EDITOR’S NOTE (Nick Stamatakis): A friend saw somewhere that today is Telly Savalas’ birthday (1922) and rekindled many memories… No, I never knew him personally but in my 36 years on Long Island (where Aristotelis Savalas was born, grew up, and spent a good part of his life) I remember countless times when talking with fellow Greek-Americans and others in restaurants and social gatherings who have met him personally and loved him dearly… Not only because of Kojak and the signature lollipops but mainly because of his warm, charismatic, personality… You would meet him and within minutes you would open your heart to him… Typically Greek… An oversized personality that filled the room with his presence and was so attractive to women that even Zorba would be overshadowed in his presence… He married three times and loved family… And the family loved him back… All the children from all three wives would gather around him and be a big happy family… Until after his death in 1994, when they had to deal with his inheritance…
This 45′ biography is better than any movie you would watch this weekend… It is followed by the 9 things you never knew about Telly Savalas and Kojak. I will add a tenth: He never went to acting school… What can I say? We Greeks have “theater” in our blood – but sometimes we overdo it…
9 things you never knew about Telly Savalas and Kojak
Lollipop cop, U.K. pop star, ranked poker player, godfather to a “Friend” — he truly was the Most Interesting Man.
Aristotelis Savalas was the king of cool. Telly will forever be known as the bald lollipop cop Kojak. Yet the Greek-American icon had a far more fascinating life beyond playing detective. He was Bond villain and he owned racehorses. He was a music star in England and the godfather to celebrity. He casually entered a gambling championship and held his own. You know those commercials about “The Most Interesting Man”? That was Telly Savalas.
Kojak is returning to MeTV on February 8. So as a tip of the fedora, here are nine tantalizing truths about Telly.
1. He gave Howard Cosell his first job in television.
Before acting in front of the camera, Savalas worked as a director and producer at ABC. While he was overseeing Gillette Cavalcade of Sports, he hired Cosell, giving the legendary broadcaster his first gig on the small screen.
Image: Wikimedia Commons
2. He battled a toy in the classic Twilight Zone episode “Living Doll”.
When he first began acting, Savalas lacked his signature hairless head. As you can see, when he played a father tormented by a sinister doll on The Twilight Zone, he had hair. This episode still gives us the creeps.
3. He first shaved his head for the role of Pontius Pilate and decided to keep the look.
In 1965, Savalas was cast as the bad guy in the motion picture telling of the Jesus story. He was asked to shave his head for the role. He loved the look and kept it, proving bald is beautiful.
Image: The Greatest Story Ever Told / MGM
4. Kojak’s name was originally Theo Kojack.
The Kojak character — well, Kojack character — began as a made-for-TV movie, The Marcus-Nelson Murders, based on the true crime of the 1963 Career Girls Murders. For whatever reason, the ‘C’ was dropped from the name when Kojak premiered half a year later.
5. The first lollipop appears in episode eight, “Dark Sunday.”
“Hey, what’s with the lollipop,” Det. Bobby Crocker asks our hero. He jokes that he’s closing the generation gap. Really, it was a replacement for cigarettes. Yvonne Craig (Batgirl) also appears in this outing that aired in December of 1973. This was also the first episode to show the World Trade Center, which opened that same year.
6. His brother George was on ‘Kojak’ too.
The younger Savalas brother portrayed Sergeant Stavros on the cop series. Earlier in his career, on Kolchak: The Night Stalker for example, the actor billed himself as “Demosthenes,” borrowing the name from a legal eagle of Ancient Greece.
7. His spoken word cover of a Bread song topped the pop charts in the U.K.
Savalas released five studio albums in his career, between 1972 and 1980. “If,” from his third outing, Telly, was a curiosity that saw the actor sensually reciting the lyrics to Bread’s 1971 hit over easy listening music. The Shatner-esque song flopped in the States, but took the No. 1 position on British pop charts for two weeks in March 1975.
8. He is Jennifer Aniston’s godfather.
The Friends actress’ father, John Aniston, was born Giannis Anastasakis and was a close friend of Savalas. Jennifer is the baby in the photo.
Image: Always with Jennifer Aniston
9. He finished 21st at the 1992 World Series of Poker.
According to a People article form 1985, Savalas first entered the poker tourney to research a role. He put in his 10 grand and lost. He got better. By 1992, he was a world-class player, earning $8,080 and placing No. 21 in the 1992 World Series. Perhaps it was his degree in psychology that helped him read opponents. Oh yeah, he graduated from Columbia. He truly is the coolest.