If you have been paying attention to my Social Networks as of late I have been recently obsessed with the 1980’s hit TV Show, The Facts of Life.
There are television shows we remember fondly from our childhood, for me “Who’s the Boss”, “Growing Pains” and “The Facts of Life” are the few that come to my 80’s-born mind. When I heard that The Facts of Life had made its way onto Netflix Canada, I pulled it up on my TV and through my Nintendo Wii I became addicted to it all over again.
I instantly challenged my memory of the show and since I was born in 1981 and the show began airing in August 1979, I quickly realized that what I had watched as a child was actually reruns of the show. I certainly hadn’t watched all seasons and was surprised to relive some of my favorite 80’s characters enjoyably as an adult. It was also great to be able to watch all of the moments I had missed with the 209 episodes that they had aired back then.
Personally, I enjoyed each character, since Natalie, Tootie, Blair and Jo emphasize characteristics of one person. Mrs. Garrett was an instant favorite of mine as she displayed her wisdom upon these young girls striving to get through their adolescents. Her motherly perspective and insights added a learning curve to every episode.
The original premise of the show was quite simple. An all-girls school with a dorm mother who dealt with the facts of life for young women. Although compared to today’s television, the show would seem innocently written, but for the 80’s, The Facts of Life tackled many hard topics and social issues that were not easily talked about during that time.
This popular 80’s hit television show aired for nine full seasons and as we watched the characters grow and the show evolve, we too grew and evolved along with it. I do personally wish however that the ending had some sentimental flashbacks and possibly tears of its departure. Not to mention that (Warning: Spoiler Alert) Blair buying Eastland school and taking us, hard core fans back to the original set with a vibe that Blair had grown so much through the years that she now could easily step within the shoes of Mrs. Garrett who left in season 7. Unfortunately, there was no spin-off to this spin-off that ended on September 13 1988.
Even though you may have been an avid viewer at the time or are revisiting the show today on Netflix like I did, there still may be some unknown facts that you do not know about the television show The Facts of Life.
1. Outside writer’s in the third season wanted to write an episode that Blair (played by Lisa Whelchel) would find out that her father had no money and would become poor. Lisa, with the support of the producers of the Facts of Life, asked for this not to happen since for the long haul this would change Blair who had honed the character to be a funny spoiled brat. The writer’s listened and good thing or the Blair we remember would have never existed. Thank goodness Lisa had one of Blair’s “Brilliant ideas.”
2. The Facts of Life was a spin-off show for Mrs. Garrett from the hit TV show Diff’rent Strokes.
3. The exterior shots of Eastland were shot in Pomona, California.
4. To the surprise of many, Natalie was a created character after the producers along with Charlotte Rae, who played Edna Garrett, went to do their research for the show at an all-girls school in Bel-Air. Mindy Cohn (Natalie) just happened to be a student there who volunteered for the free doughnuts. After answering some questions to help build the plot for the show she was offered a role. Even though she was not auditioning for the show, Charlotte Rae felt she had reminded her of her real-life childhood friend named Natalie. This is how Mindy Cohn became Natalie and how Natalie came to life as the character was built around Mindy.
5. Natalie was not the only character named after someone near and dear to Charlotte Rae (Mrs. Garrett). Andy was named after her autistic son and Cloris Leachman’s character, Mrs. Garrett’s sister, was named after her real-life sister, Beverly-Ann.
6. Real-life occurrences were counted in some episodes; one in particular was the episode of when Natalie’s father dies, Charlotte Rae (Mrs. Garrett) narrates the death of her own real-life father’s passing in the 1950’s.
7. Charlotte Rae (Mrs. Garrett) is from rural Wisconsin and her character was from Appleton, Wisconsin.
8. Famous faces before they were famous include Molly Ringwald and George Clooney. Though George played a regular returning character, Molly was a part of the original cast. Celebrity guest stars who were unknown then were David Spade (SNL), Helen Hunt (Mad About You), Juliette Lewis (Natural Born Killers), Jami Gertz (Sixteen Candles), Geri Jewell (Comedian), Seth Green (Buffy the Vampire Slayer) and Mayim Bialik (Blossom, Beaches and The Big Bang Theory).
(UPDATED: Cloris Leachman (Raising Hope) was removed from the list as she had won an Emmy in previous role.)
9. The reason Tootie wore roller skates for the first season of The Facts of Life was to avoid odd camera angles because she was too short.
10. Lisa Whelchel (Blair Warner) originally got a part on the show “Hello Larry”. Fortunately for Lisa (and us) she had auditioned for The Facts of Life too and got the part. The show “Hello Larry” only lasted two Seasons as The Facts of Life lasted for nine.
11. The Facts of Life has been off the air for 25 years.
12. Mindy Cohn (Natalie Green) has been the voice of Velma for 12 years on the beloved cartoon series Scooby-Doo.
13. Unknown actress Courtney Cox beat out Nancy McKeon (Jo Polniaczek) for the role of Monica on the 90’s TV show hit “Friends”.
14. Nancy McKeon got the role of Jo Polniaczek from her Hallmark commercials by being able to cry on cue.
15. The first episode of The Facts of Life had 7 original cast members. Come season two, the cast was trimmed down to include Mrs. Garrett and 3 of the original girls, Tootie, Natalie and Blair. It wasn’t until the second season when Jo Polniaczek was introduced.
16. Nancy McKeon (Jo Polniaczek) voiced many ABC Weekend cartoons including the voice of “Scruffy”.
17. In 1988, when The Facts of Life aired its final episode on NBC, it had earned the distinction of being the longest running NBC prime-time series at the time.
18. During the first season Blair’s mother was played by a different actress.
19. There were six spinoff attempts from various episodes and guest appearances all which were unsuccessful. In season 2, there was the episode Brian and Sylvia with Richard Dean Anderson and Rosanne Caton as an interracial couple. In season 3, there was “The Academy” and “The Big Fight” (seven boys at a military academy near Eastland, Bates Academy) and “Jo’s Cousin” (Donnelly Rhodes as a gas station owner with three kids). In the 9th and final season, there was “Big Apple Blues” (when Natalie decides to live in a loft in New York’s SoHo to pursue her writing career) and the final 2 episodes which were the pilot for a proposed series with Lisa Whelchel (Blair Warner) running Eastland. Earlier in the series, Jo and Blair’s high-school graduation from Eastland was the highest rated episode of the 4th season. This proposed an idea for Nancy McKeon (Jo) and Lisa Whelchel (Blair) to possibly have a spin-off.
20. Alex Rocco, who played Jo’s father, Charlie Polniaczek on The Facts of Life also played Nancy Mckeon’s father on two other shows, “Can’t Hurry Love” and “The Division.”
21. Lisa Whelchel (Blair Warner) loved Michael McDonald from the group the Doobie Brothers so much at the age of 16 that she even had a poster of him hanging on the wall in Blair’s room.
22. Tootie’s characters real name was Dorothy Ramsey.
23. In television history, The Facts of Life was the first television show to feature an all-female cast.
24. There is a reunion show of the Facts of Life which aired November 18 2001.
25. Tootie’s mother on The Facts of Life was played by her real-life mother, Chip Fields.
26. Jo is short for Joanne.
27. The Facts of Life was originally titled “The Girls’ School (aka Garrett’s Girls)”.
28. The name of the all-girls school, Eastland, was originally named “East Lake School for Girls”
29. The original cast of the 4 girls that were cut out of the show after the first season Julie Anne Haddock (Cindy), Julie Piekarski (Sue Ann), Felice Schachter (Nancy), and Molly Ringwald (Molly) did make periodic appearances throughout seasons 2 and 3 and a reunion show in the 8th season, minus Molly.
30. Felice Schachter who played Nancy was the first cast member to be picked for The Facts of Life and unfortunately the first to be cut after the first season.
31. Lisa Whelchel was not the first Blair, in fact she was originally played by Geri Reischl in Garrett’s Girls on Diff’rent Strokes, but was replaced due to a conflicting contract she had with General Mills, giving the role to Lisa.
32. The Facts of Life was one of the first television shows to feature a person with cerebral palsy as a recurring character.
33. Reportedly, weight was an issue for the girls who ate a lot on set due to the crafts table always being stocked and a lot of waiting occurred between tapings. Lisa Whechel (Blair) was apparently sent to various weight loss programs and the producer changed the food on set. However, it is also reported that Mindy Cohn (Natalie) had the opposite problem as she was losing weight due to her love for dancing. The producers had said she was losing too much weight, as Natalie was known for being overweight, and asked her to stop. They compromised by putting baggy clothes on Mindy (Natalie) to make her look heavier than she actually was.
34. Alan Thicke known for his role as the Father on Growing Pains was one of the writers who composed the theme song for The Facts of Life. The lyrics changed from the first season to be heard during the credits at the end of an episode until it no longer played at the end. Charlotte Rae (Mrs. Garrett) even sang some of the lyrics in the first season.
35. Mackenzie Astin (Andy Moffett) is the younger brother of Sean Astin (The Goonies, Lord of the Rings) and son of Patty Duke.
36. The Facts of Life had two TV movies; one was The Facts of Life Goes to Paris and the other The Facts of Life Down Under.
All episodes, including the TV movies are now available to be viewed on Netflix.
The Facts of Life: Then and Now
Edna Garrett (Charlotte Rae)
Beverly Ann Stickle (Cloris Leachman)
Andy Moffett (Mackenzie Astin)
Blair Warner (Lisa Whelchel)
Jo Polniaczek (Nancy McKeon)
Tootie Ramsey (Kim Fields)
Natalie Green (Mindy Cohn)