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Tuesday, May 19, 2009

'The Facts of Life' Cast: Then & Now

By Amy & Nancy Harrington, |

You take the good, you take the bad...
Everett Collection

Our little Tootie (Kim Fields) turned 40 this week, and besides making us feel really, really old, this milestone got us wondering what the girls and the other personalities from Eastland Academy are up to these days. Here's the good and the bad on the cast from "The Facts Of Life."

[Photo gallery: See "The Facts of Life" cast, then and now.]

Kim Fields: Then

Fields played Dorothy Ramsey, better known as Tootie, Eastland's resident roller-skating gossip. Through her nine years on the show she dealt with racism, prostitution, and, worst of all, braces. As she so often said, "We are in trou-ble!"

Kim Fields: Now

Five years after "Facts" wrapped in 1988, Kim joined Queen Latifah and Kim Coles in the cast of another popular sitcom, "Living Single," FOX's African-American answer to "Friends." It ran from 1993 to 1998. Since then, Fields has participated in reunions for both shows and has made guest appearances on numerous series, including "The Cleaner" and "Miss Match."

Lisa Whelchel: Then

Although Whelchel herself was nothing like the character she portrayed, it's hard to imagine anyone else as the stuck-up, rich Blair Warner, who put up with the other "regular" girls despite her natural beauty and "perfect personality." In the series finale, Blair used daddy's money to buy Eastland and turn it into a co-ed school.

Lisa Whelchel: Now

After "Facts," ended, Lisa gave up acting. She did rejoin her castmates for the reunion special but now devotes her time to home-schooling her three children and meeting with members of her MomTime Ministries. She's also written 12 books, mostly on the subjects of parenting and Bible studies.

Mindy Cohn: Then

Mindy's role of Natalie Green could very easily have been a stereotype or the butt of easy sitcom jokes. But while many of Natalie's plot lines indeed revolved around the fact that she wasn't as thin as the other girls, she had a healthy self-image and for the most part scored all the dudes. She was even the first to sleep with her boyfriend, in a very controversial episode.

Mindy Cohn: Now

These days Mindy's best known as the Emmy-nominated voice of Velma Dinkley on the cartoon "What's New Scooby-Doo?" Last year she appeared on screen as Trixie, an assistant to Simon Baker's fast-food-chain executive Roderick Blank, in "Sex and Death 101," the latest Daniel Waters ("Heathers") film.

Nancy McKeon: Then

Joanne "Jo" Polniaczek was Eastland's resident tomboy and troublemaker. She often got her classmates in hot water by encouraging them to drink or steal the school van. Naturally, she had an adversarial relationship with the spoiled Blair, but the two eventually became best friends by the last season.

Nancy McKeon: Now

Nancy continued acting after Eastland closed its TV doors. Among her credits are three short-lived series: "Can't Hurry Love" (with a pre-"Law & Order: SVU" Mariska Hargitay), "Style & Substance" (with Jean Smart), and "The Division," which ran for four seasons and prevented her from appearing on 2001's "Facts" reunion. Most recently she starred in a Lifetime movie, "Comfort and Joy," and has a recurring role on the Disney Channel's "Sonny with a Chance".

Charlotte Rae: Then

Edna Garrett started as the Drummonds' housekeeper on "Diff'rent Strokes," but when she took a job at Kimberly Drummond's school, Eastland Academy, she left Park Avenue for her own show, "The Facts of Life." In season one Mrs. Garrett ruled the roost in the dorm and by year two she was running the cafeteria, doling out not only nutritional advice but important life lessons.

Charlotte Rae: Now

As much as she loved her girls, Mrs. Garrett left the school and the series in 1986. Rae was already a long-seasoned film and TV vet by the time "Facts" aired, and she continues working consistently to this day. In recent years she provided the voice of Nanny in "101 Dalmatians: The Series" and guest-starred on "The King of Queens" and "ER." But her most notable role of late was as one of Adam Sandler's love interests in 2008's "You Don't Mess with the Zohan."

Cloris Leachman: Then

Mrs. Garrett may have left the academy for a life in the Peace Corps., but she would never leave her charges unsupervised. Enter Cloris Leachman as Beverly Ann Stickle, her divorced sister. Even though the girls were now all grown, Beverly was charged with looking after them, as well as the malt shop and house Mrs. Garrett left behind. After realizing they didn't need a den mother, Beverly adopted Andy Moffett, a foster kid played by Mackenzie Astin.

Cloris Leachman: Now

At the age of 82, Cloris proved she could swing with the best of 'em by joining the 2008 cast of "Dancing with the Stars." But that's just the beginning, really. Cloris is always working. There was a guest spot on NBC's "The Office," a Hallmark Channel made-for-TV movie "Love Takes Wing," and three more films slated for release this year, including the star-studded "New York, I Love You," an anthology of 11 mini-movies featuring Shia LaBeouf, Natalie Portman, Olando Bloom, Robin Wright Penn, Hayden Christensen, Christina Ricci, Ethan Hawke, Andy Garcia, and James Caan -- just to name just a few.

Mackenzie Astin: Then

The 12-year-old son of actors John Astin and Patty Duke (and younger brother of Sean) arrived in the seventh season of "Facts" as Andy Moffett, the "jump the shark" foster kid recruited to add a touch of cute, now that all the girls had blossomed into full-on adulthood.

Mackenzie Astin: Now

Although Mackenzie hasn't seen his brother Sean's (who starred in the "Lord of the Rings" trilogy) mainstream success, he's enjoyed a fulfilling career, with guest spots on "Lost," "Psych," and "My Name Is Earl." His most recent movie role in "The Four Children of Tander Welch" united him for the first time onscreen with his real-life mother, Patty Duke.

George Clooney: Then

In 1985 the unknown George Clooney was hired to play handyman George Burnett. He was contracted to rebuild Mrs. Garrett's shop and breathe new life into the series, but he only stuck around for one year, leaving to roadie for pop sensation Cinnamon (real-life pop sensation Stacey Q).

George Clooney: Now

We doubt anyone's unaware of George's post-"Facts" trajectory. But for those of you thinking, "This can't be THAT George Clooney," we assure you it is. It was a slow climb from "Facts" to "Roseanne" to "ER" and superstardom. He's since achieved leading-man status in such major motion pictures as the "Ocean's Eleven" trilogy, "Michael Clayton," and "Syriana." He's also made his mark as a director with "Confessions of a Dangerous Mind" and the acclaimed Edward R. Murrow biopic, "Good Night, and Good Luck." Most recently he joined forces with the Coen Brothers (with whom he worked in "O Brother, Where Art Thou?") in "Burn After Reading." Personally, we're looking forward to seeing him in the upcoming "Up in the Air," directed by Jason Reitman ("Juno" and "Thank You for Smoking").

Molly Ringwald: Then

Ringwald's first two acting gigs (from 1979-1980) were on "Diff'rent Strokes" and "The Facts of Life" as Eastland student Molly Parker. In fact, the first year of "Facts" focused on seven girls, including Molly. In what might have been a case of bad judgment by producers, four of those girls, including Molly, were written out of the show in Season Two.

Molly Ringwald: Now

Four years after leaving Eastland for good, Molly burst onto the big screen in "Sixteen Candles," becoming the decade's poster child for teen angst. Her reign lasted through the end of the '80s, when she disappeared as quickly as she came, moving to France and concentrating on theater. Although she's made numerous film and TV appearances over the years, we're hoping she's back for good as the mother of an angst-ridden high school girl in "The Secret Life of the American Teenager."