John Travolta quit high school at 16 with a promise to his father that if his acting career didn’t take off within a year, he would come back to Engle-wood, N.J. and finish up. Well, John’s back in school, but not for a diploma. As Vinnie Barbarino—part-time hood, part-time remedial student on ABC’s new sitcom, Welcome Back, Kotter, one of the more successful shows in an otherwise disastrous season—Travolta is hitting the TV big time. Now a fully assimilated Southern Californian, he has the credentials to prove it: ’55 T-Bird, two-seater plane and an interest in Scientology.
One of six children, John was first cast in local New Jersey amateur productions with his actress mother when he was only 12. Work in summer stock was followed by a year with the national touring company of Grease, then a Broadway role in the Andrews Sisters’ vehicle, Over Here. Having realized by 21 the goals he set for himself when he was 16, John has now resolved that by 25 “I want to be a respected actor able to help some of my friends who are talented, but just haven’t gotten the breaks I’ve had.”
America Lou Fackler is so named, her mother explains, because the family is very patriotic and had always liked the name, though America prefers to be called Mary Lou. From Pioneer, Ohio, she is a 20-year-old senior at Radcliffe who has developed competitive instincts that would have made the founding fathers proud. Since the age of 12, she has entered more than 200 competitions—ranging from flying meets to the Miss America contest to science fairs. As a singing ventriloquist, baton twirler (she’s listed in Who’s Who in Baton Twirling) and licensed pilot, she has won over 100 various titles. Last year Mary Lou underwent an androgyny test at her school to determine what makes her so fiercely competitive. “Needless to say,” she laughs nervously, “I scored high on masculine traits, with a lack of interest in children and home.” She likes to win, of course, but the race is the important thing. “Some of my female friends at Harvard see the beauty contests as a joke or a put-down on my part. I think they’re fun.” She has her eye on a career in corporate aviation law. And what about men? “At first they think I’m Susie Sorority from Pioneer, Ohio, but I’m motivated academically, too. It’s almost like I’m two people.”