It’s just as well that I have only seen bits of Welcome Back, Kotter, and that not in years, because Marcia Strassman found working on the show to be an exercise in frustration. She was initially told that Gabe Kaplan didn’t like her and wanted her off the show—only to later find out that Gabe Kaplan had been told that she didn’t like him and wanted off the show. Why you’d deliberately set up an attitude of antagonism between your leads is something of a mystery to me, but there it is. Still, even without that, she’d still be beloved to a generation for having been the eponymous “honey” in Honey, I Shrunk the Kids.
Strassman’s career is a journey through Gen-X nostalgia in a lot of ways. Oh, she herself was a Boomer, but that meant she was on television we watched, even shows that are forgotten by most. She was on both TV 101 and I Married Dora, and if both of those shows sound made up to you, you’re probably not alone. (Though the cast of TV 101 is astounding in retrospect, and its concept is prescient enough to make me wonder why it hasn’t been talked about more.) She did an episode of Amazing Stories and an ABC Afterschool Special, and she was on Booker with Richard Grieco. And, yes, she did both Murder, She Wrote and The Love Boat.
Somewhere, every Gen-X reader I have has probably perked up at least once. If you haven’t, how about the fact that she was a recurring character on the first two seasons of M*A*S*H? She even had a name that wasn’t Abel or Baker; she was Nurse Margie Cutler. She had lines and a character arc and everything. She dated Hawkeye for a while, but when people thought the war was ending, he lied and told her he was married. Strassman left the show shortly after that, puttering around as an actress for a couple of years before landing the Kotter role.
Apparently, she was up against Farrah Fawcett for the role and got it over Fawcett because they didn’t believe Gabe Kaplan could end up married to Farrah Fawcett. She felt a little insulted by this, which was absolutely reasonable of her. She was not an unattractive woman by any measure, but it is also true that she didn’t have the ‘70s glamour girl look of Fawcett. She was more wholesome-looking, which is why it’s not surprising that she ended up playing a woman who married men who looked like Gabe Kaplan or Rick Moranis. She also played a reporter who followed Jim Rockford around for two episodes, and she was pretty good there, too.
There are some faces so familiar that it’s almost impossible to believe we’ve lost them forever. When you’re used to seeing someone pop up on Baywatch or Highlander, Fantasy Island and Magnum, P.I., their disappearance feels wrong. Oh, Marcia Strassman wasn’t a young woman when she died of cancer, but she was still too young. Then again, it also feels rough when someone who has such strong mom energy dies no matter when it happens, and while Strassman was a great foil for Hawkeye, she was also the kind of mom you could believe would voluntarily have three kids with Rick Moranis.