Gabe Kaplan

updated 11/28/1994 AT 01:00 AM EST

originally published 11/28/1994 AT 01:00 AM EST

IN 1977, during the height of his Welcome Back, Kotter renown, Gabe Kaplan got the chance to go to the White House. "Mr. Kaplan, nice to meet you," said Jimmy Carter. "And when you go back to California, say hello to the groundhogs."

The President may have gotten the name of Kaplan's rowdy band of TV pupils—the sweathogs—wrong, but he certainly wasn't the only one to get confused about Kaplan's onscreen persona. To this day, says Kaplan, 49, strangers approach him and earnestly ask if he's still teaching at their own alma maters. "You see somebody on TV every week for four years," says Kaplan, "and that face is permanently embedded in your psyche."

When the series, which turned; 21-year-old John Travolta into a star, ended in 1979, Kaplan continued to work as a stand-up comic in Vegas, where he also became a crack card shark. Seven years later, concerned that he was spending too much time and money at it, he decided to fold'em. These days most of his gambling—as well as most of his career—is confined to manipulating a financial portfolio that has provided him with a heftier income than Kotter ever did, and an 18-room Beverly Hills mansion built by Myrna Loy. There's one other thing Kaplan has a vested interest in: a 4-year-old daughter, Rachel, from a former but still amicable relationship with a woman he won't name. No wonder Kaplan doesn't get misty-eyed over the remote. "I don't know how successful I'd have been if I'd kept trying to score in show business," he says. "I just decided to roll the dice elsewhere."

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