The Facts of Life

The Facts of Life

It all started with the 70s sitcom Diff’rent Strokes. When daughter Kimberly Drummond’s school’s housemother quit her job at Eastlake Academy the day before the campus play, disaster was imminent. Who would make the costumes? Edna Garrett, the Drummond’s maid, rises nobly to the occasion. In fact, she so impresses the school that Steven Bradley, the headmaster, asks her to be the new housemother permanently. With a fond farewell to Arnold, Willis, and Kimberly (who continued to go to Eastlake, even though she was seldom seen in this new spinoff), Mrs. G took her place in The Facts of Life, one of the most popular sitcoms of the 1980s.

When The Facts of Life debuted in 1979, the name of the all-girl school was changed to Eastland after the pilot episode. The show followed the lives of a group of girls leaving childhood behind and learning how to grow up. They were the rich, beautiful, and snobby Blair Warner, her rivals for male attention, Sue Ann and Nancy, Cindy the tomboy, plump and funny Natalie, shy Molly (an early appearance by 80s teen queen Molly Ringwald), and roller-skating whiz Tootie.

The second season introduced bad girl Jo Polniazek, who, in the first episode, convinced Blair, Natalie, and Tootie to help her hot-wire the school’s car and drive to local bar Chug-a-lug. The girls were caught and punished by having to live above the cafeteria and work in the kitchen for Mrs. Garrett (who had by this time been promoted to school dietician.) The show changed direction and now focused on this new locale and these characters alone.

These four very different girls had to learn to live with each other now in close quarters. Blair and Jo particularly made for some interesting storylines. Jo was a working class girl from the Bronx with a tough attitude and a total disinterested in clothes and makeup. Blair was the complete opposite – she came from a rich family and her girly and vain ways often grated on Jo’s nerves. It was usually up to Mrs. Garrett to smooth things over when those two were at odds.

Like many other 80s sitcoms, The Facts of Life dealt with serious issues. When African-American Tootie doesn’t want her cousin going out with Natalie, who’s her best friend – and white – the subject of race was covered. As an adopted child, Natalie learns to deal with that as well, including the death of her father later on in the show. In another episode, Jo is attacked by a date and Mrs. Garrett takes her in to comfort her. Finally, comedienne Geri Jewel plays Blair’s cerebral palsy-affected cousin, Geri Tyler. While the other girls immediately take to Geri, Blair has to confront her own feelings of embarrassment, leading to the discovery of jealousy of her cousin she never realized she had. The episode focused on tolerance and respect for people and disabilities, and Geri returned to the show several more times.

During the fifth season, Jo and Blair graduated and went to Langley College, and Mrs. Garrett left Eastland to open up a gourmet food shop called Edna’s Edibles. The store was attached to a house, so that everyone could still live together. The shop burned down in the seventh season, and Mrs. Garrett hired a handyman, played by George Clooney, to rebuild it into a trendy boutique. They called it “Over Our Heads.” A new character was also introduced this season, a young latchkey boy named Andy, who was befriended by the girls.

Mrs. Garrett left to move to Africa with her boyfriend at the start of the eighth season, and she was replaced by her sister, Beverly Ann. The girls, meanwhile, started taking care of Pippa, an Australian girl who attended Eastland. By the end of this last season, Natalie was planning to become a journalist, Tootie was following her dream of becoming an actress, Jo married her boyfriend Rick, and Blair used her money to buy Eastland Academy and become its new headmistress. The very last episode featured actors who we’d hear from again – Seth Green, Mayim Bialik and Juliette Lewis – as the kick-off to a spinoff, but actress Lisa Whelchel had had about enough of playing Blair Warner, and the show came to a close.

Pre-teen and teenaged girls loved to watch the show every week and find parts of themselves in each of the characters, growing up along with them. Everybody had a little bit of Jo and a little bit of Blair in them. The Alan Thicke-penned theme song summed it up best – “You take the good, you take the bad, you take them both and there you have the facts of life.”

If you faithfully tuned in to The Facts of Life each week, maybe even had a secret crush on Blair or Jo, we would love to hear your memories in our comments section below, as we tip our hats to this memorable sitcom, here at Retroland.

One Response to “The Facts of Life”

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  1. Gina says:

    As a kid watching this, I didn’t quite get the serious issues in a sitcom. The first half of the episode had laughs, but the second half always seemed to be one of the girls getting a serious talking to by an authority figure. I can’t say I was really into the show.

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