was I?

John has shown a tendency to date older women. For no particular reason, he says. But it isn’t an unexpected trend, considering how mature he is for his age and also how back at the Travolta home in New Jersey, John was used to being surrounded by older women!

The author touches briefly on his tragic, doomed romance with actress Diana Hyland, 20 years his senior (she played his mother in the TV-movie “The Boy in the Plastic Bubble”):

When she dies of cancer last year at the age of 41, John felt as though his own life had ended. “I have never been more in love with anyone in my life,” he admits unhesitatingly. “I thought I was in love before, but I was wasn’t…”

Today, John (who says he might have married Diana had she lived) says he sees marriage in his future. And as everyone who knows John agrees, that person will be a very lucky woman.

Could it be YOU?

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(SO LUCKY, YOU GUYS!)

The chapter analyzing his horoscope concludes that he should marry an Aquarian, but I kind of glazed over after the first hundred paragraphs of stuff like this:

Those with Venus in Pisces also tend to be fickle in love, because they are so sensitive… Another aspect worth considering is the location of Saturn in the sign of Scorpio… the Moon in Virgo in John’s chart indicates that he has an excellent memory…

There is a full chapter devoted to his Kotter co-star Gabe Kaplan, wherein we learn many important facts, such as that he is constantly on a diet and doesn’t date Jewish women.

By comparison, the other Sweathogs get shorted by having to share a chapter. Ron Palillo took the job because he was tired of playing “this seventeen year old retarded kid” off-Broadway:

“I was coming out of the show as simple as I was in the show. It was really starting to drive me a little crazy.”

Uh, not cool Horshack.

Much is also made of Travolta’s admiration of Robert (Epstein) Hegyes’s stable marriage:

John Travolta looks up to Bob a great deal. He envies and respects Bob’s marriage to Mary.

(Spoilers, per Wikipedia, they’d be divorced before this book hit the racks.)

The final chapter deals with his involvement in Scientology:

How did John get interested in Scientology? He says it had to do with his broken love affair with Joan Prather. “I was really heartbroken. She was really it for me and I would have married her.”

John defines Scientology as “the science of the mind” and says it “helps you deal with your life better. So I don’t see any reason to finish high school,” he adds. “In a way, what I’m learning in Scientology is helping me study, too, you know.”

“Everyone is coming to an awareness that if they want to help themselves and they think something is going to help them, they can do it,” he says.

Uh, ok. Sure. I think me and teenage Jodie Foster on the same page.

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We’ll smile indulgently, while plotting to take over the world. Meanwhile, Glenn Ford has just farted in crowded elevator.

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11 Responses to John Travolta: An Illustrated Biography By Suzanne Munshower

  1. Pingback: Cher! By Vicki Pellegrino | Lost Classics of Teen Lit, 1939-1989

  2. Susan says:

    John Travolta had a record album in 76 — I guess that had not happened yet? My sister bought it but I had totally forgotten about it until one of the songs popped up on a recent Sirius 70s on 7 channel review of 1976.

    Just found it on YouTube, if you want to sample:

    • mondomolly says:

      It’s mentioned in the book that he has an album in the works- it is really striking how he’s literally only months into his career at the time it was published! I’ve also seen clips of him performing on American Bandstand- it seems like for a time he could have gone either way as an actor or a pop star! Thanks for the link! 🙂

  3. Susan says:

    A few weeks ago I accidentally discovered that a TV channel called THIS TV shows Cagney and Lacey reruns on Sunday nights. This week I noticed that Robert Hegyes was a detective on the show! I had not remembered that. Not that the Sweathogs were high on my priority list 😉 — but back where there were only three TV channels there sometimes weren’t a lot of options!

    • mondomolly says:

      I love those new digital sub-stations (Antenna, GetTV, THIS TV, Cozi) they show reruns of some really long-lost shows! 🙂

      • Susan says:

        Yes! One of them had (or maybe still has) Welcome Back Kotter. I tried to watch a couple episodes but it was so painful 🙂 .

        • Susan says:

          The Welcome Back Kotter theme song is on some of my 70s hits CD collections. It actually hit #1 at one point! (May 1976, google tells me.)

          • mondomolly says:

            I have to say that they could have done worse than John Sebastian singing it!

            I’m always surprised when I see some TV theme song having done so well as a record (I think both Happy Days and Laverne & Shirley’s themes were pretty big hits, too).

            Not to mention MAKIN’ IT which I think did considerably better than the show it was attached to 😉

            • Susan says:

              Hilarious! I have NO memory of this show. The Golden Girls theme was also on the radio, although sung by someone else. I think the song came first and then it was used by the show, rather than being written for the show.

  4. Moon says:

    I misread the author’s name as “Sunshine Manshower”

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