Surprising Behind-The-Scenes Drama On 'The Facts Of Life'
Popular shows often hide behind-the-scenes drama - and The Facts of Life comes as no exception. After the show's first season, the network ordered the series to cut more than half of its child actors, including a young Molly Ringwald. This proved only to be the start: breakout star Lisa Whelchel, who played spoiled rich girl Blair, faced intense scrutiny for her weight. At the same time, producers told Mindy Cohn, who played Natalie, to gain 40 pounds. Whelchel also shared surprising thoughts about her on-screen kiss with George Clooney and her views regarding her co-star Nancy McKeon dating Michael J. Fox.
From drama among the Golden Girls to the struggles of the Brady Bunch kids, memorable shows often have a hidden dark side. The Facts of Life included Brady Bunch crossover drama when the actress who played Jan Brady unexpectedly hit Whelchel in the face. Moreover, Charlotte Rae, who played Mrs. Garrett, voiced her objections to the show, which may explain why Mrs. Garrett eventually left Facts of Life.
Here's the good and bad from behind the scenes of The Facts of Life.
Lisa Whelchel Refused To Film An Episode About Blair's First Time
By later seasons, the characters from The Facts of Life grew into young adults. Producers suggested an episode centered on Blair being physically intimate for the first time. Lisa Whelchel, who played Blair, refused to film it based on her religious beliefs:
I know that the audience that watches our show really does learn from us. And I don't want them to get the impression that it's okay, just one more character [sleeping with somebody] before they're married shows that it is part of growing up.
Instead, Mindy Cohn, who played Natalie, proposed her character to be part of that storyline. "I totally volunteered!" Cohn recalled.
The Cast's Weight Was Under Constant Scrutiny
The cast of The Facts of Life struggled with having to go through puberty on screen. After Joan Rivers called the show "The Fats of Life," the producers intensely scrutinized the actresses' appearances. The cast recalled returning to set one day to find the usual provided pastries replaced with vegetables.
Mindy Cohn said, "Weight was always an issue back then."
Lisa Whelchel, too, recalled producers pushing her to lose weight: "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!'"
The Network Told The Show To Cut All But Four Girls
After Season 1, The Facts of Life floundered in the ratings, and NBC wanted major changes made to the show. Warren Littlefield, a former NBC executive, recalled the network's order: "Pick four. Forget everyone else. Get rid of them."
The producers decided to cut several of the girls featured in the first season, including Molly Ringwald. In later seasons, the show focused on Blair, Natalie, Tootie, and a new addition, Jo, played by Nancy McKeon.
Kim Fields Wore Roller Skates To Appear Taller
Producers wanted Kim Fields on The Facts of Life - but they faced a major problem: Fields was merely 9 years old when the show began production. "I was too small to play 12," Fields confided. To make Fields appear taller, the producers decided that her character, Tootie, would wear roller skates.
Even with the skates, Fields remained significantly smaller than the other leads, including Lisa Whelchel, who was 16 when she was cast as Blair.
Eve Plumb Accidentally Hit Lisa Whelchel In The Face
Eve Plumb, who played Jan Brady on The Brady Bunch, appeared on The Facts of Life as Blair's sister. On the show, the sisters got into a fight. Behind the scenes, during their rehearsal, Plumb dealt an inadvertent blow to Lisa Whelchel's face.
"It didn't really hurt, but I milked it a bit," Whelchel later admitted. She asked the makeup artists to give her a black eye as a joke, noting, "Everyone was rushing around trying to figure out what to do."
George Clooney Wasn't A Memorable On-Screen Kisser
George Clooney joined the cast of The Facts of Life in Season 7. He played a handyman who eventually shared a kissing scene with Lisa Whelchel. Apparently, it wasn't memorable - Whelchel said she remembers nothing about their kiss.
The cast saw Clooney as "just another actor," according to Mindy Cohn. She added, "It wasn't a big deal for him to be on the show."
Clooney wasn't the only future star who appeared on the show. Helen Hunt, David Spade, Juliette Lewis, and Seth Green all had guest spots. Richard Dean Anderson, the future MacGyver, even played Tootie's uncle.