It’s been a while since we’ve had traditional, wholesome shows like The Facts Of Life. We all watched as Blair, Jo, Natalie, and Tootie navigated the tricky ups and downs of growing up – but things weren’t so wholesome behind the scenes. Disturbing tales have come up since the show aired.
1. It Was The First Show Starring An All-Female Cast
In many ways, The Facts Of Life was surprisingly ahead of its time. On one hand, it was common for sitcoms of its nature to exist on television. However, it was much less common to have any kind of show with an all-female cast.
Indeed, the show made history by being the very first sitcom to feature a main cast of all women! While such a thing is much more normal to see today, this was seen as very progressive for the 80s. In many ways, it pioneered the way for many other women-centric movies and shows that came after it.
2. It Was The First Show Starring A Disabled Person
The Facts Of Life wasn’t just progressive for being the first show with an all-female cast. They were shattering all kinds of barriers left and right, and this was another one. During the second season, Blair’s cousin Geri made an appearance, and she was played by well-known comedian Geri Jewell.
This was significant because it was the first time a primetime television show had featured a character with a disability. Given the fact that Cousin Geri had cerebral palsy, and was accepted by her peers on the show, it was yet another positive portrayal of something most audiences weren’t used to seeing.
3. Kim Fields Didn’t Respond Well To Child Stardom
Similar to the characters on the show, the young cast dealt with their shares of insecurities on and off the set. This is especially true when it comes to child stars who have just been thrust into a life of fame. Kim Fields, who played the role of Tootie, didn’t respond very well to life in the limelight.
Fields later reflected on how tough it was to develop as a person under the microscope of millions of people: “When your body is changing, people can be mean – everyone goes through those awkward stages.” Unfortunately, there were many people who were callously mean to her and her co-stars.
4. Mindy Cohn Never Even Had To Audition
The casting of Mindy Cohn wasn’t exactly planned the way most castings go. She wasn’t hand-picked out of a bevy of nervous auditioners. In fact, Cohn got the part without even trying. The producers had been doing research in high schools in order to learn more about their subject matter, and interviewed tons of students – including Cohn.
The Facts Of Life lead actress Charlotte Rae ended up liking Cohn so much that they decided she needed to be more than just a girl taking a survey. She needed to be an actress on the show! So the producers gave her the role she never asked for, and the rest was history.
5. Most Of The Cast Was Fired After The First Season
Viewers fell in love with the show because of its memorable characters, such as Edna Garrett (played by the experienced Charlotte Rae), and her four “boarding school daughters”: Blair (Lisa Whelchel), Jo (Nancy McKeon), Natalie (Mindy Cohn), and Tootie (Kim Fields). But some people forget that there were more main characters — including Molly Parker, played by Molly Ringwald.
When the second season came around, it was decided to cut these extra characters down to the core four girls. This made it easier for viewers to focus on specific characters and connect to them emotionally, thus making the show more successful.
6. The Facts Of Life Was A Hotspot For Iconic Guest Stars
Perhaps one of the most underrated things about The Facts Of Life is that it provided a launch pad for so many legendary actors. Indeed, the amount of future A-list stars that randomly appeared on the iconic 80s show is staggering.
Household names like George Clooney, Larry Wilmore, Jami Gertz, Zsa Zsa Gabor, and countless others were guest stars on the show – with Clooney even appearing multiple times as a handyman in the seventh season. In addition to actors, many popular figures in the film industry frequently hung around the set, including the likes of Helen Hunt, Paul Haggis, and many more.
7. Many Characters Were Named After Charlotte Rae’s Loved Ones
It was understood from the get-go that Charlotte Rae’s Edna Garrett was the heart and soul of The Facts Of Life. She was the initial reason they made the show in the first place, and Rae was involved in many important creative decisions behind the scenes.
This was especially true when it came to the naming of the characters. It turns out that many of the characters’ names were tributes to various people in Rae’s life. For instance, Natalie was named after one of Rae’s best friends. In addition, Andy (played by Mackenzie Astin), was named after her autistic son.
8. Blair Was Originally Supposed To Be A Much Different Character
Who’s favorite character was Blair? Those who have a soft spot for classically preppy New Yorkers surely took a liking to her, but she almost was a completely different person. Indeed, Lisa Whelchel was originally supposed to portray Blair as a Texas-native who talked extremely fast. So how did everything change?
When the producers met Whelchel, they fell in love with her natural personality, and realized that this was exactly what her character needed to be like. This was especially cool for Whelchel because it meant she could just be herself. And her character of Blair was all the better for it.
9. The Real Reason Tootie Wore Those Roller Skates
Every character on The Facts Of Life had a specific “quirk” about them. Tootie’s unique quirk was that she could frequently be seen rolling around on her beloved roller skates. This dated back to the early seasons, so clearly the producers had a good reason for it. But it’s not the reason most people will expect.
The reason that Tootie wore those roller skates was actually because her portrayer, Kim Fields, was much shorter than the rest of the gang. From a cinematic perspective, her roller skates were simply intended to make her taller, and more in the line of vision with her castmates.
10. Jo Was Originally Supposed To Be A ‘Female Fonz’
As is the case with most things in the entertainment industry, producers tend to imitate other things that already work. Such was the case with The Facts Of Life, when the producers initially wanted Nancy McKeon’s character of Jo to be a carbon copy of another popular character.
The producers’ plan was for Jo to be a female version of the Fonz from Happy Days. However, once they saw McKeon’s outstanding ability to tackle tender scenes with the poignancy of a pro, they decided to soften up her character. And that’s all for the best, because how could anyone really recreate the Fonz?
11. Blair Was Supposed To Reach This Sensitive Milestone First
Viewers watched as Blair, Jo, Natalie and Tootie navigated their way through a myriad of issues that young women commonly face — including love. In the ninth final season, people were shocked when Natalie lost her virginity to her boyfriend Snake, especially after watching her grow up throughout the previous nine seasons.
However, what people don’t know is that the producers initially wanted Blair to be the first one to experience that milestone – only Lisa Whelchel refused. A religious actress, she didn’t agree with promoting that message to the world. In fact, the episode in which Natalie goes all the way with Snake is also the only one Blair doesn’t appear in.
12. Two Actresses From The Show Walked Away From Fame To Start Families
Sometimes when you watch a wholesome show about family values, you later find out that the cast don’t actually believe in those values in real life. Thankfully, that seemingly wasn’t the case for two young actresses on the show — Lisa Whelchel and Nancy McKeon.
In fact, once the 90s came around, they were both happy to take a break from the fame and focus on their families instead. They both had their share of children, and McKeon lovingly reflected on her experience raising them, saying, “I’ve enjoyed these years getting to be their mom – it’s their time. Everyone says it goes by fast, and they’re not kidding.”
13. The Real Reason Behind Mrs. Garrett’s Departure
As much of a staple that Charlotte Rae was on The Facts Of Life, she sadly left the show in season 8. Fans know that her character, Mrs. Garrett, had gotten married and went to join the Peace Corp. However, there was a real reason for her departure behind the scenes.
Apparently Rae had been growing quite bored with her character, believing that Mrs. Garrett had gone “stale” after seven seasons. For this reason, she decided to pack up and leave, but not before leaving a recommendation for her replacement. Indeed, it was Rae who advised the producers to bring on Cloris Leachman (playing Mrs. Garrett’s sister) in her stead.
14. The Facts Of Life Was A Spin-Off From Another Show
Here’s a fact most diehard fans know about, but surprisingly gets missed by more casual fans. Many people don’t realize that The Facts Of Life was actually a spin-off of another classic sitcom — Diff’rent Strokes. Charlotte Rae had starred in Diff’rent Strokes alongside the late Conrad Bain and Gary Coleman, playing the role of housekeeper Edna Garrett.
Once the character of Edna took a job at the all-girls Eastland Prep School, it was decided that she should get another show that focused solely on her. That’s how The Facts Of Life was born, but it took a while for people to catch onto its charm.
15. The Facts Of Life Inspired Six Potential Spin-Offs
The Facts Of Life ended up being so successful that the producers planned on creating a handful of additional spin-offs based on it. Indeed, they’re obsession with spin-offs grew to a point of fanaticism, with at least six potential series ideas in the works.
One of these series was intended to be based in a military school, which The Facts Of Life introduced to its viewers in the third season. There were plenty of other interesting premises in the works, with plans to cast young stars like Mayim Bialik, Seth Green, Juliette Lewis, David Spade, and countless others. Sadly, these spin-offs never ended up working out.
16. Alan Thicke Co-Wrote The Catchy Theme Song
Perhaps one of the most memorable theme songs of all time, The Facts Of Life’s opening tune reassured viewers that sometimes “you take the good and take the bad.” We’re betting you probably thought that the song was written by some unknown songwriter behind the scenes – but this is far from the case.
In fact, the song was actually co-written by none other than the well-known late Canadian actor Alan Thicke. And not only is Thicke a respected actor, but he’s probably best known for playing a “wholesome dad” in yet another similar kind of sitcom, Growing Pains. Talk about keeping it all in the family!
17. Lisa Whelchel Almost Starred As Rachel In Friends
After Lisa Whelchel had won over the hearts of fans all across America, producers seriously considered her for other popular roles. One of those roles was that of Rachel Green on Friends. Before it was given to Jennifer Aniston, they asked Whelchel to read for the part but, something went wrong.
Whelchel wasn’t so into Rachel’s character, believing that she was too sexualized. Indeed, Friends was more mature and risque than The Facts Of Life content-wise. However, if she knew how popular Friends would become, perhaps her decision would’ve been different. Funnily enough, Nancy McKeon auditioned for the role of Monica Gellar, but lost to Courtney Cox.
18. Lisa Whelchel Later Starred On Another Popular Show
Once The Facts Of Life wrapped up their final season and the cast members went their separate ways, viewers lost track of their whereabouts. Some retreated back into the simple life, and some continued to pursue other esteemed roles. In the case of Lisa Whelchel, who portrayed Blair, she actually had her eyes set on reality television.
Nearly two decades after filming The Facts Of Life, Whelchel turned heads by being a contestant on the cult-favorite reality series Survivor, where she thrived by making it all the way to the end. She even came in second — not too shabby!
19. Charlotte Rae Was An Actress On Sesame Street
Have you ever wondered how Charlotte Rae was able to carve out such a strong niche for herself in the television world as the warm, wise, maternal type? Well, she paid her dues long before The Facts Of Life, and Diff’rent Strokes as well for that matter.
Decades earlier, Charlotte Rae was on the iconic children’s show, Sesame Street. On the Jim Henson series Rae gave her audience more than just life lessons — she taught a much younger demographic how to read and write. This role helped solidify her as a respectable actress who can teach on screen without sounding patronizing.
20. How Lucille Ball Made Natalie Cohn’s Day
It wasn’t just average viewers at home who fell in love with the show. Celebrities constantly sang the praises of The Facts Of Life, while singling out certain characters they truly felt were exceptional. Legendary actress Lucille Ball approached Natalie Cohn one day and gave her the biggest compliment she could.
Ball went up to Cohn and said, “You and that Tootie remind me of me and Viv. You are a very funny lady, Ms. Cohn. You keep this up now, ’cause you have a lot to offer.” In that exact moment, Cohn said to herself “Kill me now, it’s not going to get any better than this.”
21. Lisa Whelchel Forgot About Kissing George Clooney
Of course, out of all the guest stars who appeared on the show, none was more memorable than George Clooney. He became the most famous out of all of them, and it could be because he was such a heartthrob on the show – especially when he kissed Lisa Whelchel, who was playing Blair.
But while fans at home were moved by the kiss, Whelchel wasn’t exactly on cloud nine. In fact, she claims today that she doesn’t remember the kiss. During a 2014 cast reunion, she said, “I am all for repressed memories, but why I repressed that one I don’t know!”
22. Lisa Whelchel’s Message To Hopeful Fans
Although there was a 2001 movie titled The Facts Of Life Reunion, that wasn’t enough to quench fans thirst for more action. For years it’s been hinted that they might bring the show back, which has given people some hope. Unfortunately, certain cast members have denied such rumors.
In 2014, during a reunion at the Paley Center, Lisa Whelchel made sure people knew that another reboot was NOT in the works. She explained, “It’s nice not to get stuck in a little box. As wonderful as that box was, and as grateful as, I think, we all are for it, it’s just good to move on.”
23. There Was Originally Supposed To Be A Tenth Season
Although The Facts Of Life made history by becoming the longest running sitcom of all time (for its time), it actually was almost longer. Fans were saddened to say goodbye to Blair, Jo and the gang after the ninth and final season wrapped up. But many people don’t know that there was originally going to be a tenth season.
Unfortunately, this tenth season ended up just being wishful thinking, and it was never filmed. This was mainly because the cast members had already emotionally moved on and were ready to explore new career avenues, and also take a break from the spotlight.
24. The Show Originally Had A Different Title
When a show first gets created, there are numerous “big picture decisions” that must be made. One of those decisions is, of course, choosing what the series will be called. The Facts Of Life is such a simple yet captivating title, and yet the iconic sitcom was almost called something completely different.
Most fans have no idea that the producers originally named it “Garrett’s Girls.” One doesn’t need to be a rocket scientist to understand why – the entire show is about Edna Garrett and her pseudo-daughters that she lovingly watches over. Imagine how different the theme song would’ve been!
25. The Female Cast Was Bullied And Made Uncomfortable
Unfortunately, not all facts of life are fine and dandy. The world is filled with all kinds of bullies and cruel people — and child stars aren’t immune to their verbal attacks. As loved as The Facts Of Life cast was, they were constantly shamed for their physical appearance.
Apparently the producers didn’t want Natalie Cohn to lose weight, because it wouldn’t work for her character. Lisa Whelchel, however, said that the producers did the opposite with her: “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.”
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