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TV Acres Newsletter

Polish TV Characters - April 2002

This month TV ACRES looks at: 

...The Polish

Oh, we've all heard the mean-spirited jokes about the Polish. But you won't hear any such put-downs here. This month at TV Acres, we come to "praise" the Polish not to "bury them," as Shakespeare might say. The following is a list of the prominent Polish TV characters to have appeared on American TV from the 1950s to the present over the last fifty years. Enjoy

 *   - Indicates the person was the star or co-star 
**
  -  Indicates a regular or a recurring actor 

ALL IN THE FAMILY/CBS/1971-83
*(Rob Reiner/costar) Mike Stivic, a know-it-all, Polish-American college student married to the daughter of a bigoted New York loading dock foreman. Mike's liberal political persuasion was constantly at odds with his father-in-law, Archie with whom he lived while going to school. Their shouting matches over a variety of social issues often ended with Mike being called a "dumb pinko-Commie Pollock" or a "Meathead". Once Archie proclaimed “Sticks and stones will break my bones but your are one dumb Pollock.“ When Mike finally received his degree in Sociology, he moved to California in 1978 with his wife, Gloria (Sally Struthers) and his young son, Joey (Jason & Justin Draeger), thus effectively being written out of the script. During the 1982 season, he divorced his wife and ran off to a commune to be a flower child. His wife, Gloria resurfaced in a short-lived spin-off GLORIA/CBS/1982-83 which dealt with her struggles after the divorce.

ANGEL STREET/CBS/1992
*(Pamela Gidley/costar) Dorothy "Dotty" Paretsky, a cigarette-smoking police detective of Polish-Catholic descent working for the Violent Crimes Unit of the Chicago Police Department. Dorothy grew up in the Polish Hill section of Chicago also known as Angel Street. She was teamed with a African-American female partner.

ANYTHING BUT LOVE/ABC/1989-92
**(Holly Fulger) Robin Dulitski, a dental hygientist and best friend of writer Hannah Miller who owned the apartment building in which Hannah lived. Robin has known Hannah since she was five-years-old. They referred to each other as Mrs. Schmenkman.

BANACEK/NBC/1972-74
*(George Peppard) Thomas Banacek, a cool, suave Polish-American investigator who assisted insurance companies in solving theft and loss cases. His fees for his efforts afforded him a luxurious home in the exclusive Beacon Hill section of Boston, Massachusetts. Banacek's mathematician father was born in Warsaw, Poland. When he moved to American he worked for an Insurance but after 20 years of service he was replaced by a computer. His son, Thomas remembers this little affront and now says "I don’t; work for anybody, I work for myself." Banacek charges 10% commission on the value of any items recovered. George Peppard was very popular with the Polish viewing audience who reveled in his positive, non-stereotypical persona. His character often dropped a Polish proverb or two along the trail of his criminal investigations. Some examples: "There's an old Polish proverb that says"..."Just because a dress is red satin, doesn't mean it comes off easy"; "A truly wise man never plays leap frog with a unicorn"; and "Only someone with nothing to be sorry about smiles at the rear of an elephant." The BANACEK series was originally broadcast as a rotating segment of the NBC WEDNESDAY MYSTERY MOVIE. See also "Irish" section on MADIGAN.

BARNEY MILLER/ABC/1975-82
**(Maxwell Gail) Detective Stanley "Wojo" Wojohowicz, a naive, but lovable plainclothes police officer working at the 12th Precinct, a run-down police station located in Greenwich Village in New York City. Wojo was single, loved baseball and wore the oddest color combinations when it came to his shirts and ties.

BLUE THUNDER/ABC/1984
**(Dick Butkus) Officer Richard "Ski" Butowski, a hulking policeman who assisted special Los Angeles Police Department unit responsible for "Blue Thunder," a high -tech helicopter.

THE BOBBY VINTON SHOW/SYN/1975-78
*(Bobby Vinton) Bobby Vinton, a popular Polish-American singer who starred in his own musical variety show that featured songs, comedy sketches and animated shorts. Polish-Americans who had already dubbed him the "Polish Prince" adopted his song "My Melody of Love" as their anthem.

CHINA BEACH/ABC/1988-91
*(Marg Helenberger) Karen Charlene ("K.C.") Koloski, a civilian prostitute and heroine addict (born in Kansas City) working at the China Beach R & R facility in Da Nang, Republic of Vietnam during the late 1960s. K C. charges a $100 an hour and has type "O" blood. During her stay in Nam she befriended an Irish-American nurse named Colleen McMurphy. In 1967 K. C. got pregnant with a child fathered by General A. M. Miller. She later gave up her baby (Karen) to a Vietnamese woman as she said "until I get my life together." Just before the Fall of Saigon, she retrieves her child (played by Shay Aster) and tells her to contact Boonie Lanier, a soldier who loved her. Back in the states, Boonie raised Karen as one of his own. K. C. went on to become the owner of a diner and later a high powered business woman. Christine Elise played Karen during her college years.

C-16: FBI/ABC/1997-98
*(Eric Close) Special Agent John Olansky, Polish-American leader of a maverick squad of FBI agents based in Los Angeles. Olansky and his loyal agents get the job done by not"“going by the book."

COACH/CBS/1989-97
**(Bill Faberbakke) Dauber Dybinski, a slowwitted student assistant who worked with Coach Hayden and the Screaming Eagles Football Team at Minnesota State University.

CRUSADER/CBS/1955-56
**(Brian Keith) Matt Anders, a freelance writer of Polish descent who helps people escape the oppressive hands of dictatorships and Commuist regimes. Matt's mother died in a Polish concentration camp after the Polish government was overthrown by Communists.

DELTA HOUSE/ABC/1979
*(Josh Mostel) Jim "Blotto" Blutarsky, rowdy college transfer student living Delta House a fraternity at Faber College in Pennsylvania during 1962. Jim was the younger brother of Bluto Blutarsky (played by John Belushi), the guy who yelled "Food fight!" in the movie "National Lampoon's Animal House" (1978).

THE DREW CAREY SHOW/ABC/1995-2004
**(Kathy Kinney) Mimi Bobeck, overweight cosmetically-challenged secretary of Polish heritage who worked at Winfred-Louder Department Store in Cleveland. Mimi is mean, vindictive, dresses in outrageously colorful costumes and is the thorn in the side of assistant director of personnel, Drew Carey. Mimi later falls in love with Drew’s brother Steve Carey and (horror of horrors) Mimi becomes one of the family. Mimi often calls Drew Carey a “pig” and not surprisingly, her catchphrase is ”Bite me, Pig.“

Mimi’s family heritage of Polish is mentioned in the March 19, 1997 episode 42 "Two Drews and the Queen of Poland Walk into a Bar" in which Mimi (a descendent of Polish royalty) prepares to meet a neighborhood man called the King of Poland with hopes of becoming his queen. Unfortunately, the Polish-American community wasn't amused by the episode and references to Mimi’s Polish heritage. In the June 3, 1997 issue of the PAC NEWS Connection Frank Milewski, who heads the Anti-Bigotry Committee remarked “The material was so defamatory that we felt the issue had to be taken up face-to-face basis...The problem rests on two characters depicted as Polish on the March 19th episode of the Drew Carey series. One was “Mimi Bobeck,” a clown-like caricature of a Polish woman who has not been given any ethnic identity until this particular show. The other was “Stan,” a vulgar and repulsive individual holding himself out to “King of Poland.” The PAC concerns were based on similar complaints in the past as the cancellation of the old “Dick Tracy“ series by another network because Asian and Hispanic communities objected to characters named “Jo Jitsu“ and Go Go Gomez.” Chris Hikawa, Vice President of Broadcast Standards & Practices at ABC, initially advised the Anti-Bigotry Committee that “This storyline in no way denigrated Polish-Americans. Mimi is clearly proud of her Polish heritage and does not exhibit any of the negative stereotyped traits which are the basis of Polish jokes. We believe that the program does not ridicule Polish-Americans and regret that your were offended.” But later Hikawa reached an agreement with the producers of The Drew Carey Show to have the episode entitled “Two Kings and a Queen” edited for rebroadcast. The character of the King of Poland will be eliminated from the program." The PAC also proposed that ABC not repeat the March 19th episode or put it into syndication and stop identifying “Mimi” as Polish. (Check out the related 1997 PAC News Connection articles at http://www.polamcon.org). Another character with a Polish surname is Lewis Kiniski (played by Ryan Stiles), a janitor at DrugCo Pharmaceutical Company. He has known Drew Carey since they were kids growing up in Cleveland. Lewis’ character can be borderline philosophical but generally is just down right stupid and “creepy.”

THE FACTS OF LIFE/NBC/1979-88
*(Nancy McKeon/costar) Jo Polniaczek, a tom-boyish young lady of Polish descent who loved to putter with automobile and motorcycle engines. Alex Rocco played her father, an ex-con who got enough money together to send her to Eastland, a suburban New York finishing school for women where she roomed with a group of young girls of varied backgrounds. The series followed their development as friends. All four graduated and lived with the school's former dietician where they worked at her business (first a gourmet shop and later a novelty shop). Claire Malis appeared as Jo's infrequently seen mother, Rose Polniaczek.

THE FATHER DOWLING MYSTERIES/NBC/ABC/1989-91
*(Tracy Nelson/costar) Stephanie Oskowski, a streetwise young women of Polish descent who joined the convent and later was to be known as Sister Steve. She taught at St. Michaels and helped Father Frank Dowling solve crimes in the city of Chicago.

GAVILAN/NBC/1982-83
**(Kate Reid) Marion Jaworski, Polish-American supervisor at California's DeWitt Institute of Oceanography who assigned projects to a former CIA agent named Gavilan.

GIMME A BREAK/NBC/1981-87
*(Dolph Sweet) Carl Kanisky, a beefy, widower police chief of polish descent who lived in the suburban town of Glenlawn. His family included Kari Michaelson as Katie; Lauri Hendler as Julie; Lara Jill Miller as Samantha "Sam"; Pete Schrum as Uncle Ed Kanisky; and John Hoyt as Grandpa Stanley Kanisky and Jane Dulo as Grandma Mildred Kanisky. When the chief died (Dolph Sweet died in real-life), Nell Harper, his black housekeeper, took care of the children.

THE GEORGE CARLIN SHOW/FOX/1994-95
**(Susan Sullivan) Kathleen Rachowski, Polish-American owner of a pet store in New York City where cabbie George O'Grady got dog food supplies and got dates with shop's attractive proprietress.

GLORIA/CBS/1982-83
*(Sally Struthers) Gloria Bunker-Stivic, the ex-wife of Polish-American Michael Stivic who abandoned Gloria to live on a California commune on the sitcom ALL IN THE FAMILY. Gloria now works in Upstate New York as a veterinarian's assistant. Her little boy, Joey Stivic was played by Christian Jacobs.

GRACE UNDER FIRE/ABC/1993-1997
**(Casey Sander) Wade Z. Swoboda, tall, blond, Polish-American police officer living in Victory, Missouri next-door to series title character (Grace). Also featured was Nadine Swoboda, Wade,s wife. Wade is a Vietnam veteran. He carried a silver cigarette case for good luck. He once discovered that his name was mistakenly displayed on the wall of the Vietnam War Memorial. Later in the series, Wade became a traffic helicopter pilot.

HARDBALL/NBC/1989-90
*(Richard Tyson/costar) Joe "Kaz" Kaczierowski, a streetwise cop of polish descent who worked with his detective partner at the Metro Division of the Los Angeles Police Department. Kaz's mother, Beverly Kaczierowski, was played by Patricia Harty.

HAWAIIAN HEAT/ABC/1984
*(Jeff McCracken/costar) Andy Senkowski, a Chicago police detective of Polish descent who relocates to Hawaii with his partner Mac Riley and eventually become undercover cops for Major Taro Oshira of the Oahu Police Department. Also featured was Shelley Winters as Andy's mother, Florence Senkowski.

HENNESEY/CBS/1959-62
**(Henry Kulky) Max Bronsky, naval orderly of Polish decent who was assigned to the San Diego Naval Base in California. In the fall of 1961 Max got promoted to Chief Petty Officer. Also featured was Frank Gorshin as Seaman Pulaski.

THE HEIGHTS/FOX/1992
**(Zachary Throne) Lenny Wieckowski, Polish-American worker at the Seven Seas restaurant who plays keyboard with a blue-collar rock and roll band called The Heights.

HILL STREET BLUES/NBC/1981-87
**(Robert Prosky) Sgt. Stanislaus Jablonski, a cynical police officer who supervised the 7.A.M. roll call at Hill Street station. After updating his fellow officers about what was happening on the streets, he left them with these parting words "Let's do it to them before they do it to us." Jablonski's predecessor Sgt. Phil Esterhaus (now deceased) had ended each roll call with "And, hey! Let's be careful out there."

HONEY, I SHRUNK THE KIDS/SYN/1997-2000
*(Peter Scolari) Wayne Szalinsky, a Polish-American research scientist who lives with his lawyer wife, Diane in the town of Matheson, Colorado, They share their home with children Amy, a teenager and Nick, a boy computer genius. Wayne’s ancestor “Lo Fat’ fought Ninjas.

HUNTER/NBC/1984-91
*(Darlanne Fluegel) Officer Joann Molenski, a female policewoman of Polish descent working with Detective Sergeant Rick Hunter in the city of Los Angeles. Officer Molenski replaced Officer Dee Dee McCall during the 1990-91 season. She was killed three months later.

KANE & ABEL/1985 (Miniseries)
*(Peter Strauss) Abel Rosnovski,, wealthy businessman who created the world’s largest chains of hotels. Before coming to New York, Able [born in the Polish countryside] spent many years working in Siberian prison camp. Able now struggles to maintain his business empire while doing battle with William Kan, a wealthy Bostonian and Wall Street banker. Abel’s relatives include Alberta Watson as Zofia Rosnovski; and Kate McNeil as Florentyna Rosnovski.

KAZ/CBS/1978-79
*(Ron Liebman) Martin "Kaz" Kazinsky, an ex-cop, ex-auto thief, who passes the bar exam and begins his career as an attorney at the Los Angeles law firm of Bennett, Rheinhart and Alquist.

KOLCHAK: THE NIGHT STALKER/ABC/1974-75
*(Darren McGavin) Carl Kolchak, a wisecracking journalist for the Chicago's Independent News Service who usually returned from his assignments with unbelievable tales of vampire, werewolves, etc.

LAVERNE & SHIRLEY/ABC/1976-83
**(David L. Lander) Lenny Kosnowski, Milwaukee brewery truck driver (the dufus sidekick of Squiggy Squiggman) who lived in the same apartment complex as brewery coworkers, Laverne DeFazio and Shirley Feeney. Lenny's family surname "Kosnowski" translated into English means "Help! There is a hog in my kitchen." His last name was "Kolowski" in earlier episodes.

THE LIBERACE SHOW/NBC/1952
*(Wladziu Valentino, aka Liberace) Liberace, popular pianist Wladziu Valentino ("Lee" to his friends) who starred in this network musical variety program. A syndicated version of the program was filmed from 1953-55; followed by THE LIBERACE SHOW/ABC/1958-59; and then again he reappeared in his own CBS network series in 1969. He often played the song "I'll Be Seeing You" as a closing number. Liberace, earned his nickname "Mr. Showmanship" for his flamboyant stage shows which included glittering wardrobes studded in sequins and rhinestone-covered pianos. Liberace, a child prodigy, soloed at the age of fifteen with the Chicago symphony orchestra. During the Depression, he played his piano in nightclubs to help his family (using his first stage name of Buster Keys).To give his act a little more class in the 1940s, he placed a candelabrum on the top of his piano. The most flashy part of his act was his wardrobe. Originally, he wore a tuxedo with tails and later dressed in a gold or plaid jacket while performing. However, when his fans began to out dress him, not to be outdone Liberace began wearing more and more outrageous costumes which eventually became an expensive joke costing an average of $1,000,000 a year and weighing in excess of 100 pounds a piece. But with a reported salary of $250,000 a week, he could afford it. Milton Berle recalled Liberace once saying that one of his red glittering jackets was actually "20,000 fire flies in heat." Negative critiques of his performances prompted Liberace to invent his now famous quote "I cried all the way to the bank." Years later he remarked, "Remember the bank I cried all the way to?...I bought it." Liberace debuted on local Los Angeles television in 1951, followed by a summer musical variety series His last public appearance was on the 1986 Christmas telecast of the syndicated talk show series THE OPRAH WINFREY SHOW. Liberace died in his favorite Palm Springs home on February 4, 1987. The Riverside County coroner, Raymond Carrillo ruled his death (originally listed as congestive heart failure brought on by inflammation of the brain) as being due to complications brought on by the AIDS virus. Memorial services were held at St. Anne's Catholic Church in Las Vegas (a town where he often played to sold-out performances). His body was buried next to his mother, Frances and brother, George in Forest Lawn Cemetery in Los Angeles. In memory of the ever-smiling performer whose appeal spanned all age groups, the Hollywood Chamber of Commerce placed a wreath on Liberace's star on the Walk of Fame; and the Palm Springs City Hall flew their flag at half mast. Artifacts of his career are now displayed in The Liberace Museum in Las Vegas, Nevada.

M*A*S*H/CBS/1972-83
**(John Schuck) Captain Walter Koskiusko Waldowski, dentist stationed at the 4077th Mobile Army Surgical Hospital based in Korea during the Korean War. Waldowski is nicknamed “The Painless Pole” and widely known as the ‘the best-equipped dentist in the Army.” This Polish character although appearing in the 1970 Robert Altman film M*A*S*H never made it to the TV series spin-off. In the film he planned to commit suicide when he believed he was experiencing “latent homosexuality” after not being able to “get it on” with an Army nurse.

MAN WITH A CAMERA/ABC/1958-60
*(Charles Bronson) Mike Kovac, New York City photographer working freelance for newspapers, insurance companies, etc. who helped the police solve crimes. Other cast included Ludwig Stossel as Anton Kovac, Mike's father. Ludwig Stossel is remembered for his of character "The Little Old Wine Maker" the sweet little old spokesman for Italian Swiss Colony wine who dressed in an Alpine hat and lederhosen in a series of TV commercials in the 1960s.

MATT HELM/ABC/1975-76
*(Lariane Stephens) Claire Kronski, an attractive private practice attorney working for Matt Helm, a former intelligence agent turned private eye. Matt once described Claire as "the most honest lawyer who ever lived, but one of the sneakiest people I have ever known."

MY SO-CALLED LIFE/MTV/1994-95
**(Devon Odessa) Sharon Cherski, a student at Liberty High School. Considered to be "Miss Perfect" by her classmates [also voted "Best Hooters" in the sophomore class], Sharon loves to wear pink colors and is involved in a number of extra-curricular activities including playing the Oboe, working on the school yearbook, Teen Hotline volunteer and organizer of the World Happiness Dance. Sharon is also the former best friend and Girl Scout buddy of Angela Chase [whose taken up with a wilder crowd]. Sharon's family includes her father Andy; and mother Sharon [into handcuffs and sex videos] who is the best friend of Angela's mother, Patty. Sharon later made up with Angela after Andy's heart attack and became a friend of Rayanne Marie Graff [voted "Most Slut Potential" in the sophomore class]. Sharon is also a friend of Delia Fisher, a new student and yearbook staffer who has a crush on Ricky Vasquez, a gay student.

MY TWO DADS/NBC/1987-90
**(Dick Butkus) Ed Klawicki, a former football player of Polish descent who operated a local diner located in the lobby of an apartment in New York City.

NYPD BLUE/ABC/1993-2005
*(Dennis Franz/costar) Detective Andy Sipowicz, a dedicated homicide detective of Polish descent working in a busy downtown New York City police station. He married an attorney of Greek descent.

NORTHERN EXPOSURE/CBS/1990-95
**(Diane Delano) Sgt. Barbara Semanski, a burly Polish-American Alaskan state trooper who was a staunch protector of justice. Her extreme rigidity with following the letter of the law compromised her affections with a local entrepreneur (He cheated the IRS) who had the hots for her large blonde Amazonian body.

PLAYERS/NBC/1997-98
*(Mia Korf/costar) Christine Kowalski, Special FBI agent coordinating the efforts of three ex-cons recruited by FBI experimental unit that uses streetwise felons to bring down criminals in high-risk undercover scams. Despite her last name the Christine facial features reveal some Asian ancestry as well.

RAVEN/CBS/1992
*(Lee Majors/costar) Herman “Ski” Jablonski, a security analyst (and former special forces agent) of Polish descent who came to aid of friend Jonathan Raven, a former ninja turned private eye based on Oahu, Hawaii. Ski loves pastrami. He also has a fondness for weapons: he carries four guns, brass knuckles and a knife for protection.

RIPTIDE/NBC/1984-86
*(Thom Bray) Murray Bozinski, a bumbling electronics genius and computer whiz (the creator of "Roboz," the robot) who assisted the California-based private detectives, Nick Ryder and Cody Allen.

THE SIX O'CLOCK FOLLIES/NBC/1980
**(Philip Charles MacKenzie) Midas Metcovich, hustling US Army Specialist of Polish heritage stationed in Saigon, Vietnam in 1967. He owns the local bar called the Midas Bar and is the television director for “The AFVN News and Sports”, a six O’clock news program produced by the Armed Forces Vietnam Network .

STAND BY YOUR MAN/FOX/1992
*(Rick Hall/costar) Artie Popowski, a Polish-American patio furniture salesman whose job is a front for illegal business operations. When he gets arrested, he is sentenced to eight years in the New Jersey Penitentiary (prison number: 01832). His wife Lorraine Popowski (Rosie O’Donnell) works as a stock clerk at Bargain Circus and lived in a mobile home at the Camelot Court Trailer Park before moving in with her sister-in-law Rochelle Dumphy whose husband (also incarcerated) assisted Artie in the criminal activities.

STAR TREK: THE NEXT GENERATION/SYN/1987-94
**(Diana Muldaur) Dr. Katherine Pulaski, the chief medical officer aboard the USS Enterprise-D stationed in the Alpha Quadrant. She replaced Dr. Beverly Crusher after she accepted an assignment as Head of Starfleet Medical in 2365 [Beverly returned a year later and Pulaski departed].

WELCOME BACK, KOTTER/ABC-1975-79
*(Melonie Haller) Angie Globagoski, a female student at James Buchanan High School in Brooklyn who belonged to a group of hardcore underachievers known as “Sweathog.” [introduced in January 1978.]



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