It might be hard to believe but it’s been 40+ long years since we enlighten the girls of Eastland Girls School on TV’s The Facts Of Life. The stars of this sitcom, which run from 1979 to 1988, reunite at the Paley Center, Beverly Hills in 2014. Celebrating the show’s 35th-anniversary and reminiscing the ups and downs of working on a TV series for nine seasons.
Mindy Cohn, the actress who portrays the ever-so-spunky Natalie Green gives an interview with TODAY. She recalls how her castmates are guilty of many fans who watch the series from start to finish. She expresses her delight and her peers’ age so gracefully – growing into cool people in their adult years. Despite the fact, that they are all awkward when they’re trying to balance their careers with their teen years.
Charlotte Rae, who played housemother Mrs. Garret, also came out for the reunion event. Nancy McKeon plays the unapologetically tom-boyish Jo Pilniaczek. Lisa Whelchel is the snobby rich princess Blair Warner, and Geri Jewell is the first major actor with cerebral palsy. Geri gets a chance to take part in a TV series when she signs on to play Blair’s cousin Geri. The only star missing from the reunion even was Kim Fields, who played Tootie Ramsey. Unfortunately, she isn’t able to make it out for the reunion. But she did send a prerecorded video message to all of her former castmates and her legion of adoring fans.
For the reunion, these women hold very little back-revealing surprising secrets about the endearing coming-of-age comedy that very few acquaintances.
The Girls Didn’t Care Much For George Clooney
One of Georgie-boys’ breakthrough acting roles was playing the hunky handyman on The Facts of Life. Despite his good looks and charisma, he fails to attract the female actresses that contribute their talents to the series.
Cohn confessed that to her and her fellow female cast members, George was just another actor. They are familiar with who arrives on set because he works on a set nearby. Though it isn’t a particularly big deal for him to be on the show. It’s not like he shows up one day unannounced.
Whelchel is lucky enough to have an on-screen kiss with Clooney in one episode and says she didn’t remember the smooch. It’s all a bit of a blur to her at this point. She has admittedly watched that scene several times since on YouTube hoping to jog her memory.
Whelchel Got Punched By Jan Brady
Eve Plump makes videos for her role as Jan Brady on one of TV’s most cherished sitcoms ‘The Brady Bunch’. She appeared on a couple of episodes of The Facts of Life as the sister of Blair Warner. One time while rehearsing her lines for a scene of a physical altercation with her sister, Plumb accidentally kisses Whelchel. Wham Bam Thank You, Ma’am!
Whelchel says the jab wasn’t really all that painful but she sure as hell milking for all it was worth. She decides to have a little fun with the situation and her makeup artist comes in early the following day. She makes it look like she is a huge shiner of a black eye. Everyone is freaking out rushing around and trying to figure out how to remedy the situation. She keeps the whole charade until lunchtime and reveals that she’s playing it up the whole time.
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And don’t you dare think about slinking off so fast. Stick around to see why The Facts of Life barely manages to renew for a second season. It seems that in its early days, not a lot of people had faith that it would be a success. But I guess that means, the joke was on them, right?
Mindy Cohn Wanted Her Character To Get Some
The Facts Of Life like many other culturally influential sitcoms from back in the day. It did its best to tackle as many controversial issues as it could during its tenure on the air. You got to spike those ratings up somehow, right? They take on polarizing issues like teen suicide, eating disorders, and even death. It takes the series nine seasons before any of the Eastland girls lost their virginity.
During a nail-biter of an episode during the final season, Cohn’s character Natalie hooks up with her boyfriend. It is something that Cohn says is a ‘long time coming’. Too long in her opinion.
Her character was the only one on the show that was involved in a committed relationship at the time, and it seemed pretty obvious that she was the best candidate to swim out into those uncharted waters. She was 17, almost 18 at the time and the show had already dealt with all of those other touchy issues, so it was about time that they finally discussed sex.
The Show’s Stars Aren’t Exactly Rich
The cast of The Facts Of Life weren’t exactly set up for a life of financial stability after the show concluded. Cohn told TODAY that a lot of people tend to have this misconception that she and her fellow cast members are all sitting high atop these massive pots of gold, but that couldn’t be further from the truth. Although she was quick to tell the media outlet that the cast was compensated for their work, as she put it, ‘insanely well’, she did clarify that when she went on Survivor in 2012, money was definitely a huge motivating factor as hers was starting to dry up at that point.
The Show Wouldn’t Have Worked In Today’s World
The panel interviewed for the reunion couldn’t quite come to an agreement about whether or not The Facts Of Life would be a hit in today’s ever-changing, fast-paced world. Whelchel seemed to think that the show would only be successful today if they ‘were all naked’, but her co-star Rae disagreed with her somewhat cynical view.
The elderly actress added her two cents by noting that the show could be updated for modern audiences but admitted that she wasn’t keen on most of the comedies that are on the tube these days.
Jewell tended to agree with Rae and insisted that viewers in the modern world needed another show like The Facts of Life. She even jokingly quipped that all of the original girls, who are all in their 40s and 50s now, could star in such a remake.
She even came up with a tentative title for such a reboot, The Change of Life! I don’t know about you, but that actually sounds like a halfway decent idea. I mean, they did it with Punky Brewster, why couldn’t they do it with The Facts of Life?
Why The Facts Of Life Almost Failed
Because the show became so popular on its own strength, a lot of people tend to forget that it was actually a spinoff of Diff’rent Strokes. Charlotte Rae was as you may or may not remember the Drummond family’s housekeeper and ended up being quite the show-stealer. She was the first character that the audience met in the very first episode. The school that the show takes place at, Eastland School in Peeskill, New York, was, in fact, the very same school that Dana Plato’s character, Kimberly, from Diff’rent Strokes attended – although she never appeared in a single episode of The Facts of Life.
Show creator and TV veteran Norman Lear knew that he wanted Rae to lead his new program but it wouldn’t be as easy as that. Rae once called Lear with tears in her eyes because she couldn’t manage to free herself from the contract CBS had on her to do the show. All of those sobs and cries were short-lived though as Lear promised her that CBS owed him a few favors and that he would take care of it for her. Staying true to his word Lear was able to clear things up. With a name as prestigious as Lear’s, he could pretty much get away with anything that he wanted to. So at the end of the day, all was well and Rae’s worries were put to rest.
The First Season Was A Trainwreck
Charlotte Rae ended up scoring quite the enviable deal. One that allowed her to go back to work on Diff’rent Strokes if The Facts of Life ended up tanking. The deal was even worked into the plotline of the very first episode. Mr. Drummond and Ms. Garrett have this little exchange where they both agree how temporary their new arrangement might be. Way to show your confidence in your new series CBS!
You might have forgotten this little tasty tidbit of 80s trivia, but Molly Ringwald was actually in the first season of the Facts of Life. But to be fair, if you’re like everyone else, you’ve probably done your best to forget that the first season even existed. Honestly, it wasn’t the Facts of Life that we all loved and look back fondly on. Originally there were seven girls and two administrators at the school bringing the total headcount of main characters to eleven! What a mess.
Behind The Scenes Controversies
Blair was nothing like her Facts of Life character in her private life. She not only hated getting all dolled up in makeup but she also hated taking showers. But that wasn’t a big deal, she was an actor, after all, it wasn’t her job to bring her actual presence to the string. She played a character.
But the thing is, she was hired on to play an extremely vain girl that everyone loved to hate, and at a certain point, Blair’s weight, unfortunately, became a bit of an issue for the show. The producers and execs hired on a team of nutritionists, tried to encourage her to exercise, and tossed out all of the junk food on the set. Nothing seemed to work and eventually, the crew would lug in a scale to her dressing room every morning in a fruitless attempt to get her to lose a few pounds.
Even that approach, as shocking as it might sound by today’s body-positive standards, was a bust. For one thing, you can’t exactly force someone to diet especially if they don’t want to participate. In fact, all of the girls’ weight and body sizes fluctuated quite a bit throughout the show’s tenure on the air. Joan Rivers once even made a joke about this that would be hard for the show to live down. Joan disparagingly referred to the show as The Fats of Life.
Well, here we are once again at the end of another facts-packed video. Hopefully, you’ve enjoyed going on this little journey down memory lane with us. Sure, The Facts of Life might not be the greatest show to ever hit the small screen but it certainly made an impression on fans that grew up with the girls of Eastland School.
Anyway, now’s your turn to let your voice be heard. In the comments section let us know which Norman Lear sitcom you remember most fondly, Diff’rent Strokes or the show it helped spawn The Facts of Life.
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