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15 Facts of Life About The Facts of Life

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As anyone over the age of 30 can tell you, the recipe is this: You take the good; you take the bad; you take 'em both—and there you have The Facts of Life. NBC’s long-running sitcom is a fondly remembered part of ‘80s nostalgia. And as today marks the 30th anniversary of the series' finale, it’s time to take a trip down memory lane with Blair, Tootie, Natalie, Jo, and good ol’ Mrs. Garrett. To make the journey even more edifying, here are some things you might not know about everyone’s favorite all-female ’80s sitcom.

1. THERE WERE SEVEN GIRLS IN THE FIRST SEASON: BLAIR, TOOTIE, NATALIE, AND FOUR OTHERS.

Things were rather crowded at Eastland School during those first 13 episodes, with Felice Schachter, Julie Anne Haddock, Julie Piekarski, and Molly Ringwald (yes, that one) in the mix with the others. A couple of school administrators were regular characters as well. Predictably, it soon became apparent that there wasn’t enough for all of those characters to do, and the show’s ratings were lousy. For the second season, producers stripped it down to the elements that were working best, dumped everyone else, and brought in Nancy McKeon as tomboy, blue-collar Jo.

2. LISA WHELCHEL, KIM FIELDS, AND MINDY COHN DIDN’T KNOW THE OTHER GIRLS HAD BEEN FIRED UNTIL THEY SHOWED UP FOR WORK ON SEASON TWO.

“Everybody was shocked,” Whelchel said. “Nobody knew—that I know of—that they were going to make this major cut.” Three of the four castoffs came back as guest stars a few times in seasons two and three, and again for a season eight reunion episode called “The Little Chill.” Ringwald was the one holdout.

3. GEORGE CLOONEY WAS JUST ONE OF MANY GUEST STARS WHO WOULD LATER BECOME A BIG-TIME CELEBRITY.

It’s a widely known bit of trivia that Clooney played a handyman in 17 episodes sprinkled throughout seasons seven and eight. Other not-yet-famous guest stars who appeared on the show include Helen Hunt, Juliette Lewis, Mayim Bialik, Seth Green, Richard Dean Anderson, Richard Grieco, Dennis Haysbert, Crispin Glover, David Spade, and Bridesmaids director Paul Feig.

4. WHEN THE SHOW ENDED IN 1988, IT WAS THE LONGEST RUNNING SITCOM IN NBC’S HISTORY.

Nine seasons and 201 episodes were enough to set the record at the time. (Yep, it even outlasted Diff’rent Strokes, the show from which it was spun off.) It has since been surpassed in NBC’s record books by Cheers, Frasier, and Friends.

5. COHN WAS PLUCKED FROM A REAL GIRLS’ SCHOOL TO PLAY NATALIE—A PART CREATED SPECIFICALLY FOR HER.

Before The Facts of Life began production, Charlotte Rae and some of the show’s producers visited Westlake School in Bel Air to observe real teens. Cohn was one of several students who volunteered to meet with the TV people and answer their questions. (“Getting out of class sounded good, and the additional enticement of free doughnuts sounded better,” Cohn later wrote.) Rae apparently fell in love with Cohn, saying she reminded her of a childhood friend named Natalie. “She was so cute and had kind of a Jewish sense of humor, so we said, ‘Hey, she’d be great as one of the girls!,’” executive producer Jerry Mayer recalled. “We got in touch with her mother, and her mother said, ‘Fine,’ and the rest is history. But it was strictly dumb luck.”

6. KIM FIELDS WAS ONLY 10 WHEN THE SHOW PREMIERED.

Mindy Cohn was 13, and Lisa Whelchel was 16. (Nancy McKeon didn’t join until season two, but she’s the same age as Cohn.) One of the reasons Tootie was usually on roller skates in the first season was to disguise how much shorter she was than the other girls.

7. IT WASN’T JUST A SPINOFF OF DIFF’RENT STROKES, IT WAS A HASTY SPINOFF OF DIFF’RENT STROKES.

NBC was struggling in the late 1970s. Of the top 30 network shows of the 1977 to 1978 season, 15 were on ABC, 11 were on CBS, and only four were on NBC (Little House on the Prairie, Project U.F.O., and the Sunday and Monday night movies). So when Diff’rent Strokes premiered in the fall of 1978 and became a hit—it placed 27th for the season—NBC moved quickly to capitalize on its success.

The season finale of Diff’rent Strokes’ first season, “The Girls School,” had housekeeper Mrs. Garrett helping out at the private school Kimberly attended, and ended with her being offered a job as housemother. The Facts of Life premiered three months later, in August of 1979, for a four-episode trial run, then returned permanently in March of 1980. Mrs. Garrett continued to appear on season two of Diff’rent Strokes in the meantime before leaving the Drummonds for good.

8. THE SHOW TRIED (AND FAILED) TO LAUNCH SIX OF ITS OWN SPINOFFS.

These were all what they call “backdoor pilots,” where an ostensibly normal episode of an existing show is really a tryout for a new series. (The Facts of Life, of course, had started out as a backdoor pilot itself.) The season two episode “Brian & Sylvia” would have led to a show about an interracial marriage (featuring Tootie’s aunt). Season three’s “The Academy” introduced an all-boys military school near our girls’ school; they showed up again in a season four episode. Also in season three, “Jo’s Cousin” had Jo’s tough-talking, streetwise relative living in a family full of men. The season four finale “Graduation” tested the idea of sending Blair and Jo off on their own, now that they’d graduated from Eastland. “Big Apple Blues,” in season nine, had Natalie hanging out with odd SoHo characters (including David Spade and Richard Grieco) and considering starting a new life there. And the series finale had Blair buying Eastland, making it co-ed, and essentially starting over as the new Mrs. Garrett, in the hopes that NBC would greenlight The Facts of Life: The Next Generation (or something like that).

9. THE FACTS OF LIFE PREMIERED AROUND THE SAME TIME AS ANOTHER SHOW WITH A SIMILAR PREMISE.

Dorothy, starring Broadway’s Dorothy Loudon (Annie’s original Miss Hannigan), was about a free-spirited former showgirl who becomes a music and drama teacher at a snooty east coast girls’ school. It ran on CBS for a total of four episodes in August of 1979, overlapping with the premiere of The Facts of Life by one week.

10. NANCY MCKEON WON THE ROLE OF TOUGH GIRL JO BY ... BEING REALLY TENDER.

Her screen test was an emotional scene that involved a phone call. Director John Bowab later recalled, “I distinctly remember asking Nancy, ‘Even though it says cry, don’t cry. I want you to hold back and make the audience cry.’ And she did. Everybody in the control room was shattered.”

11. PRODUCERS COMPLAINED THAT WHELCHEL WAS GAINING WEIGHT AND COHN WAS LOSING IT.

In a 2013 interview with People, Whelchel and Cohn discussed the challenges producers faced in (in Whelchel’s words) “trying to figure out how to deal with our changing bodies.” “Weight was always an issue back then,” explained Cohn. “An everyday battle,” added Whelchel. “Our bodies were a topic of conversation. There wasn't the Internet, but we knew what people were saying. Joan Rivers called us The Fats of Life … The producers sent me to quite a few fat farms! I'd say, ‘I'm going to Texas on my hiatus,’ and they'd say, ‘Oh, no you're not. We bought you a ticket to the fat farm!’” Meanwhile, Cohn was losing weight. She later told E! True Hollywood Story that the producers asked her to quit it because so much of her character was tied into being fat. The solution: Put Cohn in baggy clothes to make her look heavier than she really was.

12. BLAIR’S COUSIN GERI WAS THE FIRST DISABLED CHARACTER TO APPEAR REGULARLY ON A PRIMETIME TV SHOW.

She was played by Geri Jewell, a comedian with cerebral palsy whom producer Norman Lear had seen perform at the Media Access Awards in 1980. “I got a standing ovation, and I ran into Norman in the elevator,” Jewell later recalled. “He said, ‘You’ll be hearing from me really soon, kid.’ Three months later, he called me with the ‘Cousin Geri’ episode [in season two].” Jewell was on the show a dozen times over the next few years. More recently, Jewell was a regular on HBO’s Deadwood and had a guest spot on Glee.

13. FOR AS LONG-LIVED AS IT WAS, AND AS FONDLY REMEMBERED AS IT IS, THE SHOW WAS NEVER A HUGE HIT.

It ranked 74th in its first season, barely surviving cancellation. Streamlining the cast helped, and the show was popular from season two onward, especially among young viewers. But while the show often won its time slot and had occasional episodes crack the weekly top 20, the season average was never any higher than 24th place. It didn’t get much respect from the TV academy, either, earning just three Emmy nominations (no wins) over its entire run: one for hairstyling, one for technical direction, and one for Charlotte Rae as lead actress.

14. SNOBBY RICH GIRL BLAIR WAS ORIGINALLY SUPPOSED TO BE A NAIVE, FAST-TALKING TEXAN.

That’s how the script read, anyway. But when Whelchel auditioned, “There was one line in the script and I read it very snidely and condescendingly and sarcastically,” she recalled. “And I didn’t realize until I got the part and came back later that they had rewritten the character to be the snob.”

15. THE THEME SONG HAS SEVERAL VERSES.

The jaunty opening tune, written by Alan Thicke, Gloria Loring, and Al Burton, only appeared in truncated form on the show. Season one went as follows:

“There’s a place you gotta go for learnin’ all you want to know about
The facts of life, the facts of life.
When your books are what you’re there about but looks are what you care about,
The time is right to learn the facts of life.
When the world never seems
To be livin’ up to your dreams,
It’s time you started findin’ out what everything is all about.
When the boys you used to hate you date, I guess you best investigate
The facts of life, gotta get ‘em right, the facts of life.”

Subsequent seasons used the more familiar version, the one that’s been in your head for nearly 40 years:

“You take the good, you take the bad; you take ‘em both and there you have
The facts of life, the facts of life.
There’s a time you gotta go and show you’re growin’, now you know about
The facts of life, the facts of life.
When the world never seems
To be livin’ up to your dreams,
And suddenly you’re findin’ out the facts of life are all about you.
It takes a lot to get ‘em right
When you’re learnin’ the facts of life.”

But there were even more verses, as found in the published sheet music and on Loring’s 1984 album A Shot in the Dark. To wit:

“When there’s someone that you care about, it really isn’t fair; they’re out
To slow you up, when you’re growin’ up.
When you let ‘em flirt and then you hurt, or waitin’ ‘cause your date is late
Showin’ up, and you’re growin’ up.
When it’s more than just the birds and the bees,
You need someone tellin’ you, “Please.”
There’s only one conclusion, there will always be confusion over you.

“You’ll avoid a lot of damage and enjoy the fun of managing
The facts of life; they shed a lotta light.
If you hear it from your brother, better clear it with your mother,
Better get ‘em right. Call her late at night.
You got the future in the palm of your hand;
All you got to do to get you through is understand.
You think you’d rather do without; you’d never make it through without the truth.
The facts of life are all about you.”

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Food
How to Make Miles Davis’s Famous Chili Recipe
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STF/AFP/Getty Images

Miles Davis, who was born on May 26, 1926, was one of the most important and influential musicians of the 20th century, and changed the course of jazz music more times in his life than some people change their sheets. He was also pretty handy in the kitchen.

In his autobiography, Miles, Davis wrote that in the early 1960s, “I had gotten into cooking. I just loved food and hated going out to restaurants all the time, so I taught myself how to cook by reading books and practicing, just like you do on an instrument. I could cook most of the great French dishes—because I really liked French cooking—and all the black American dishes. But my favorite was a chili dish I called Miles's South Side Chicago Chili Mack. I served it with spaghetti, grated cheese, and oyster crackers."

Davis didn’t divulge what was in the dish or how to make it, but in 2007, Best Life magazine got the recipe from his first wife, Frances, who Davis said made it better than he did.

MILES'S SOUTH SIDE CHICAGO CHILIK MACK (SERVES 6)

1/4 lb. suet (beef fat)
1 large onion
1 lb. ground beef
1/2 lb. ground veal
1/2 lb. ground pork
salt and pepper
2 tsp. garlic powder
1 tsp. chili powder
1 tsp. cumin seed
2 cans kidney beans, drained
1 can beef consommé
1 drop red wine vinegar
3 lb. spaghetti
parmesan cheese
oyster crackers
Heineken beer

1. Melt suet in large heavy pot until liquid fat is about an inch high. Remove solid pieces of suet from pot and discard.
2. In same pot, sauté onion.
3. Combine meats in bowl; season with salt, pepper, garlic powder, chili powder, and cumin.
4. In another bowl, season kidney beans with salt and pepper.
5. Add meat to onions; sauté until brown.
6. Add kidney beans, consommé, and vinegar; simmer for about an hour, stirring occasionally.
7. Add more seasonings to taste, if desired.
8. Cook spaghetti according to package directions, and then divide among six plates.
9. Spoon meat mixture over each plate of spaghetti.
10. Top with Parmesan and serve oyster crackers on the side.
11. Open a Heineken.

John Szwed’s biography of Davis, So What, mentions another chili that the trumpeter’s father taught him how to make. The book includes the ingredients, but no instructions, save for serving it over pasta. Like a jazz musician, you’ll have to improvise. 

bacon grease
3 large cloves of garlic
1 green, 1 red pepper
2 pounds ground lean chuck
2 teaspoons cumin
1/2 jar of mustard
1/2 shot glass of vinegar
2 teaspoons of chili powder
dashes of salt and pepper
pinto or kidney beans
1 can of tomatoes
1 can of beef broth

serve over linguine

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entertainment
4 Fascinating Facts About John Wayne
Fox Photos, Getty Images
Fox Photos, Getty Images

Most people know John Wayne, who would have been 111 years old today, for his cowboy persona. But there was much more to the Duke than that famous swagger. Here are a few facts about Duke that might surprise you.

1. A BODY SURFING ACCIDENT CHANGED HIS CAREER. 

John Wayne, surfer? Yep—and if he hadn’t spent a lot of time doing it, he may never have become the legend he did. Like many USC students, Wayne (then known as Marion Morrison) spent a good deal of his extracurricular time in the ocean. After he sustained a serious shoulder injury while bodysurfing, Morrison lost his place on the football team. He also lost the football scholarship that had landed him a spot at USC in the first place. Unable to pay his fraternity for room and board, Morrison quit school and, with the help of his former football coach, found a job as the prop guy at Fox Studios in 1927. It didn’t take long for someone to realize that Morrison belonged in front of a camera; he had his first leading role in The Big Trail in 1930.

2. HE TOOK HIS NICKNAME FROM HIS BELOVED FAMILY POOCH. 

Marion Morrison had never been fond of his feminine-sounding name. He was often given a hard time about it growing up, so to combat that, he gave himself a nickname: Duke. It was his dog’s name. Morrison was so fond of his family’s Airedale Terrier when he was younger that the family took to calling the dog “Big Duke” and Marion “Little Duke,” which he quite liked. But when he was starting his Hollywood career, movie execs decided that “Duke Morrison” sounded like a stuntman, not a leading man. The head of Fox Studios was a fan of Revolutionary War General Anthony Wayne, so Morrison’s new surname was quickly settled. After testing out various first names for compatibility, the group decided that “John” had a nice symmetry to it, and so John Wayne was born. Still, the man himself always preferred his original nickname. “The guy you see on the screen isn’t really me,” he once said. “I’m Duke Morrison, and I never was and never will be a film personality like John Wayne.”

3. HE WAS A CHESS FANATIC. 

Anyone who knew John Wayne personally knew what an avid chess player he was. He often brought a miniature board with him so he could play between scenes on set.

When Wayne accompanied his third wife, Pilar Pallete, while she played in amateur tennis tournaments, officials would stock a trailer with booze and a chess set for him. The star would hang a sign outside of the trailer that said, “Do you want to play chess with John Wayne?” and then happily spend the day drinking and trouncing his fans—for Wayne wasn’t just a fan of chess, he was good at chess. It’s said that Jimmy Grant, Wayne’s favorite screenwriter, played chess with the Duke for more than 20 years without ever winning a single match.

Other famous chess partners included Marlene Dietrich, Rock Hudson, and Robert Mitchum. During their match, Mitchum reportedly caught him cheating. Wayne's reply: "I was wondering when you were going to say something. Set 'em up, we'll play again."

4. HE COINED THE TERM "THE BIG C."

If you say you know someone battling “The Big C” these days, everyone immediately knows what you’re referring to. But no one called it that before Wayne came up with the term, evidently trying to make it less scary. Worried that Hollywood would stop hiring him if they knew how sick he was with lung cancer in the early 1960s, Wayne called a press conference in his living room shortly after an operation that removed a rib and half of one lung. “They told me to withhold my cancer operation from the public because it would hurt my image,” he told reporters. “Isn’t there a good image in John Wayne beating cancer? Sure, I licked the Big C.”

Wayne's daughter, Aissa Wayne, later said that the 1964 press conference was the one and only time she heard her father call it “cancer,” even when he developed cancer again, this time in his stomach, 15 years later. Sadly, Wayne lost his second battle with the Big C and died on June 11, 1979 at the age of 72.

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