Here are a few things you might not have realized about ’80s gem The Facts of Life – one was that it started as a spinoff to Diff’rent Strokes (Edna Garrett was promoted from the Drummond’s housekeeper to a housemother of an all-girls dormitory, I guess!) and the second was that it was one of the longest-running sitcoms of that decade.
Airing for a full nine seasons, the girls in Edna’s care the longest were Tootie, Natalie, Blair, and Jo – the first three made the cut from season one to season two, and Jo was added to add more bad-assery to the mix. (I mean, she rode a motorcycle!) While Kimberly Drummond mentioned attending the school in the last episode of Diff’rent Strokes, she wasn’t invited on to the spinoff. One might compare the first season to that of the first season of Saved By The Bell, which was referred to as Good Morning Miss Bliss, and eventually integrated to the “Bell” catalog in syndication. One might question if the show ever regretting writing out Molly Ringwald‘s character, named Molly, who obviously made quite a name for herself after being cut. Also cut from the show? George Clooney. Yes, that guy.
So – how did the other girls fare after the cameras stopped rolling in 1988?
Mindy Cohn as Natalie Green
Who didn’t love Natalie? She was cute as a button, a journalist, had a storyline about being adopted, and was dating a guy named Snake! She was also a super important female character to have on television, because while she wasn’t a rail, she had such a healthy body image. In Natalie’s words, “Who wants to be a skinny pencil? I’d rather be a happy Magic Marker!”
Here’s a shocker: There’s a rumor that Mindy is the Godmother to two of Brad and Angelina’s kids. But being a really amazing friend, she’s refused to confirm or deny the story to the press.
Mindy recently wrote an article on the Huffington Post, which states that she’s constantly being approached to appear on reality television.
“If the Guinness Book of World Records had a category for the celebrity who’s turned down the most reality shows, you’d find my picture there. Yep, right now I could probably be lying on the beach of my very own private island I bought with all the money VH1 offered me to play (and hopefully make a fool of) myself, by wandering around on some other island with a motley crew of celebrities: cohabitating, losing weight, or getting sober,” she said.
Mindy isn’t completely out of the business – for twelve years, she’s been the voice of Velma in the Scooby Doo franchise.
Lisa Whelchel as Blair Warner
Speaking of reality television, let’s talk about Lisa. While Blair was quite the rich wild child, Lisa proved how down to earth she really is while competing on a recent season of Survivor. And she didn’t do too terribly – reaching the finale, she ended up tying with past contestant Michael Skupin for second place.
Since 2009, she has been a regular speaker with Women of Faith Christian conferences. Her Christian background actually made the writers of The Facts of Life give a Blair story-line about losing her virginity to Mindy Cohn – that episode was the only one Lisa didn’t appear in throughout the entirety of the show.
She’s also an author, penning around ten books about child discipline, adult friendships, homeschooling, and religion.
Kim Fields as Dorothy “Tootie” Ramsey
Quite possibly the most referenced Facts of Life character today, Tootie was a constant inspiration for me to learn how to roller skate (They actually made Tootie roller skate around the dorm hoping to boost Kim’s height a bit!) Sadly, I failed. Sorry, Tootie.
Kim went on to attend Pepperdine University, but returned to television in Fox sitcom Living Single in the 90’s, playing Regine Hunter. She also had the opportunity to direct, and has directed a few episodes of Nickelodeon’s Kenan and Kel as well as a handful of Tyler Perry’s sitcoms.
She’s also involved in the music industry, rapping in a group called Impromp2. Her and husband Christopher Morgan have a 6-year-old son named Sebastian Alexander, and are expecting another boy this December.
Nancy McKeon as Jo Polniaczek
For some reason when I was in kindergarten, I was dead set on being Jo for Halloween. Here’s how that conversation went.
Young Karen: I want to be Jo, from The Facts of Life
Parents: Nobody will know who you are.
Young Karen: You can make me a sign that says “I’m Jo, from The Facts of Life”
And that’s why I was a cat that year.
Nancy McKeon actually auditioned to be Monica on Friends, but as we all know, the role went to Courtney Cox. That didn’t stop her from continuing to audition for pretty cool roles – Nancy went on to play Inspector Jinny Exstead on the Lifetime police drama The Division from 2001 to 2004, and then had a recurring role on Sonny With a Chance playing Connie Munroe, the mother of Demi Lovato’s character.
Cloris Leachman as Beverly Ann Stickle
Know how shows in the 80’s liked to somewhat “replace” lead characters near the end of the show’s run? Meet Beverly Ann Stickle. Cloris was added to the cast in 1986, after Mrs. Garrett married and moved to Africa to serve in the Peace Corps (read: Charlotte Rae left the show. But we’ll focus on her next.)
Cloris is currently 87 years old, but she’s still mega-active in the business. She plays Maw Maw in the TV show Raising Hope, starred in an episode of Hot In Cleveland, and can be seen next in The Bronx Bull, a boxing movie scheduled to come out this October. For fans of Adventure Time (and whose not a fan of Adventure Time?) Cloris does the voice of “Old” Marceline. In short, this woman is pretty darn amazing.
Charlotte Rae as Edna Garrett
Without Charlotte, Mindy Cohn never would have been on the show. Charlotte not only discovered her, but created the character and named her after her best friend in school. Pretty cool, right?
Winner: I’m declaring two winners here – First, I’m going with Cloris. She’s a constant in the film and television industry, and I guess we can forgive her for that horrible Oogieloves movie she appeared in a few years back. But since she wasn’t in the original cast, I’ll have to share the love with Kim Fields. She’s still working hard, and doesn’t seem to have any regrets on being Tootie. For someone to be an iconic TV character and not hold some ill will is rare – but Kim has been to every Facts of Life reunion with pride.
Image Credits: mamiverse.com (featured), celebritynetworth.com (Cohn), imdb.com (Whelchel), concreteloop.com (Fields), biography.com (McKeon)