Happy 90th birthday, Charlotte Rae!
A little more than a year after the actress' beloved character of Mrs. Garrett first charmed audiences as a New York City housekeeper to Mr. Drummond's family on NBC's "Diff'rent Strokes," she took her talents to Peekskill, where, on the spinoff "The Facts of Life," the character served as house mother at the Eastland School for Girls.
Although "Mrs. G" was a familiar face, fans who started watching the spinoff later in its run may not recognize some of the first season's cast — or the lyrics of its theme songs (plural), which, while similar, seem like impostors retroactively. By Season 2 (1980-81), the primary cast was whittled down to five actresses who are among the series' most familiar faces, and the theme morphed into the more recognizable "You take the good / you take the bad" version you know and secretly love.
After Rae parted ways with the show after seven seasons, it remained an NBC fixture for two more years — airing more than 200 episodes over the "Life" of the series before wrapping in May 1988.
In honor of Rae's 90th birthday, here's a look at the sitcom's biggest stars, then and now.
1. Charlotte Rae
Then: As the prophetic theme song foretold, Rae, as Mrs. Garrett, affirmed that the facts of life are all about you. (You-ooo-ooo.)
Now: Rae's myriad post-"Facts" credits include spots on "St. Elsewhere" and "The King of Queens," as well as a four-episode arc on "ER." A two-time nominee for both the Tony Awards and Emmy Awards, Rae also has appeared in film, popping up recently in the 2015 Meryl Streep movie "Ricki and the Flash."
2. Lisa Whelchel
Then: Whelchel played the spoiled and popular Blair Warner, whose "brilliant ideas" for solving problems often inspired hilarity to ensue.
Now: Over the past five years, Whelchel, 52, has competed on the reality-TV series "Survivor," released a workout DVD, and acted in film ("A Madea Christmas") and on television (Hallmark's "For Better or Worse").
3. Kim Fields
Then: As Dorothy "Tootie" Ramsey — the lovable rollerskating, braces-wearing, gossip-sharing "Facts of Life" character — Fields was the youngest primary cast member at the start of Season 2.
Now: After acting in another sitcom with more than 100 episodes to its credit (Fox's "Living Single") and directing more than two dozen episodes of Nickelodeon's "Kenan & Kel," Fields, 46, embraced reality TV, starring in current seasons of Bravo's "The Real Housewives of Atlanta" and ABC's "Dancing with the Stars."
4. Mindy Cohn
Then: Cohn's Natalie Green was Tootie's best friend and a budding writer at the center of more than one of the series' "very special episodes" dealing with mature themes.
Now: Since 2010, Cohn, 49, has appeared as herself on the TLC style-makeover series "What Not to Wear," and made cameos on TV Land's "Hot in Cleveland," ABC Family's "The Secret Life of the American Teenager" and ABC's "The Middle."
5. Nancy McKeon
Then: McKeon brought a tough sweetness to Joanna Marie Polniaczek — better known as Jo — the Eastland School for Girls' resident tomboy, who learned a few of the tougher facts of life after using a fake ID and shoplifting on separate occasions.
Now: After acting in about 20 TV movies and other projects, McKeon, 50, has lowered her public profile since 2011. She did, however, participate in two recent "Facts of Life" reunions: one airing on Hallmark's "Home & Family" in February, and another at the Paley Center in Beverly Hills, California, in September 2014.
6. Molly Ringwald
Then: Playing young Molly Parker on the series, Ringwald didn't make the main-cast cut in between Seasons 1 and 2. But, spoiler alert, Ringwald would land on her feet.
Now: Iconic for her performances in '80s John Hughes movies "Sixteen Candles," "Pretty in Pink" and "The Breakfast Club," Ringwald, 48, has worked steadily ever since. Recent credits include nearly 100 episodes of "The Secret Life of the American Teenager" and the new Canadian TV comedy "Raising Expectations."
7. George Clooney
Now: Perhaps the most "A" of Hollywood A-listers, the Academy Award winner, 54, paid tribute to Rae and his TV roots with a funny and sweet video-taped message during the aforementioned "Home & Family" reunion. "You were such an incredible force in an early part of my career," he told Rae from afar. "You were funny and kind and made a very young, not very skilled actor feel very much at home."
8. Cloris Leachman
Then: As Rae prepared for her "Facts of Life" departure, Mrs. Garrett asked her sister Beverly Ann Stickle, played by the Oscar- and Emmy-winning Leachman, to take over Garrett's role at the school. After Mrs. G said goodbye, Stickle would continue in that maternal capacity through the end of the series.
Now: Never afraid to make a cameo, Leachman, who turns 90 on April 30, has had Emmy-winning turns on "Malcolm in the Middle," a spirited run on "Dancing with the Stars" and, last year alone, cameos on Disney Channel's "Girl Meets World," CBS' "The Millers" and CBS' "Hawaii Five-0."
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