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Friday, October 25, 2013

The Facts Of Life - The Lost Girls

Okay, so I know we're getting closer to Halloween, and I know I promised that I would make sure that most of the pop culture topics were Halloween themed. But after the epic confession about me not being happy with the way things are right now in my life (and coming to the conclusion that I have to do something about it even though I am absolutely scared out of my mind at what could happen), I want to take the time to tell you that it was one of the most frightening things that I've ever typed in here.

Hmm...how about that? Maybe I AM making this a scary themed blog entry after all.

In all seriousness, I think it's hard for a lot of people to actually admit that they do need a change, and it's even harder to tell people about it. I can tell you that in my case, it was excruciating for me in a lot of ways for me to open up about how things in my life have not exactly gone according to plan. Sure, I tried to make things work for as long as I could, and I guess in some ways, I've become a true master of working with what I have. After all, it has been the philosophy that I have lived by since I grew up in what could be considered a blue-collar working class family – and not necessarily by choice either. Still, I adapted as best I could, and I respect the hell out of my family for instilling in me a sense of values that spent more emphasis on showing people respect, and less experience on the concepts of materialism and greed.

At least, that's what I got out of it.

But you know...there's a part of me that feels as though I have sort of disappointed those who had faith in me. And, I'd be lying if I told you that those feelings (whether they happen to be the truth or one giant fabrication) didn't influence the decision that I have made to plot my escape towards greener pastures at some point next year. But the more that I thought about it, the more I have come to experience the much harsher reality.

That I've been harder on myself than any bully, annoying neighbour, or misguided teacher could have ever been. And I guess I have it in my mind that if I go off to another city where I don't know anybody, and nobody knows me (although I've done such a good job hiding from social activities in my youth that I do sometimes feel like a stranger in my birthplace), it will allow me to let down my guard a bit. A change of scenery might help me learn how to live again, and enjoy myself, and to stop beating myself up.

I guess that's what's keeping me going ahead with this plan that I have. The fact that heading off in a new direction will somehow help me find my way back “home”. I know it sounds like a literal contradiction here, but those of you who look a little deeper will be able to figure out exactly what I mean.

So, in the spirit of moving on, getting out of your comfort zone, and finding new beginnings, I thought that instead of doing a horror themed television show, I would instead focus on a sitcom that focused on new beginnings, both on and off-screen. And, for those of you who are looking to be spooked...well, you might be disappointed...unless you find the fashions and the hairstyles of 1979 to be absolutely frightful. (I know I do.)

But, you know...if you really want a Halloween themed episode of this show, I do have an episode that aired in 1987. The episode title is “Seven Little Indians”, and you can watch it HERE if you like.



Of course, if you click on the link, then you've probably already guessed that today's topic is the NBC long-running sitcom “The Facts of Life”. And, here's a bit of trivia. Did you know that “The Facts of Life” is the longest running sitcom of the 1980s? It's true. It ran for nine seasons between August 1979 and May 1988.



And, I also see some of you scratching your heads in confusion, thinking that I am one of the biggest hypocrites in the world. After all, “The Facts of Life” basically had a group of girls being looked after by a guardian well into their mid-twenties. Even I had a hard time trying to understand how Lisa Whelchel's character of Blair Warner would want to stay living a a house dependent on her friendships with Jo, Tootie, and Natalie instead of using her gazillion dollar trust fund to set up house in Beverly Hills. And then for the final episode to have Blair buying Eastland...yeah...that pretty much goes against everything that I said about breaking free from your old connections and finding more of the world to explore.

(And, I'm not counting those two movies where the girls visit Paris and Australia either.)

But then again...who says that this blog entry is all about Blair, Tootie, Natalie, or Jo? I have news for you. It's not. And on that note, it's not about Edna or her edibles either.

And now I hear you all asking “well, if it's not about Blair, Tootie, Natalie, or Jo, then who's left?”

Well, I'll narrow it down. It's not about Andy. It's not about George Clooney who spent a season building and working at that tacky “Over Our Heads” gift shop. It's not about that Australian exchange student Pippa. It's not about Beverly Ann. And, remember that little street kid named Kelly who was played by voiceover actress Pamela Segall? Yep, me either. Needless to say, she's excluded too.

So, again, I bet you're asking...who's left?



Well, why not the girls from the first season of “The Facts of Life”?

You see, before the days of Beverly Ann, Andy...and even Jo for that matter, “The Facts of Life” was a very different show. It even had a slightly different theme song for that matter, with part of the lyrics sang by Miss Charlotte Rae herself! Take it away, Mrs. G!




Quite an interesting look back through time, isn't it? And you might have noticed a couple of differences about the show other than the theme song.

Firstly, you might have noticed that there are a lot more adults present in the show than in any of the other seasons of “The Facts of Life”. That's because in addition to Mrs. Garrett (who left Diff'rent Strokes to do the spin-off series), there was a teacher and a headmaster – both of which were gone by the beginning of season two.

And, you also might have noticed that there were seven students that were focused on instead of just four. Sure, Blair, Natalie, and Tootie were there and accounted for (the only three cast members to last the entire series run). But who were these other four students?

Well, why don't we talk about them a bit here?



Firstly, there was Nancy Olson, played by Felice Schachter. And, here's an interesting bit of trivia for you in regards to Schachter. She was the very first girl to be cast for the show, whose first appearance like so many of the other season one girls was on the season finale of Diff'rent Strokes' first season in which Kimberly Drummond considers going to the Eastland School for Girls. Nancy was one of Eastland's older students (I think she was meant to be in the same grade that Blair was), and she was also one of the only students on the series to have a steady boyfriend – the unseen Roger. Unfortunately, that was all that I really remember about Nancy, as I don't recall her getting too many storylines where she stood out as the main character.

Well, except for the one episode in which the students all took an IQ test and the results showed that SHE had the highest IQ in all of Eastland (you can click HERE for that episode if you like). And, Nancy found it difficult to live up to that IQ score as she was always more focused on her relationship with Roger than studying for exams. Well, that, plus the fact that another Eastland student was extremely jealous.



This brings us to our next Season One girl. Sue Ann Weaver, played by Julie Piekarski. And, I'm going to be honest...I'm actually sort of surprised that Sue Ann didn't stick around longer as it seemed that a lot of the first season episodes revolved around her and Blair! I can think of at least three episodes where she was featured as one of the main characters. The IQ episode that I talked about under the Nancy paragraph was one of them. After all, Sue Ann was widely regarded as the most brilliant student in all of Eastland. Knowing that Nancy had gotten a higher IQ than she did was a bit of a blow.

You know, come to think of it, Sue Ann wasn't exactly one of my favourite characters on the show because I always felt as though she had this superiority complex about herself. In some cases, I think her aura of superiority surpassed that of Blair's, and we all know how self-absorbed Blair could be at times! But, Sue Ann was involved in some rather heavy storylines on the series. Who could forget the “Dieting” episode, where Sue Ann starved herself to get thin and passed out at the kitchen table? And, I don't think ANYONE will forget the episode called “Dope”, which actually showed Sue Ann getting stoned, and actually educated everyone in the television audience about what a bong really was!

(HINT: You don't fill it with jellybeans or root beer. Not that I've ever used one – because I HAVEN'T – but I just know that you don't fill it with jellybeans or root beer.

Okay, let's just move on.



Ah, Cindy Webster, played by Julie Anne Haddock. The original tomboy of the bunch before motorcycle riding Jo came along in 1980. And would you believe that Cindy also ended up being one of the most controversial characters to appear on the series? I mean, yes, she was an athlete who competed in every sport Eastland had to offer, and yes, she preferred track suits and baseball jerseys to pink dresses and make-up. But that's not what was controversial. Just have a look at the show's pilot episode which aired on August 27, 1979.

Notice all of Blair's little jabs about Cindy? About how “strange” and “weird” Cindy was because she was always hugging and kissing her school friends (who just also happened to be female)? Yes, the show actually implied that Cindy was engaging in lesbian activities, and the show actually make out as if Blair was somewhat homophobic – which may or may not have been a stretch for Lisa Whelchel to portray depending on what stories you read about her. Of course, not everyone felt the same way, and Mrs. G was there to save the day and convince Cindy that her tomboy ways made her a natural beauty.



Finally, we have Molly Parker, a little girl who was presumably the same age as Tootie. She was played by some actress named Molly Ringwald. Maybe you've heard of her?

Anyway, like Nancy, Molly didn't really have much of a huge role in the series. Really, her only major storyline aired in the episode “Molly's Holiday”, in which she schemes to try and get her parents back together again. But if there's anything that I can say about Molly, it's that her comedic timing was absolutely brilliant. She really showed a lot of promise in her initial thirteen episodes. And Molly certainly was one who enjoyed celebrating moments like when she entered puberty (I wish I were kidding, but yes that episode really did exist).

So, all the girls were contracted to thirteen episodes, not knowing whether the show would be picked up for a second season. After all, the series began airing a good four weeks before the official fall schedule was broadcast on the major networks, and aired very sporadically throughout the 1979/1980 season. The ratings were not very good that first year, and it was considered a miracle that the show was greenlit for a second year.

But before the 1980/1981 season kicked off, there would have to be some changes. Nancy McKeon was brought in to the Eastland scene, which ended up being a good decision. But in order to save some money, the difficult decision was made to let go of half the cast and retool the show.

Gone were Julie Anne Haddock, Julie Piekarski, and Felice Schachter. Initially, Molly Ringwald was supposed to stay on with the show, but with Molly having been cast in a couple of movies, Ringwald decided to leave the show after filming the second episode of the second season.

But even though the girls were let go, they didn't quite leave the show completely. Molly Ringwald, as explained earlier, stayed on to complete an episode early in the show's second season. Both of the Julies were recurring characters until 1981, and Schachter was the last one to leave when her recurring role ended in 1982.



And then in the middle of season eight (the season in which Cloris Leachman joined the cast, and Blair, Jo, Natalie, and Tootie were running the gift store), Sue Ann, Nancy, and Cindy returned to the show once more to film the reunion episode entitled “The Little Chill”. And it was on that episode that we learn what happened to them since they graduated from Eastland.

Former tomboy Cindy had blossomed into a beautiful swan (albeit a swan decked out in leopard print), and was now America's Next Top Model of 1986! Many people watched as Natalie became the first of the main four to lose her virginity...but Nancy had already beaten her to the punch. Although Nancy and Roger were planning to get married, Nancy had already been knocked up! Oh the scandal!

And Sue Ann grated on everyone's nerves (especially Jo) when she bragged about being a high profile vice president of a company at the age of twenty-two – when in actuality she was nothing more than a glorified coffee runner. And how delicious it was when Jo discovered her secret! Don't worry, Jo kept Sue Ann's secret...but it certainly made Sue Ann choke down a little slice of humble pie.

And more importantly, it showed all of us audience members that in the case of Nancy, Cindy, Sue Ann, and Molly that there was life after Eastland. And for the actresses who played the various characters, there was life after Facts of Life.

Felice Schachter stopped acting and moved on behind the scenes, working as a production coordinator on such programs as “JAG” and “Law and Order”.

Julie Anne Haddock now goes by the name of Julie Anne Becker, and has also given up on acting, taking on a career in fundraising and becoming active in her church community.

Julie Piekarski-Probst has also seemingly given up acting, and is now married to a dentist and is the mother of three children.




And, Molly Ringwald...I wonder whatever happened to her? Let me figure this out while go through my movie collection. “Sixteen Candles”, “The Breakfast Club”, “Pretty In Pink”, “The Stand”, “The Secret Life of the American Teenager”...gosh, why can't I remember her?

3 comments:

  1. It's a shame that the Julies and Felice were canned after the first season. Their characters showed a lot of promise. Short-sighted network execs... grrrr!

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  2. I agree show would have made it with the seven girls and Headmaster. It was a salary dump plain and simple.

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  3. Yes pity about Julie Anne Haddock. I had a real crush on her in that show. I always got along well with 'Tomboys'.
    I never saw her in anything else.

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