1 9 7 9 – 1 9 8 8 (USA)
209 x 30 minute episodes
This spin-off from the popular NBC comedy Diff’rent Strokes originally focused on Mrs Garrett, who had been the Drummonds’ beloved housekeeper prior to taking a job as housemother at the prestigious Eastland school, a posh prep school for girls in New York.
Edna Garrett (Charlotte Rae) was kind and understanding, serving as both confidante and surrogate parent to the girls in her charge, who at the start of the series ranged in age from 11 to 15.
Blair Warner (Lisa Whelchel) – heir to the Warner Textile Industries empire – was wealthy, attractive, and spoiled; Nancy Olson (Felice Schacter) was well-rounded and yearned to be a model; Sue Ann Weaver (Julie Piekarski) was cute and boy-crazy; Tootie Ramsey (Kim Fields) was the resident gossip who lived on roller skates during her first year at Eastland; and Natalie Green (Mindy Cohn), the other principal student, was plump and impressionable and the peacemaker of the group.
The headmaster at Eastland was Mr Bradley (John Lawlor).
The original first season cast included a young Molly Ringwald before her Brat Pack movie days. In 1980 Jo Polniaczek (Nancy McKeon), a 16-year-old street kid from the Bronx, joined the cast, attending Eastland on a scholarship.
In 1983 Mrs Garrett left Eastland and opened a gourmet food shop at 320 Main Street in nearby Peekskill, New York, called “Edna’s Edibles”. Blair and Jo (who were now attending nearby Langley College) and Tootie and Natalie (still at Eastland) moved in with her.
In 1985 fire destroyed the shop, and Mrs Garrett and the girls rebuilt it into a completely new business, an updated version of a 1950s malt shop called “Over Our Heads.”
Cloris Leachman replaced Charlotte Rae when she departed after six seasons. It was explained that Edna had remarried and her divorced chatterbox sister Beverly Ann Stickle (Leachman) arrived to care for the girls. Beverly Ann later took in Pippa McKenna (Sherri Krenn), a foreign exchange student from Eastland’s sister school, Colunga, in Sydney, Australia.
The show was cancelled in 1988 because of declining ratings with each of the girls going out into the world as young women; Natalie became a writer in New York; Tootie became engaged to football player Jeff Williams (Todd Hollowell) and enrolled in the Royal Academy of Dramatic Arts (RADA) in London; while Jo married musician Rick Bonner (Scott Bryce) and began a career as a businesswoman.
Blair underwent the biggest change of all. In the final two episodes, she saw her beloved Eastland School fall into bankruptcy, so she bought it and turned it into a co-ed institution.
This move was designed to spawn a spin-off series – The Lisa Whelchel Show – but NBC turned it down.
Two made-for-TV movies were also produced; Facts Of Life Goes To Paris (1982) and Facts Of Life Down Under (1987).
George Clooney made an early TV appearance as handyman, George Burnett (pictured).
Dorothy “Tootie” Ramsey
Jo Ann Polniaczek
Sue Ann Weaver
Headmaster Steven Bradley
Mr Charles Parker
Beverly Ann Stickle