In the ’80s, no show captured the ups and downs of growing up as a teenage girl better than The Facts of Life. The sitcom’s cast centered on Edna Garrett, the housemother of Eastland Academy, an all-girls boarding school, and her young charges, Blair, Tootie, Natalie and Jo, was known for its sweet depiction of female friendship and its willingness to tackle tricky subjects like sexuality, disability and drug use.
Originally created as a spinoff of Diff’rent Strokes, The Facts of Life ended up running even longer than that hit show and winning over its own fanbase. Ultimately becoming one of the longest-running sitcoms of the ’80s, the show debuted in 1979 and ended in 1988, with nine seasons and 201 episodes. Over the course of nearly a decade, we saw the girls grow up, and we were with them through, as the theme song so catchily put it, the good and the bad.
Before they were famous
In the first season of the show, there was a large ensemble cast, but by the second season the producers decided to cut a number of characters so that the four main girls would have more room for character development.
One of the characters who got written out of the show was Molly Parker, a perky student played by Molly Ringwald in her very first role. Ringwald, who left the show in 1980, would of course become one of the most famous teen actresses of the decade, with iconic roles in Sixteen Candles, The Breakfast Club and Pretty in Pink. (Read more about Sixteen Candles, Pretty in Pink and other classic ’80s rom-coms here!)
Another fun fact from The Facts of Life? The show also provided an early role for George Clooney, who played George Burnett, a handyman who became friendly with the girls in seasons seven and eight. (Click here for handsome throwback photos of a young George Clooney!)
The Facts of Life cast
Clearly, The Facts of Life was blessed with a great cast, but not all of them would go on to become Hollywood A-listers. If you’re wondering what the core cast of the show did once they grew up, read on!
Lisa Whelchel as Blair Warner
Lisa Whelchel played Blair, the spoiled rich girl with a generous side. She began her career at age 12, when she was cast in The New Mickey Mouse Club, and was a Mousketeer from 1977 to 1978. Shortly after that, she’d join The Facts of Life. In recent years, she’s shown up in a selection of Lifetime and Hallmark movies. (Check out our ranking of the most romantic Hallmark movies here!)
Whelchel has had an active life outside of acting. In 1984, she released a Grammy-nominated album of Christian pop, and while her musical career didn’t continue, she’d go on to be an inspirational speaker and write books on spiritual subjects. In 2012, she appeared on the reality show Survivor: Philippines.
Now 60, Whelchel hosts Collector’s Call, a show about valuable pop culture-related collectibles. On her website, Whelchel says she “has lived, at least, as many lives as a cat,” and she even offers life-coaching services!
Kim Fields as Dorothy “Tootie” Ramsey
Kim Fields played the delightfully gossipy Tootie, who was the youngest girl of the bunch. She started off in the short-lived show Baby, I’m Back, then joined the cast of Good Times in season six. Like Lisa Whelchel, Fields also dabbled in music, releasing two dance singles in 1984.
After The Facts of Life ended, Fields took time off to go to college, but she would return to TV in the ’90s, making appearances on Martin and The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air and starring in Living Single from 1993 to 1998. She also branched out into directing, and helmed episodes of Kenan & Kel, Taina and Tyler Perry’s House of Payne.
Fields has also competed on Dancing With the Stars and was on The Real Housewives of Atlanta for a season. Now 54, Fields is still acting, and currently plays the mom in the Netflix sitcom The Upshaws. On top of all that, she also has her own line of coffee, Signature Blends by KF.
Mindy Cohn as Natalie Green
As Natalie, Mindy Cohn played one of the rare TV characters who was curvy but happy and not overly fixated on losing weight. Cohn got her start when she was handpicked by Mrs. Garrett herself. Charlotte Rae and the producers of The Facts of Life visited Westlake School in California, where Cohn was a student, to do research for the show and were instantly charmed by the teen’s humor and positive energy.
Cohn showed up in 21 Jump Street and Charles in Charge in the ’80s, and joined the casts of shows like The Second Half and The Chimp Channel, neither of which lasted very long, in the ’90s. In the ’00s, she became a prolific voice actress, playing Velma in a variety of Scooby-Doo specials, TV shows and video games.
In 2012, Cohn was sadly diagnosed with breast cancer, but as of 2017 she’s cancer-free. Now 57, she’ll soon be appearing in the miniseries Palm Royale, alongside Allison Janney, Laura Dern and Carol Burnett.
Nancy McKeon as Jo Polniaczek
As Jo Polniaczek, Nancy McKeon played the rebellious tomboy of the group. Her first role came when she appeared in an episode of Starsky & Hutch at age 11. She joined The Facts of Life cast during the show’s second season, after much of the season one cast had been cut, and she’d stay on for the duration of the show.
During The Facts of Life years, McKeon also did voiceover work and appeared in Afterschool Specials. She acted in a variety of TV movies throughout the ’80s and ’90s, and continued to act in TV shows, most notably starring as rebellious police inspector Jinny Exstead in the women-centered Lifetime procedural The Division from 2001 to 2004. Now 57, McKeon had a stint on Dancing With the Stars in 2018 and in 2020, she provided voices for the rebooted cartoon Animaniacs.
Charlotte Rae as Edna Garrett
As Edna Garrett, the maternal figure of The Facts of Life, Charlotte Rae brought decades of experience to the role. In the ’50s, she began acting in many of the anthology series that dominated the small screen at the time. By the ’60s and ’70s, she became a sitcom regular, with appearances in Car 54, Where Are You?, All in the Family, Good Times and Hot l Baltimore. She also played Molly the Mail Lady in the early days of Sesame Street.
Rae starred in the first two seasons of Diff’rent Strokes, and it was her idea to give Mrs. Garrett her own spinoff. After years of small TV parts, Rae, who’d long been known as a quirky character actress, finally had her biggest and best-remembered role. As the young stars of The Facts of Life matured, Rae stepped back, and Mrs. Garrett wasn’t as much of a central presence. She left The Facts of Life cast in 1986, and was replaced by another veteran actress, Cloris Leachman, who played her sister, Beverly Ann Stickle.
Rae kept busy after The Facts of Life, with recurring voiceover roles and appearances in shows like St. Elsewhere, Murder, She Wrote, The King of Queens, ER and Pretty Little Liars. Her last TV appearance was in the Boy Meets World spinoff Girl Meets World in 2014. She was also in movies like Bananas, The Hot Rock, Hair, Christmas Cottage and Ricki and the Flash. In 2018, Rae passed away at 92, but the legacy of her 60-plus year career lives on.
Read on for more classic ’80s sitcoms!