They met at a fancy girls boarding school: beautiful Blair, feisty Jo, chubby Natalie. and wisecracking Tootie. They shook up the Eastman school with their antics and their TV show, The Facts of Life, became a hit on NBC. But who are these girls in real life? Read on, for you’ll meet each one in these exclusive Dynamite interviews.
Rich, spoiled Blair is played by Texas native Lisa Whelchel. Lisa was born in Fort Worth on May 29, 1963. “I was shy as a child,” Lisa told Dynamite, “so my mother sent me to a drama class and I fell in love with it. I started appearing in stage productions when I was seven.”
When she was 12, Lisa learned that a TV series called The New Mickey Mouse Club was being cast in California. She talked her mother into flying to Los Angeles with her so she could try out for a part.
She got a part, but how do you live in Texas and work in California? “It wasn’t easy,” Lisa admitted, “but my family knew that acting was what I wanted to do with my life, and they knew I wanted to do it while I was young. So while I was working, either my mother or grandmother would come from Texas to live with me.”
You can take an actress out of Texas, but it’s not so easy to take Texas out of the actress. Lisa has had to tone down her Texas accent for the show. “That was hard at first, but it’s gotten easier,” she said.
Nancy McKeon plays Jo in the show. Nancy was born in Westbury, NY, on April 5, 1966. “I was two when I started modeling baby clothes in New York,” she told us. “Then I did a lot of modeling for catalogs. We moved to California six years ago.” Nancy’s older brother Phil, 17, is a regular in CBS’s Alice.
“Our parents never pushed Phil or me into acting, or anything else,” Nancy told Dynamite. “Even now they’ll say to us, ‘Are you sure this is what you want to do?’ They’re glad that we’re happy.”
Nancy and co-star Kim Fields go to school together at the studio when their show is in production. “I like biology and current events,” Nancy said, “but you know what I really love? I love to sing. I’m taking singing lessons and my brother and I sing together. I’m getting better!”
Mindy Cohn had no professional acting experience when she got the role of Natalie.
“I was going to a private girls’ school in Los Angeles when Charlotte Rae [who stars as the housekeeper in the series] and the producers of the show came to see what a girls’ school was really like,” Mindy recalled, still sounding amazed by the whole thing.
Mindy met Charlotte Rae and they talked for a few minutes. Rae was convinced Mindy should be in the show.
Mindy, who was born in Los Angeles on May 20, 1966, had considered being a lawyer at one point. “My mother is a lawyer and my father is a business executive,” Mindy explained.
What’s it like to be a newcomer in a TV series? “I was terrified when I started,” Mindy exclaimed. “I was so nervous and I still am! But everybody has been wonderful and they could not have been more helpful.”
As for her other show business ambitions, Mindy said, “I have some friends who have a band. Someday I’d like to sing with a band.”
Kim Fields has been acting since she was two years old. Now, at 12, she plays the wisecracking Tootie in the show. “It’s so much fun. All of us are great friends. We’re like a family.”
Kim was born in Los Angeles on June 12, 1969. “My mother is also an actress,” Kim told Dynamite. “I got involved in acting because of her. She has been very helpful to me. We watch the show every week and she points out things that I did that were right or wrong. That helps me to do better the next time.”
Kim is in the seventh grade this year. “I like school,” she said. She and her mother live in Burbank, CA. “We live five minutes from Nancy McKeon,” she said. “Everybody in Burbank knows us and that’s nice, but they don’t pay any attention to us.”
Kim played Alex Haley’s daughter, Lydia, in Roots on TV, and has been in several movies.
Being an actress may be exciting, but there are also some disadvantages. “I do miss out on some things when I work,” Kim explained. “There are times when my friends are going to an amusement park or somewhere like that and I can’t go because I’m working or studying my lines. And I love softball,” she added, “but I can’t be on a team because I don’t have the time to practice.”
Of course, for all four girls, their acting careers come before having fun. But as any actor or actress, including Lisa, Nancy, Mindy, and Kim will tell you, those are the facts of life when you work on a TV show.
– Peggy Herz
Top photo, clockwise from top left: Blair, Jo, Tootie, Mrs Garrett, Natalie