It Takes A Lot To Get ‘Em Right When You’re Learning The Facts Of Life

On August 24, 1979, the first episode of “The Facts of Life” aired, and its cast of characters and storylines helped make the “Diff’rent Strokes” spinoff one of the longest-running sitcoms of the ’80s. A plethora of current stars have had small roles on the series, including Seth Green, David Spade, and Juliette Lewis.

The series was so popular after its final episode on May 7, 1988 that the cast got back together for the “Facts of Life” reunion movie, which aired in 2001. A decade after the reunion film, the show won the TV Land Award for Pop Culture Icon.

Charlotte Rae

Charlotte Rae is best known for portraying Edna Garrett on the show, which gained her an Emmy nomination for Outstanding Lead Actress in a Comedy Series in 1982. Since the show ended, she found herself in smaller roles on shows such as “The King of Queens,” “ER,” and “Girl Meets World.” In 2015, she appeared in the film Ricki and the Flash and released her autobiography The Facts of My Life, which was co-written by her son Larry Strauss.

Nancy McKeon

Nancy McKeon joined the show during season two with the role of Jo Polniaczek. Since its ending, the New Yorker still received a ton of work on shows such as “Can’t Hurry Love” and “Style & Substance.” In 2001, she grabbed the role of Inspector Jinny Exstead on the Lifetime crime drama “The Division.” Her performance earned her three PRISM Award nominations. She currently lives in Texas with her husband and two daughters.

Kim Fields

Kim Fields portrayed the role of Dorothy “Tootie” Ramsey on both “Diff’rent Stroke” and “The Facts of Life.” After the show, she landed the role of Regina “Regine” Hunter on the hit Fox TV show “Living Single,” which lasted five seasons. Lately, she has made appearances on “The Real Housewives of Atlanta” and “Dancing with the Stars.”

Mindy Cohn

Mindy Cohn was discovered by fellow “The Facts of Life” co-star Charlotte Rae while the producers of the show visited Westlake School. Cohn landed the role of Natalie Green and appeared throughout the series’ run. Currently, the California native is known as the voice of Velma Dinkley in the “Scooby Doo” franchise. She has held that “Scooby Doo” role since 2002.

Cloris Leachman

Emmy Award-winning actress Cloris Leachman joined “The Facts of Life” with the role of Edna Garrett’s sister Beverly Ann Stickle. Behind the scenes, she received the new lead role after Charlotte Rae chose to not renew her contract. The iconic TV show star still manages to get TV roles, including a recent stint on “Dancing with the Stars.”

Mackenzie Astin

Actor Mackenzie Astin portrayed the role of Andy Moffett Stickle for four seasons, which earned him a Young Artist Award for Best Young Supporting Actor in a Television Series in 1986. Since the show’s final season, the California native still finds work with recent appearances on “Scandal,” “Rosewood,” “Bones,” “Grey’s Anatomy,” and “The Magicians.” He is married to Jennifer Abbott Astin.

George Clooney

Before becoming one of the biggest actors in the world, George Clooney portrayed handyman George Burnett for two seasons. Since the show ended, Clooney has gone on to win two Oscars, five Golden Globe Awards, and four Screen Actors Guild Awards. The Kentucky native has been married to lawyer Amal Alamuddin since 2014.

Pamela Adlon

Pamela Adlon portrayed the role of Kelly Affinado on the show for one season, and since then, the New York native has lent her voice to various cartoons, including “All Grown Up!,” “Pound Puppies,” and “Bob’s Burgers.” In 2010, she became the consulting producer of the hit FX show “Louie.” She also landed the role of Marcy Runkle on the Showtime comedy-drama “Californication.”

Jenny O’Hara

Jenny O’Hara was a part of “The Facts of Life’s” first season as Miss Emily Mahoney for only four episodes, before being removed due to her character not fitting in. Since leaving the show, she has found small roles on “Beverly Hills, 90210,” “ER,” and “Party of Five.” Recently, she had recurring roles on “The King of Queens,” “Big Love,” and “The Mindy Project.”

Molly Ringwald

Molly Ringwald’s first major role was portraying Molly Parker on “The Facts of Life.” Unfortunately, she was removed for the show before the start of the second season. Luckily for her, roles in Tempest, Sixteen Candles, The Breakfast Club, and Pretty In Pink made her a star in the ’80s. Recently, Ringwald has appeared on the main cast of the ABC Family teen drama “The Secret Life of the American Teenager.”

Alex Rocco

Best known for his role of Moe Greene in “The Godfather,” Alex Rocco had a recurring role of Charlie Polniaczek on the show from 1981-1988. After the show, the Massachusetts native received an Emmy Award for Best Supporting Actor in a Comedy Series for his portrayal of Al Floss on the CBS sitcom “The Famous Teddy Z.” Rocco passed away at the age of 79 on July 18, 2015 from a battle with pancreatic cancer.

John Lawlor

John Lawlor played the role of Steven Bradley for the show’s first season. Since leaving the show, the Colorado native has had short stints on “Highway To Heaven” as Brad/Earl, “Knots Landing” as Larry Lambert, and “Scoundrels,” where he played the role of Herbert West. He also appeared on “Breaking Bad,” “Cold Case,” and “Hercules: The Legendary Journeys.”

Geri Jewell

Geri Jewell became the first person with a disability to have a regular role on a prime time show with her portrayal of Geri Tyler on the show. Since leaving “The Facts of Life,” she landed the role of Jewel on the hit HBO drama “Deadwood” and made appearances on “Glee” and “The Young and the Restless.” In 2011, Jewell released her second autobiography, titled I’m Walking as Straight as I Can.

Sherrié Austin

Australian native Sherrié Austin got her big break in the States with the role of Pippa McKenna during the final season. Since leaving the show, Austin became a country singer and released a handful of charting singles, including 2003’s “Streets of Heaven.” She also performed in the Broadway musicals “Bonnie & Clyde,” “Warrior,” and “Ring Of Fire: The Johnny Cash Musical Show.” She still performs all across the country.

Marj Dusay

From 1981 through 1987, Marj Dusay had a recurring role as Blair Warner’s mother Monica on the show. Since the show ended, the Kansas native gained noticeable roles as Vanessa Bennett Hayward Cortlandt on “All My Children” and Alexandra Spaulding on “Guiding Light,” which earned her a Daytime Emmy Award nomination.

Gloria Loring

Gloria Loring and her then-husband Alan Thicke recorded two versions of “The Facts of Life’s” theme song. Since the show ended, she portrayed Liz Chandler on the NBC daytime soap “Days of Our Lives” for five years. In 2012, she released her autobiography titled Coincidence Is God’s Way of Remaining Anonymous. She currently writes for Soap Opera Digest.

Alan Thicke

Alan Thicke and his then-wife Gloria Loring are responsible for the catchy theme song for “The Facts of Life.” After the show, he landed his biggest acting gig ever as Jason Seaver on the hit family sitcom “Growing Pains.” In 2013, he was inducted to Canada’s Walk of Fame. He still makes TV appearances today and is the father to hitmaking chart topper, Robin Thicke.

Jenna McMahon

Kansas City native Jenna McMahon and her writing partner Dick Clair are responsible for delivering the laughs and serious moments throughout the series. During her run with “The Facts of Life,” she also co-created “It’s a Living,” “Mama’s Family,” and “Carol, Carl, Whoopi and Robin.” The Emmy-winning writer passed away at the age of 89 on March 2, 2015 due to heart failure.

Ben Starr

Ben Starr is responsible for developing a plethora of hit TV series in the ’70s, including “The Facts of Life.” In 2014, Starr passed away from congestive heart failure. He left behind three kids from his 50-year marriage to Gloria Kaplan. His last project was the 2001 “Facts of Life” reunion movie.

Felice Schachter

Well known for her role as Nancy on “The Facts of Life,” Schacter has also had roles on various TV shows including “Diff’rent Strokes,” and “Love of Life,” as well as doing some sports broadcasting. Behind the scenes, Schacter worked as the production coordinator for “Law & Order: Special Victims Unit.”

Julie Piekarski

Before her role as Sue Ann Weaver on “The Facts of Life,” Piekarski began her career in show business as a Mouseketeer. She also made appearances on other TV shows such as “Diff’rent Strokes,” “General Hospital,” and “Three’s Company.” These days, she lives near St. Louis with her family.

Julie Anne Haddock

Best known for her role as Cindy Webster on “The Facts of Life,” Haddock all but left the show business lifestyle after her time on the show. In 2008, Haddock was nominated for a TV Land Award under the Favorite Characters Who “Went Missing” category. These days, she lives in California with her family.

Roger Perry

If you’re a diehard “The Facts of Life” fan, you’ll remember Perry as as Mr. Parker. Since then, Perry has acted in films including Dirty Love and Wreckage. In 2014, he and wife Joyce Bulifant were awarded a Golden Palm Star on the Walk of Stars in Palm Springs, California.

Loren Lester

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Lester began his acting career with the role of Roy on “The Facts of Life.” Since then, he’s appeared in many TV series including “The West Wing,” “Two and a Half Men,” and “Desperate Housewives.” He’s also done video game voiceovers including Dr. Parker’s voice in the game “Spider-Man 2.”

Ryan Cassidy

The youngest of the Cassidy brothers (David, Shaun, and Patrick), Ryan Cassidy had a brief acting career, which included playing Kevin Metcalf on “The Facts of Life.” Today, he’s known for his work as a set dresser on hit TV shows like “The King of Queens” or the movie Blow.

Nicolas Coster

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On “The Facts of Life,” English-born Coster had a recurring cole playing David Warner. At 82 years old, he’s still as busy as ever and consistently gets roles on TV and in feature films including “Mr. and Mrs. Smith.” Fun fact: he’s a scuba diving instructor.

John Bowab

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After directing over 90 episodes of “The Facts of Life,” Bowab continued down the path of directing until 2008. His credits include “Family Matters,” “The Cosby Show,” and “My Wife and Kids.”

Asaad Kelada

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Another “The Facts of Life” director of astronomical proportions, Asaad Kelada directed nearly 80 episodes of the series. After the series ended, Kelada, who was born in Cairo, Egypt, went on to direct many, many episodes of hit shows including “The Louie Show,” “Sister, Sister,” and “The Office.”

Jami Gertz

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Actor and producer Jami Gertz played Boots St. Clair for a short time on “The Facts of Life.” Since then, she’s appeared in all manner of TV series and films, such as the movie Sixteen Candles, and shows “ER,” “Entourage,” “Modern Family,” and “The Neighbors.”

Heather McAdams

After making a few guest appearances on “The Facts of Life,” McAdams also appears on TV shows including “Beverly Hills, 90210,” “Matlock,” and “Sisters.” In 1983, the same year she portrayed Alex on “The Facts of Life,” she was nominated for a Young Artist Award.

Scott Bryce

Scott Bryce, a Daytime Emmy nominee, played the role of Rick Bonner on “The Facts of Life.” He was also well known for his role on “As the World Turns,” where he worked until 2008. Most recently, he portrayed roles on the series “Deception,” “Beacon Hill,” and “Blue Bloods.”

Ruth Gillette

Already 80 during her last year as Ruth on “The Facts of Life,” Gillette ended her career in showbusiness with this ‘80s sitcom. Born in 1906, she had her first acting job in 1933 and acted consistently over the next five decades. Gillette died in 1994 in Los Angeles, California.

Robert Romanus

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Before playing Snake on “The Facts of Life,” Romanus is known for portraying Mike Damone in Fast Times at Ridgemont High. Since the 1980s, he’s been working consistently both in TV and film, with recent credits on “CSI,” and “Cougar Town.” Romanus also owns the LA cafe, Bob’s Espresso Bar.

Michael Damian

In “The Facts of Life,” Michael Damian appeared in three episodes as Flyman. After that show ended, his most famous role was that of Danny Romalotti on “The Young and the Restless,” which he played, on and off, from 1981 through 2013. Damian’s also a recording artist and producer.

Larry Wilmore

Wilmore had a recurring role on “The Facts of Life” as a police officer. Later, he went on to write for talk shows, sketch comedy shows, and for sitcoms like “The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air.” More recently, he hosted“The Nightly Show with Larry Wilmore,” which was cancelled in 2016.

Orson Bean

Playing Oliver Thomson on “The Facts of Life” comprises one small part of Bean’s impressive career. Since then, Bean has made dozens of guest appearances on hit TV shows including “Modern Family,” and “How I Met Your Mother”, acted in films, and portrayed recurring roles on shows like “Desperate Housewives.”

Dick Clair

The other half of the Clair-McMahon duo, Dick Clair wrote for every episode of “The Facts of Life.” He and McMahon also wrote and produced two other shows together, and he won an Emmy Award for his writing on “The Carol Burnett Show.” Clair died in 1988 of AIDS-related infections.

Andy Borowitz

From 1983 to 1984, Borowitz wrote for “The Facts of Life.” Some of his later claims to fame include creating “The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air” in 1990 and co-producing the film Pleasantville in 1998. Currently, Borowitz write the Borowitz report, a political satire column, for the New Yorker.

Paul Haggis

Oscar-winner Paul Haggis wrote for the “The Facts of Life” on and off from 1984 to 1986. Since then, he’s written, produced, and directed hits including Mission Dollar Baby, Crash, and Casino Royale. Haggis was previously associated with Scientology, but has since stated that he is an atheist.

The Show Was Not An Immediate Success

It’s hard to imagine, but the first season of “The Facts of Life” was not a hit straight out of the gate. In fact, when the NBC executive Brandon Tartikoff decided that he’d like to order a second season of the show, he had to convince the producer to agree. We have to imagine that said producers is pretty glad he finally acquiesced, right?

Producers Cut The Cast For Season Two

To combat plummeting ratings and rationalize creating a second season, producers decided that having the seven main girls who were a part of season one return wouldn’t work. They decided that having that many characters didn’t leave enough room for developed story lines, so they made the cast a bit smaller so that they could focus more deeply on the stories of a few characters instead.

Some Shots Of Eastland Are Actually From Pomona, CA

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Eastland School, the private all-girls school that many the “Facts of Life” characters attend, is a fictional school somewhere in the US. However, there are a few shots of the outside of the school that were shot in real-life Pomona, California. So if you’re ever in southern California, you could go visit the site of many a “Facts of Life” episode.

Mindy Cohn Never Actually Auditioned To Play Natalie

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Discovered at a girls school in Bel-Air where the producers were doing some research for the show, Mindy Cohn chatted with some of the cast and crew and they liked her so much they decided to create a character, Natalie, just for her. In fact, Charlotte Rae was the most vocal about creating the role of Natalie for her because she said that Cohn reminded her of a childhood friend who was also named Natalie.

Some Other Characters Were Named For Real Life People, Too

Not only was Mindy Cohn’s character Natalie named for Charlotte Rae’s childhood friend, a few other characters were also named after the cast’s friends and family. Mackenzie Astin’s character Andy was named after Charlotte Rae’s son, and Mrs.Garret’s (Charlotte Rae) sister was named after her real sister, Beverly-Ann.

Tootie Wore Skates To Seem Taller

In the first season of “Facts of Life,” Tootie, the youngest of the main characters, wore roller skates throughout the first season. Sure, it definitely highlighted her quirky nature, but there was also a more practical reason behind the decision to have her roll right through season one. She was quite a bit shorter than the other cast members, so the producers thought that the few extra inches the roller skates brought would help avoid awkward camera angles. And they were right!

Jo Polniaczek Was Almost Monica On “Friends”

In the early ’90s, Nancy McKeon auditioned for the role of Monica on the hit TV series “Friends.” Of course, we all know the then unknown, now major actor Courtney Cox got the part instead. But it’s fun to imagine what the show would have been life if “The Facts of Life’s” Jo had been part of the “Friends” gang.

“The Facts Of Life” Isn’t The Original Title

Originally, the name of the show was supposed to be “Garrett’s Girls.” While descriptive, it just doesn’t have the same ring to it that “The Facts of Life” does. Although, Charlotte Rae, who plays Mrs. Garret who is the housemother at the boarding school, probably wouldn’t have minded the original title one bit.

Lisa Whelchel

For nine years, Lisa Whelchel portrayed the role of Blair Warner on the hit show. Since the show ended, she has become an inspirational speaker, but she did manage to return to TV as a contestant on “Survivor: Philippines” in 2012. She tied for second place along with Michael Skupin. She has also returned to acting in the Hallmark TV films For Better or For Worse and Hearts of Spring.

Nancy McKeon Can Cry On Command

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Nancy McKeon, also known as Jo Polniaczek on “The Facts of Life,” was sought out for the role of Jo after producers saw her Hallmark commercials. From the commercials, they found out that McKeon could cry on command. They were impressed with the waterworks, crying is essential when you’re playing an angsty teen, and the rest is TV history.

McKeon’s Character Was Modeled After The Fonz

Jo, played by Nancy McKeon on the “Facts of Life,” always had a cool girl, tomboy swagger to her. In fact, that swagger was modeled a bit after ultimate cool guy the Fonz from “Happy Days.” At first, she was even a bit more assertive. Producers wanted her to tone down the character, make Jo less like Fonzie, but she wanted to keep Jo’s strong edge. And what they agreed on is the Jo we know today.

Blair Almost Lost Her Rich Girl Persona

During the third season, some show writers suggested that Blair learn that her father lost all his money, making the family poor. Lisa Whelchel, the actor who played Blair, argued against this idea. She said that part of what made Blair’s character so compelling was that she was entitled, and that doing away with this facet of her personality would only hurt the story. And her argument worked.

Actually, Lisa Whelchel Almost Wasn’t Blair At All

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At the same time Lisa Whelchel, who played Blair Warner, was auditioning for “The Facts of Life,” she also auditioned and was accepted for the show “Hello Larry.” Obviously, she had an important decision to make. And fortunately for all of us “Facts of Life” fans, she accepted the part of Blair.

Nancy McKeon Was The Voice For Many ABC Cartoons

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Who would have thought that Jo was in many a Saturday morning cartoon! Well, sort of. Nancy McKeon, the actress who played Jo on “The Facts of Life,” did voiceover acting on many cartoons including “Scruffy,” “The Problem With Miss Switch,” “Miss Switch To The Rescue,” “The Puppy’s Further Adventures,” and “Thundarr The Barbarian.”

“The Facts Of Life” Was The Longest Running NBC Series When It Ended

When the show finally ended after 8 seasons and nearly an entire decade on the air, it was proud to boast that it was the longest running NBC primetime series at that time. There aren’t many TV shows that have the level of success that this show had, for as long as it did. And the crazy part is, people still like it.

Charlotte Rae Diagnosed With Cancer Again

At 91 years old, the actress who played Edna Garrett was diagnosed with bone cancer in April of 2017 and is making the decision of whether or not to choose chemotherapy treatment. The brave woman has already won the battle against pancreatic cancer, for which she underwent chemotherapy for seven years ago. She told People magazine, “After six months of chemotherapy, I was cancer-free. I lost my hair, but I had beautiful wigs. Nobody even knew.”

She says she’s feeling well and healthy, despite her diagnosis, and now has to make the decision of whether or not to undergo chemotherapy once again. “I’ve had a great life, but I have so many wonderful things happening. I’d like to choose life.”