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'Facts of Life' Girls Cross Paths

Article taken from Yahoo! News, written by BETH HARRIS, Associated Press Writer

Monsters Watches

LOS ANGELES (AP) - The big hair, bad clothes and pimples are gone. The girls from the 1980s TV comedy "The Facts of Life" are women now, with a new set of issues.

Blair, of course, is still wealthy, attractive and spoiled; Natalie isn't as pleasingly plump; Tootie demands to be called Dorothy, her real name; Mrs. Garrett is a world-traveling widow; and Jo is nowhere to be seen.

Four of the five stars from the popular NBC series that lasted nine years return in "The Facts of Life Reunion," airing Sunday (Nov. 18) as part of ABC's "The Wonderful World of Disney" (7 p.m. EST).

"There is a little bit of cheese in this movie," said Mindy Cohn, who played Natalie Green. "Come on, it was an '80s TV series; you just got to embrace it."

Created by Norman Lear as a spinoff of his other hit NBC comedy, "Diff'rent Strokes," "The Facts of Life" chronicled life at Eastland Academy, a private school for girls.

"Some of the memories are horrifying - the hairstyles, the acrylic nails and the big jewelry," Cohn said. "We laughed a lot and I think that's why the show lasted as long as it did. People saw that we actually enjoyed each other and we did."

Despite the chemistry, the movie almost never happened. When the series ended, the cast made a pact not to reunite on camera. Only Nancy McKeon, who played tough-talking Jo Polniaczek, followed through.

McKeon, who stars in Lifetime's cop series, "The Division," wanted to leave her past behind, Cohn said.

Kim Fields, aka Tootie Ramsey, was reluctant, too.

"The fans, honestly I hope it doesn't sound corny, played a part in my decision-making process," Fields said. "There's such a sincere and deep love and appreciation for that show."

Especially from ABC executive Quinn Taylor, who hatched the idea for a reunion.

"He is the No. 1 fan of this show," executive producer Ilene Amy Berg said.

The series, with its exceedingly upbeat theme song, wasn't just played for laughs. Topics like divorce, death, suicide, loss of virginity and braces reflected what the teen-age audience was going through.

"Those were not my happiest times. Being a teen-ager in L.A., let alone being on a TV show, was really hard," Cohn recalled. "To go through pimples, periods and first dates on TV was hard. I had a couple of really awkward years."

By the final season, Cohn's character became the first to have sex.

"That was a pretty big moment," she said. "I got amazing letters from girls thanking me. It was lovely that there was a place for them to see themselves."

The show briefly featured such future stars as Molly Ringwald and a long-haired George Clooney, who was asked to appear in the reunion.

"He very kindly and generously and lovingly turned me down in the most gracious way," Berg said.

Clooney was one of the few men on the predominantly female series. He spent one season as George, the hunky carpenter.

"They didn't know what to do with him," said Charlotte Rae, who played housemother Edna Garrett. "He was a very talented actor."

Lisa Whelchel (Blair Warner) left show business after the series ended in 1988. Now a married mother of three, she interrupted her family's yearlong cross-country trip in a recreational vehicle to film the movie in Toronto, Ontario.

"It didn't even take one day and we were laughing and giggling like we did 13 years ago, even getting in trouble again," she said.

Whelchel still runs into people who tell her how much they hated her on the show.

"I'm happy to report that Blair is still as shallow and vain as ever and I like her that way," Whelchel said. "She's so over the top and sincerely insincere. It's OK with me that they hated me."

The reunion was made more appealing by a script that puts the four women in today's complicated world. Blair suspects her husband is cheating on her; Natalie is a TV news producer with two men fighting over her; Mrs. Garrett is a widowed Peace Corps veteran looking for love; and Tootie, er, Dorothy, hosts her own talk show.

"We put the characters back on with a sense of sophistication and being adults and being in the new millennium and not being trapped in a time warp," said Fields, who starred in Fox's "Living Single" series and now directs.

Despite its popularity, which continues in reruns, "The Facts of Life" never won awards, and Rae lost out on the show's lone Emmy nomination.

"Sometimes TV has this ego about itself, that it has to not just entertain, but inform and blow people away," said Cohn, who still acts and does voiceovers.

"Sometimes people just need a feel-good and 'Facts of Life' was a feel-good and there's no guilty pleasure in that."

Liz's Officially Unofficial Facts of Life Site