For nine seasons, The Facts of Life was a staple of NBC’s primetime schedule. It began as a spin-off from the very popular Diff’rent Strokes sitcom and transplanted the Drummunds’ housekeeper Edna Garrett (Charlotte Rae) to the fictional all-girls Eastland School.
She watched over a diverse bunch of schoolgirls like snotty Blair Warner (Lisa Whelchel), tomboy Jo Polniaczek (Nancy McKeon), fun-loving Natalie Green (Mindy Cohn), and nosey Tootie Ramsey (Kim Fields). Late in the show’s run, studly handyman George Burnett (George Clooney) was added to provide some male eye-candy to the show.
Rae left the series in 1986 when Mrs. Garrett got married and she rejoined the Peace Corps with her new husband. Her sister Beverly Ann Stickle (Cloris Leachman) stepped in, adopted young Andy Moffet (Mackenzie Astin) and Aussie Pippa McKenna (Sherrie Krenn), and helped to guide the former schoolmates into early adulthood. The series would last for two more seasons before being cancelled.
In 2001, The Facts of Life Reunion movie brought Rae, Whelchel, Cohn, and Fields together again. McKeon was officially unavailable for the project but later admitted, “I’m just not a fan of that kind of thing. I would not watch it, so why would I be in it? It’s just never the same.” The script wasn’t very good but the returning castmates liked the idea of getting together and earning some additional cash. Cohn recently said, “We all never got paid and still don’t get paid for DVDs and reruns. . . we felt we were owed.”
So what are the former “Eastland girls” doing these days? Well, in Hollywood, “you take the good, you take the bad…”
Charlotte Rae, the former Mrs. Garrett, keeps busy with stage work, cruise ship performances, lecturing, and occasional TV and movie roles. She’s almost 82 and you might have caught her on King of Queens or as the voice of Nanny for Disney’s 101 Dalmations: The Series. She appeared with Whelchel to sing part of the Facts of Life theme song and also took part in a Sex and the City spoof at the 2004 TV Land Awards. In June, you’ll be able to see Rae in Adam Sandler’s You Don’t Mess with the Zohan. Later this year, catch her acting with Peter O’Toole and Marcia Gay Harden in Christmas Cottage.
In terms of keeping touch with “her girls,” Rae recently said, “I’m very close with Lisa [Whelchel] and her husband and children and Nancy McKeon and her husband, and she has two little ones. I admire Mindy (Cohn) very much but I haven’t seen her in years. She doesn’t like it when I say I discovered her, but it’s true. I’m grateful that we had her because she was a wonderful complement to the other girls. A tremendous talent.”
Lisa Whelchel, 44, got her start in professional acting at the age of 13 in The New Mickey Mouse Club. When Facts was coming to an end, producers hoped to spin-off a new show with Blair as the headmistress of Eastland. That wasn’t picked up and, for the most part Whelchel left the business. A born-again Christian, she devotes most of her time to home-schooling her three children, lecturing, and authoring multiple books on parenting. She’s been married to minister Steven Cauble since 1988 and their family live in Whelchel’s birth state of Texas.
Nancy McKeon, 42, moved to Hollywood when her brother Philip was cast as Linda Lavin’s son on Alice. Since leaving her Jo persona behind, McKeon has kept very busy with TV movies, guest-starring on shows like Touched by an Angel, and starring on a crime drama series called The Division. She most recently appeared on Without a Trace. She married key grip Marc Andrus in 2003 and they have two children. Andrus works on Friday Night Lights in Texas where the family lives on a ranch.
Kim Fields, 38, appeared on Good Times prior to landing her role on Facts, as did her mother. When her time as Tootie ended, she took some time off and attended Pepperdine University. She returned to television as a series regular on all five seasons of the FOX sitcom Living Single. When that series ended in 1997, she guest-starred on several other series like Cupid, The Drew Carey Show, and The Division (alongside McKeon). Fields has directed episodes of shows like Eve, All That, and Kenan & Kel and also has her own production company (Victory Entertainment). She was married to businessman Johnathon Franklin Freeman for six years before they divorced. She married Christopher Morgan in 2007 and the couple’s one child was born in May 2007.
Mindy Cohn, 41, was cast as Natalie when Rae and producers were doing research at the Westlake School in North Hollywood. After the series, she earned a degree in cultural anthropology from Loyola Marymount University. For awhile, she co-hosted an Arizona radio show with Growing Pains’ Alan Thicke (who coincidentally wrote the Facts of life theme-song). She continues to do on-camera work but spends much of her acting time doing voiceover work. She’s been the voice of Velma in animated Scooby Doo projects since 2004. She’s on the board of directors of weSPARK, the cancer survivor organization founded by actress Wendie Jo Sperber. She lives in Beverly Hills.
Cloris Leachman, almost 82, had a very impressive film and television career prior to joining Facts as Beverly Anne in 1986. She won an Academy Award for The Last Picture Show. She has also won a record-breaking eight primetime Emmys, and one daytime Emmy Award for shows like The Mary Tyler Moore Show (which was spun off to her own show, Phyllis), and Malcolm in the Middle. She is still very active in movies and television and has three films currently in the works. She was married to George Englund for 26 years and the two have five children. She’s currently at work on a one-woman show about her life and career.
Mackenzie Astin, 34, has an impressive Hollywood heritage — he’s the brother of actor Sean Astin and is the son of Patty Duke (The Patty Duke Show) and John Astin (The Addams Family). Prior to the reunion movie being shot, Astin jokingly told TV Guide, “I keep hearing about that [reunion movie]… I hope it’s not happening, because nobody’s called me! If it does, I hope they do call.” They didn’t but his career post-Andy Moffet is doing just fine. Since completing high school, Astin has kept very busy acting in both TV and movies. He’s appeared in episodes of Lost (as Kate’s childhood friend), Justice, and most recently NBC’s My Name Is Earl. In film, he’s starred in Iron Will, The Evening Star, In Love and War, and Wyatt Earp. His latest film premiered in March and co-stars his Academy Award-winning mother. It’s called The Four Children of Tander Welch.
Sherrie Austin (formerly Krenn), 37, got her big start in music at the age of 14 when she opened for Johnny Cash in Australia. She joined the cast of Facts as Pippa the Aussie to help revitalize the sitcom. Unfortunately, it didn’t help. Since the end of the show, she’s appeared in a few acting projects but has primarily focused on her singing career. She changed her last name to “Austin” and has issued five albums. Austin has had 10 singles in the top 100 on the country music charts.
George Clooney, 46, worked on a number of series before and after his season stint on Facts of Life as handyman George. After one-year on Roseanne, he appeared on some medical show called ER and has rarely been seen on television since. I wonder whatever happened to him…? Stay tuned!