The Facts of Life sitcom debuts – A spinoff of Diff’rent Strokes (1979)
From The Pensacola News (Pensacola, Florida) August 17, 1979
Charlotte Rae, the lovable and comical housekeeper on NBC-TV’s “Diff’rent Strokes,” brings the same characterization to “The Facts of Life” as she stars in the role of Mrs Garrett, housemother to five teenage girls at Eastlake, a college preparatory school.
In her job, colorful Edna Garrett believes all problems can be handled with common-sense solutions, warmth and good-natured humor. With this philosophy in mind, she helps her charges cope with the dilemmas of growing up.
Byron Bradley (John Lawlor) is the stern headmaster of Eastlake. His philosophy is to follow the rules and there must be rules to cover every situation.
Attractive Miss Mahoney (Jenny O’Hara) is a young teacher who sees the world romantically, and believes everything will come out right in the end. Due to their divergent attitudes, Mrs Garrett, Mr Bradley and Miss Mahoney seldom agree.
The five girls under their care are Blair, Sue Ann, Nancy, Molly and Tootie.
Blair (Lisa Whelchel), 15, is beautiful, rich, spoiled and snobbish, but likable since she is totally naive about her attitude. Sue Ann (Julie Piekarski), 14, is blonde, cute, typical all-American girl always preoccupied with boys, clothes and diets.
Molly (Molly Ringwald), 13, is the opinionated “liberated woman” of the group. Nancy (Felice Schacter), 14, is the most all-around girl in the dorm; she’s good at sports, in studies, and moderately interested in dating.
Tootie (Kim Fields), 11, is constantly vying for attention, she’s extremely inquisitive, and can’t keep a secret.
The facts & faces of The Facts of Life (1981)
From Dynamite magazine
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
WATCH IT AGAIN: Get the series on DVD here
The Facts of Life: Jo, Blair, Tootie & Natalie (1981)
From BOP Magazine c1985
For The Facts of Life stars — Mindy Cohn, Kim Fields, Nancy McKeon and Lisa Whelchel — their hit TV series has taught them (and their TV characters) a lot about life and love!
For the past six years, The Facts of Life’s lovable characters — “Tootie,” “Natalie,” “Jo” and “Blair’ — portrayed so sensitively by Kim (age 15), Mindy (18), Nancy (18) and Lisa (21), learn a lesson each week and gladly share their experience with the audience.
Half the cast left the show
When this hit show first premiered in September 1979, the cast was twice as large as the current cast, and the problems on the series were very school-related. But after a couple of seasons, the show centered around the personal problems of only “Jo,” “Tootie,” “Natalie” and “Blair.”
Through the years, the storylines began dealing with more serious problems that many girls face in everyday life.
And how do the four actresses feel about the changes they, like their TV characters, have experienced?
“Our characters have definitely matured,” explains warm and friendly Mindy, a Los Angeles, California-native born on May 20, 1966. In real life, Mindy’s not as sheltered as “Natalie” and the world traveler her character is not.
Hazel-eyed Nancy (who was born on April 5, 1966 in Long Island, New York) confides, “Portraying ‘Jo’ came easy to me. She often acts tough to cover up a soft interior.”
Now, instead of battling “Blair” all the time (as they’ve done in the past), both characters have matured into understanding, caring friends.
“Young girls look up to us”
Blonde-haired Lisa (who was born in Littlefield, Texas on May 29, 1963) has strong religious beliefs that make her extra careful of how her character, “Blair,” is presented on Facts.
“The young girls who watch our show look up to us,” hazel-eyed Lisa confirms, “and I don’t want to promote something I don’t believe in.”
Kim, the youngest of the four-some (she was born on May 12, 1969 in New York City), has changed dramatically on and off the show.
“My character ‘Tootie’ was always on roller skates that first year!” Kim laughs. “In the second season, I got to walk on my own two feet! But my character was ‘the kid’ — the tattletale, the tag-along.”
Four years later, “the kid” has her first real boyfriend on the series and is without the braces she’s worn on her teeth for three years.
“I think I’m more mature than ‘Tootie,”‘ reveals brown-eyed Kim (who, in real life, skipped a grade this year to become a high school junior because of her high grades), “and I would definitely dress differently than she does!”
The girls choose their own clothes and hairstyles
As in the previous years, the girls were usually seen on camera in their school uniforms with ponytails in their hair.
But times are changing. This season, the girls have been allowed to select some of their own wardrobe on the show, and they get to wear their hair the way they do in real life.
Because of their hit TV show, Mindy, Lisa, Nancy, and Kim have learned that growing up (on-screen and offscreen) isn’t always as easy as it looks. But knowing that a lot of people share their same problems and experiences makes the lessons a lot easier to learn … and a lot more fun!
The Facts of Life theme song & opening credits
Includes a cold opening featuring Molly Ringwald
The Facts of Life theme song lyrics (Season 1)
By Alan Thicke, Gloria Loring and Al Burton
There’s a place you’ve got to go for learning
all you want to know about the facts of life
The Facts of Life
When books are what you’re there about
and looks are what you care about
the time is right
to learn the Facts of Life
When the world never seems
to be living up to your dreams
it’s time you started finding out
what everything is all about
When the boys you used to hate you date,
I guess you best investigate
The Facts of Life — you gotta get’em right
The Facts of Life
The Facts of Life
The Facts of Life
The Facts of Life cast members
Charlotte Rae as Edna Garrett
Lisa Whelchel as Blair Warner
Kim Fields as Tootie Ramsey
Mindy Cohn as Natalie Green
Nancy McKeon as Jo Polniaczek
John Lawlor as Steven Bradley
Jenny O’Hara as Emily Mahoney
Felice Schachter as Nancy Olsen
Julie Piekarski as Sue Ann Weaver
Julie Anne Haddock as Cindy Webster
Molly Ringwald as Molly Parker
Pamela Segall as Kelly Affinado
Mackenzie Astin as Andy Moffett
George Clooney as George Burnett
Cloris Leachman as Beverly Ann Stickle
Sherrie Krenn as Pippa McKenna