1 9 7 8 – 1 9 8 6 (USA)
Pint-sized Gary Coleman was one of the comedy discoveries of the 1970’s. With pudgy cheeks, twinkling eyes and flawless timing (“Whatchyou talkin’ bout Willis?”) he helped make this improbable comedy one of the top hits of the 1978-1979 season.
8-year-old Arnold and his 12-year-old brother Willis were two black kids from Harlem who found themselves suddenly in the lap of luxury.
Their dying mother, Lucy, a former (never seen) housekeeper for wealthy, widower Philip Drummond (Conrad Bain), had asked her employer to promise he would look after her orphaned boys when she passed away.
Philip welcomed the two into his Park Avenue apartment as his own. It didn’t matter that there were endless double takes when the rich, white president of the huge corporation Trans Allied Inc. introduced the two spunky black kids as his sons.
Willis always seemed a little bit reserved but everybody learned little lessons about what was right and wrong in each episode.
The show also tackled serious issues such as child abuse and the dangers of hitch-hiking. First Lady Nancy Reagan appeared in a 1983 episode dealing with drug abuse (pictured below left).
Rounding out the Drummond household was Kimberly (Dana Plato), his 13-year-old daughter and the new, scatterbrained housekeeper, Mrs Garrett (Charlotte Rae).
Several cast changes took place over the years. Mrs Garrett left to become a housemother at the prestigious Eastland School for Girls, which Kimberly was attending, in a spin-off series called The Facts of Life.
She was replaced by somewhat grumpy Adelaide (Nedra Volz) and then by cheerful Pearl (Mary Jo Catlett).
Dudley Ramsey (Shavar Ross) arrived in 1981 as Arnold’s best friend, while Charlene (Janet Jackson) was Willis’ girlfriend for a time.
The most notable addition to all their lives came in 1984. After years of fruitless matchmaking by his sister Sophia (Dody Goodman) – and by the kids – Drummond finally fell in love with a feisty TV exercise-show hostess named Maggie McKinney (initially Dixie Carter and then Mary Ann Mobley).
They were married in February 1984, adding her young son Sam to the Drummond household. In the fall of 1984, Kimberly graduated high school and went to Paris to further her studies.
When Diff’rent Strokes premiered, NBC had only a few comedies on its schedule, and it used its new hit to help out some of the others.
First The Facts of Life began with a crossover episode, Then Philip just happened to buy the Portland, Oregon radio station where Larry Adler (the main character on the show Hello, Larry) was a talk-show host. Larry and Philip were old army buddies.
Coleman was 10 when the series began. He was born with a congenital kidney problem and received a kidney transplant at the age of 5, which resulted in his being smaller than normal for his age. An uncommonly bright and articulate youngster, he seemed quite happy to be alive and became a frequent and popular guest on many talk shows and other series.
Dana Plato died in 1999 at the age of 35 after taking a fatal dose of Lortab and Valium before laying down for a nap. She never woke up. The death was eventually ruled a suicide.
Gary Coleman died on 28 May 2010, aged 42, after suffering a brain haemorrhage following a fall at his home in Utah.
Mrs Edna Garrett
Mary Jo Catlett
Dixie Carter (1)
Mary Ann Mobley (2)