For 9 seasons, audiences watched as Edna Garrett, a housemother at an all-girls' boarding school, helped a group of teenage girls tackle the various obstacles that come with everyday life. But while this sitcom had everyone in stitches in front of the camera, there are some unknown truths behind the scenes that will leave fans shaken.
Not many people know that the show that aired on television wasn't the show that producers originally set out to make. And after some tough cuts during the first season, the cast of the show was nearly unrecognizable. If you had your TV set to NBC in the '80s, you'll undoubtedly remember this classic sitcom.
The Cast Was All-Female
“The Facts of Life” aired from 1979 to 1988 and had an all-female cast. Now that might not seem like a big deal today, but for the 1980s, this was considered quite progressive. The series worked so well with this cast that it inspired Hollywood to make other shows and films where women were the center of attention. But the show also broke other barriers, too.
The Show Featured a Disabled Person
Aside from having an all-female cast, “The Facts of Life” also broke an even bigger barrier when Blair’s cousin, Geri, appeared on the show. Why was this so important? Because the character suffered from cerebral palsy, making it the first time a disabled person was featured on a primetime TV show. This helped put the show on the map, but not everyone was reacting well to being in the spotlight...
One Actress Didn’t Like the Spotlight
Kim Fields, who played Tootie Ramsey, shared just how difficult it was being in the spotlight, especially as her body changed during puberty. "When your body is changing, people can be mean– everyone goes through those awkward stages,” she explained. But one of her co-stars was really lucky right off the bat.
Mindy Cohn Never Auditioned
Actress Mindy Cohn didn’t audition for the role of Natalie Green. Producers simply went to several high schools and interviewed students— and Cohn was one of them. The show’s lead star, Charlotte Rae (aka Edna Garrett), liked Cohn so much that she and the producers gave her the role of Natalie. But then something scary happened after season one.
One Actress Got The Role Because of a Hallmark Commercial
Actress Nancy McKeon, who played Jo, appeared on a few soap operas, including “Another World” and “The Secret Storm” before she was cast on the sitcom, but it was another TV appearance that got her the role. When a casting director saw her in a Hallmark commercial, he started to cry and knew immediately that he wanted her on the new show.
The Core Cast Was Amazing
Fans remember the show’s den mother Edna Garrett and the four boarding school girls, Blair (played by Lisa Whelchel), Jo (played by Nancy McKeon), Natalie (played by Mindy Cohn), and Tootie (played by Kim Fields). But the show originally had other main characters who didn’t fare so well.
Most of the Season One Cast Got the Axe
Actresses like Molly Ringwald, who played Molly Parker in season one, got the axe at the end of the first season. So, by the time season two premiered, only four main girls remained. Producers did this because they felt it allowed audiences to connect with a smaller group of characters. But that doesn’t mean they didn’t have a few awesome guest stars along the way.
Molly Ringwald Called Her Experience “Humiliating”
Actress Molly Ringwald was only 12 years old when she was cut from the cast of “The Facts of Life,” and it was a really painful experience for her. She later recalled, “I was definitely hurt. I didn’t like it at all.” The reason for her firing was because she was too young and the producers of the series wanted the cast to be a bit older. And it was only a few years later that she got her big break.
Her Career Wasn’t Deterred
Molly Ringwald later became the star of such John Hughes movies as “Sixteen Candles” and “The Breakfast Club,” which was released when the actress was just 16 years old. She later called her experience on “The Facts of Life,” “hard and humiliating,” but thankfully, that didn’t stop her career dead in its tracks! And other co-stars of the series had similar luck after they left the show, too.
Some Guest Stars Were Stars in the Making
A lot of guest stars appeared over the course of the series and many of them were A-listers in the making. Some of these stars included Larry Wilmore, Jami Gertz, Zsa Zsa Gabor and future “E.R.” actor George Clooney.
George Clooney Didn’t Make Much of An Impression
George Clooney became a recurring character on “The Facts of Life” in the show’s seventh season, and although he would become TV’s biggest heartthrob when he starred on the drama “ER,” he was still a long ways away from being a household name at the time. And the cast had no idea that they were going to work every day with a future Oscar winner, which lead to some pretty embarrassing situations later on…
Lisa Whelchel Doesn’t Remember Kissing Clooney
The actress who played Blair had a romantic plot line with the famous actor to be, but to many people’s surprise, she doesn’t remember it at all! After seeing Clooney’s career skyrocket, she looked back on the moment, saying that a favorite episode of her’s would be the one “where I got to kiss George Clooney… except that I didn’t even remember that I had done that until years later.”
They Had No Idea That He Would Be a Star
The stars of the series were pretty used to their daily routines by the time Clooney joined the cast in season seven of the show, so they didn’t feel the need to get dressed up to meet their costars, although looking back, they kind of wish they might have! Whelchel also recalled, “He was like a big brother to everybody.”
Other Actors Just Hung Around the Set
While some future A-listers actually appeared onscreen, there were other actors who loved the show so much that they hung around backstage. Some of these stars included Paul Haggis and “Mad About You” actress Helen Hunt.
A “Brady Bunch” Member Hit One of the Stars
Star of “The Brady Bunch” Eve Plumb made a memorable appearance on “The Facts of Life” as Blair’s sister. But during a behind the scenes rehearsal, Plumb accidentally hit Lisa Whelchel in the face. Whelchel later said, “It didn’t really hurt, but I milked it a bit. Everyone was rushing around trying to figure out what to do.”
Nancy McKeon Surprised Her Costars When She Started Dating Michael J. Fox
The stars of “The Facts of Life” were very close with other sitcom stars during their time on the air, and that included some of the cast members of the show “Family Ties,” which starred “Back to the Future” lead Michael J. Fox. Lisa Whelchel recalled the time her co-star brought him to the set, saying, “We were all shocked when she was dating somebody, and [he was] somebody so cute and talented and wonderful.” The two dated for three years.
They Even Starred in a Movie Together
McKeon and Fox even got to play a couple in a film, starring together in “High School U.S.A.” in 1983. The made-for-TV movie also stared actors Crispin Glover and Dana Plato. The movie centered around a love triangle and it was during filming that McKeon and Fox met and started dating, before starring in another TV movie together which was called “Poison Ivy.”
Edna Garrett Was the Center of the Show’s Universe
Actress Charlotte Rae’s character, Edna Garrett, was the center of the show, which is why Rae herself was involved in a lot of the behind-the-scenes decisions, including the naming of many of the show’s favorite characters.
The Characters Were Named After Special People
Some of the show's characters were named after very important people in Rae’s life. For example, Natalie was the name of Rae’s real life best friend. Then there’s the character Andy, who was named after Rae’s son.
Blair Was Originally Very Different
Blair was a preppy New Yorker that everyone loved. But when the character was first conceived of, actress Lisa Whelchel was supposed to play her as a quick-talking Texan. Producers loved Whelchel’s real-life personality so much that they asked her to be herself when playing Blair. But other actresses had to roll with their roles.
Here’s Why Tootie Used Roller Skates
Tootie’s favorite mode of transportation were her roller skates, but there was a behind-the-scenes reason for this. Actress Kim Fields was shorter than her other co-stars, so the roller skates were added to make her taller and more cinematically visible while she was around the other girls.
Jo Was Supposed to Be a Female Version of the “Fonz”
Producers originally wanted Nancy McKeon’s character, Jo, to be the female counterpart of the Fonz, a hip character from “Happy Days” who was played by Henry Winkler. But McKeon’s tender nature made them change their minds. So, the character was portrayed as softer instead of quite as rebellious.
Blair Was Supposed to Hit a Huge Milestone First
In the final season, audiences gasped when they learned that Natalie lost her v-card to boyfriend Snake. But producers originally wanted the character Blair to lose her virginity first. This plot line didn't air on the show because actress Lisa Whelchel refused to shoot the story because of her religious beliefs.
Two Stars Walked Out of the Spotlight
Actresses Lisa Whelchel and Nancy McKeon decided to walk out of the Hollywood spotlight and focus on starting a family after the series ended. McKeon married Marc Andrus in 2003 and had two children— Aurora and Harlow, while Whelchel married her husband Steven Cauble and had three children— Clancy, Haven, and Tucker. But Mrs. Garrett left the show for other reasons.
Charlotte Rae’s Character Was Written Off
Although Whelchel and McKeon waited until the end of the series to take a break from Hollywood, actress Charlotte Rae left the show in season eight. Writers explained the departure by saying that Mrs. Garrett got married and joined the Peace Corp. But there was another reason why Rae herself quit.
Rae Felt That Mrs. Garrett Had Gotten Boring
Rae reportedly felt that her character had gotten a little boring over the course of the series. So, she decided it was time to bid farewell to Mrs. Garrett. But before she left, she asked producers to bring late actress Cloris Leachman in as a replacement and they did. Leachman ended up playing Mrs. Garrett’s sister and she played a main role in the last season of the series.
"The Facts of Life" Was Actually a Spin-Off
Most fans don’t realize that “The Facts of Life” was actually a spin-off of “Diff’rent Strokes.” In the series, Rae played the same role of Edna Garrett, but she was a housekeeper working for the Drummonds. But producers of the series knew that Rae could hold her own on a new series, too.
Edna Garrett Got a Second Chance
The Edna character was then written off after taking a job at Eastland Prep School. That’s when producers came up with “The Facts of Life,” which eventually turned out to be quite a hit. This made producers consider creating other spin-offs.
The Show Almost Created Six Other Spin-Offs
Producers planned on creating six other series, including one that took place in a military school. In fact, the premise was featured in the third season of “The Facts of Life,” but never took off. Neither did any of the other spin-off ideas either.
Alan Thicke Helped Write the Theme Song
“You take the good and take the bad,” was one of the catchy lines from “The Facts of Life’s” theme song. It was actually co-written by the late Alan Thicke, a Canadian actor known for playing the dad on the sitcom “Growing Pains.” He was also musician Robin Thicke’s real life father.
Lisa Whelchel Almost Starred on “Friends”
Lisa Whelchel was almost cast as Rachel Green on “Friends.” But when she went to audition for the role, she didn’t feel comfortable playing the character as Rachel was more risqué than her previous roles. So, the role went to Jennifer Aniston. But Whelchel wasn’t done with TV yet...
Whelchel Appeared on Another Show
After playing a fictional character for so long, Whelchel got to play herself when she appeared as a contestant on the reality show “Survivor.” Although she didn’t win, she did come in second place, which is nothing to complain about.
Charlotte Rae Was on Sesame Street
Perhaps the reason why Charlotte Rae was able to play such a maternal role on “The Facts of Life” was the fact that she had appeared on “Sesame Street” years earlier and taught kids skills like how to read and how to write. But it wasn’t all fun and games on the actual sitcom.
There Was a Lot of Bullying on the Set
“The Facts of Life” cast was bullied for their appearance. In one situation, the producers didn’t want actress Natalie Cohn to get fit because they felt it would ruin her character. On the other hand, they treated Lisa Whelchel differently. “They sent me to fat farms, exercise trainers, and health spas. They even brought the scale to the rehearsal hall and had me weigh in every morning, while everyone gathered around to see if I had gained or lost any weight,” Whelchel was once quoted saying. And this was something not even Rae or her character Edna could shield her girls from.
The Cast Reunited For a Reunion Special in 2001
In 2001, the core cast reunited for a reunion special, which surprisingly didn’t capture the interest of the show’s original script writers. Quinn Taylor, the senior vice president of TV movies at ABC said that the original writers “didn't care, [weren’t] around or didn't want to be a part of it.” And there was one cast member who felt the same way…
But One Member of the Cast Was Absent
Before the reunion movie was made the core group of girls made a pact with each other to never do a reunion movie unless the situation was dire. And cast member Nancy McKeon kept that promise when the other actresses of the series did not. But the reason she didn’t take part in the movie was because of scheduling conflicts with the show she was starring on at the time, “The Division.”
They Always Kept in Touch With Each Other, Through Thick and Through Thin
Even though the cast couldn’t always find the time or opportunities to work together, they always kept in touch with each other and their TV housemother Charlotte Rae. After Rae’s passing in 2018, Mindy Cohn posted a loving caption on Instagram, which read, “She was my champion, a teacher, a proud example of the tenacity and perseverance needed to live as a creative, along with your talent and gifts.”
A Hallmark Channel Movie Brought Them All Together Again
The 2019 Hallmark Channel movie “You Light Up My Christmas” was the last time that all four main stars of “The Facts of Life” were together again on camera. The movie featured Kim Fields as Emma, a woman who returns to her hometown for Christmas, and the rest of the cast of “The Facts of Life” had cameos in the film, but that’s not all that they’ve been up to.
The Cast Has a Unique Bond
As the movie filmed, the cast realized just how important their time on the sitcom was way back in the ‘80s, because it brought the group of friends together for the first time. And no matter what goes on in their professional lives, this group of girls will always be friends behind the scenes, because they went through something very unique together: international stardom.
McKeon Danced Her Way Back Into Our Hearts
Nancy McKeon found another reason to grace the screen in 2018, when she appeared as a contestant on the series “Dancing with the Stars.” Partnered up with dancer Val Chmerkovskiy, the couple lasted three weeks on the series before being eliminated, partially due to McKeon fracturing her foot during rehearsals.