Mindy Cohn wasn't an auditionee for the show. When the producers visited a girls' school to see how the girls interacted, she was a social magnet just being herself, and they created Natalie based on Cohn. She was then tested in the role.
Kim Fields was only nine years old when she started playing Tootie, who was supposed to be twelve. In an effort to make her appear taller (and older) her character was always in roller skates for the first year of the show.
When she left after the seventh season, Charlotte Rae recommended Cloris Leachman to replace her. Rae and Leachman were classmates at Northwestern University and were roommates when they were young struggling actors in New York City.
The character Jo was suggested by then-NBC Chief Fred Silverman after he had seen the film "Little Darlings". He felt a streetwise scholarship student would contrast well, and add conflict, against the rich, spoiled Blair character.
During the final season, producers made a controversial decision to shake things up by having one of the girls lose their virginity. Initially Blair was to be the character, but Lisa Whelchel protested it as the idea went against her deep-seated Christian beliefs. Whelchel further explained she didn't want her character to be seen as such an improper role model for the show's young viewers. Mindy volunteered to have her character lose her virginity instead because writers felt it was time for one of the characters to experience this and Natalie was in a long term relationship so Mindy felt it made sense for it to be her and the writers agreed.
Originally, the premise of the series was that Edna Garrett, the housekeeper on Diff'rent Strokes (1978), became the headmistress at the school that Kimberly Drummond (Dana Plato) attended. But after the pilot episode, the producers decided to keep Plato on Diff'rent Strokes (1978) and there was never any mention of Kimberly being a student at Eastland again.
Midway throughout the sixth and seventh seasons, Charlotte Rae had missed several episodes due to her health problems. This led her leaving the show at the end of the seventh season, although she did make two more guest appearances at the beginning of the eighth season.
For the second season, the entire concept and plot of the show was changed from a large boarding house of several young girls, to a tighter knit group of older adolescent women. This was done since the producers felt that a plot change from comic relief to serious adult issues would help boost ratings. The cast of girls was reduced to only four, including the new character of "Jo".
Eastland was located in the Westchester County town of Peekskill, New York, which is located roughly forty miles north of Manhattan. With a commute of less than forty five minutes to Manhattan, this explains the relative ease in which Manhattanite Blair and Bronx-born Jo are able to go home as often as they do, and also helps to explain the continuous interaction between the Drummond family and Mrs. Garrett after her departure from their household.
During the last season, David Spade was in an episode that was supposed to be turned into a spin-off series called "Big Apple Blues" about college roommates living in New York City, but it never materialized.
During the course of the show it was revealed that Mrs. Garrett and Beverly Ann hailed from Appleton, Wisconsin; Blair and Natalie hailed from Manhattan; Jo hailed from the Bronx, and Tootie from Washington D.C.
Even though Kim Drummond never ended up at Eastland like the original plot of the series had planned, the show still was connected to the "Different Strokes" universe with Mr. Drummond and Arnold making a few guest appearances. In addition, some of the Facts Of Life characters, mostly Tootie, made crossover appearances on Diff'rent Strokes in which they were seen visiting Kimberly.
During the 9 year run of the series the producers made multiple attempts to Spin Off "The Facts of Life" by producing 6 Back-Door Pilots that were to serve as possible pilots for a new series. In chronological order the episodes are "Brian and Sylvia" "The Academy" "Jo's Cousin" "The Big Fight" "Big Apple Blues" and the Two part series finale "The Beginning of the End" and "The Beginning of the Beginning" In the end none of these attempts were successful.
In the first season, there were seven students in the main cast. After the first season, the producers decided to drop four characters from the main cast: Molly Parker (Molly Ringwald), Cindy Webster (Julie Anne Haddock), Sue Ann Weaver (Julie Piekarski) and Nancy Olson (Felice Schachter). But Haddock, Piekarski, and Schacter continued to appear occasionally until the third season.
Blair was initially portrayed as the "bad girl" of the series. When the show was retooled for the second season and Nancy McKeon joined the cast, Jo took over the "bad girl" persona. At the same time, Blair was transitioned into her more familiar vain, spoiled rich girl image.
The character of Blair, was originally conceived as a down-home charming Texas girl. However, during her audition for the role Lisa Whelchel read several of Blair's lines sarcastically. Producers were so impressed by Whelchel's audition that they re-wrote the character to be that of a self-involved New York blue blooded socialite.
Over the course of the series, Eastland was shown having four Headmasters, Mr. Bradley, Mr. Harris, Mr. Parker and in the final episode, Blair. In addition, the Diff'rent Strokes episode which served as a Pilot for the series featured a Headmaster named Mr. Crocker.
When Diff'rent Strokes became an instant hit, it was also at the time one of NBC's few viable series. As a result,Fred Silverman believed that the network could capitalize from a Diff'rent Strokes spin off. It was ultimately determined that Charlotte Rae had the proper ability and experience to be able to carry her own series. In addition, it was felt that since Mrs. Garret wasn't central to Diff'rent Strokes her departure wouldn't negatively effect the series.
Originally the school was to be called Eastlake Academy, a take on the name of Westlake Academy, a LA area school that was said to be the inspiration for the show. The Eastlake name was used in the Diff'rent Strokes episode which introduced the series.
The girls made frequent topical references on the show, name-checking celebrities and mentioning different current and historical events in a humorous context. These came from the writers; cast members often didn't actually know who or what their lines were about, or what made them funny. Years later, Mindy Cohn discussed watching reruns, and laughing all the harder because now she understood the jokes.
In early episodes Natalie and Blair had to tape down their developing chests so their appearance remained that of adolescents. As the actress who played Blair stated during an interview " the facts of life were not allowed on the facts of life"
Geri Reischel, best known as "Fake Jan", was offered the role of Blair but couldn't take the role due to her contract with General Mills. Eve Plumb (the real Jan Brady) appeared as Blair's (adoptive half) sister, Meg, in season 4.
After The Facts of Life, Kim Fields starred in another sitcom about 4 young women living together, growing up and getting through life together called Living Single. She played Regine, the primadonna-ish one (cut from the same cloth as Blair Warner.) In one episode she tells another woman visiting the apartment that she looks familiar, and asks her what school did she go to. The woman says "Eastland." Then Kim/Regine smiles, looks directly into the camera and says "Never heard of it!"
Lisa was sent to a fat farm during a couple of the hiatuses, because as the "pretty one" she was seen as getting too fat. Conversely, Mindy Cohn was told she was getting too thin, because she was the "fat one", so they forced her to wear baggy clothing.
Actor Thomas Byrd played two different characters on episodes of Facts of Life. Both of these characters were boyfriends of Blair, ironically enough. In "Different Drummers" he played Leo, a mentally handicapped musician that befriends Blair. In "With a Little Help From My Friends" he played Nick, a drug addict that is dating Blair.
The Diff'rent Strokes gang pay Mrs. Garrett a visit in the pilot episode "Rough Housing". As they're leaving, Mr. Drummond asks Mrs. Garrett, "This house mothering thing. It isn't permanent, is it?" "Oh no!" she says. "I'll be back! I promise!" As we all know Mrs. Garrett doesn't keep that promise because she never does return to the Drummonds.
Nancy McKeon appeared in a Hallmark commercial where she had to cry on cue in 1979-1980 when producers spotted her. The producers were retooling the show at this point and NBC Chairman Fred Silverman who had just seen the summer hit "Little Darlings" had suggested finding a Kristy MacNicol type to round out the new cast, when the casting director spotted Nancy. It was at this point they decided to cast her as Jo.
All the cast members sang a song on the show. They all performed numbers in "Christmas in the Big House", and Natalie and Tootie both sang "Wash That Man Right Out Of My Hair" from South Pacific in "Green Eyed Monster". The only one who didn't do a musical number was Mrs. G/Charlotte Rae, but she did sing the theme song in Season 1.
Tootie wore roller skates for the whole first season. She wore them inside, outside, walking up and down the stairs, even riding a horse in a flash flood in one episode. When she showed up for season 2 for the first episode "The New Girl ", she wasn't wearing roller skates, and no one said a word! They never mentioned her skates again except once, 6 years later, in the "Little Chill" reunion episode when one of the girls suggested bringing them out for old times sake.
The show moved from Wednesdays to the Saturday Night comedy block, so it dropped its serious issue oriented tone and became broader, more slapstick oriented, to fit in with shows like "The Golden Girls". It was at this point that Geri Jewell, who used to be a regular reoccurring character, was limited to one or two appearances, to fit in with the comedy heavy format. She was told that every time she appears it becomes a " very special episode," and they were trying to be less serious. It was at this point that she quit, because she did not want to be on only one or two episodes.
George Clooney would go on to a appear in Roseanne as Fisher, Roseanne's boss and Laurie Metcalf's bofriend, a year after he was fired from Facts of Life. After that it was ER, and then the movies, and then A-List stardom.
The other Facts of Life alumn to star in a John Hughes movie, besides Molly Ringwald, who starred in Sixteen Candles, Breakfast Club and Pretty in Pink after doing one season of Facts of Life, was Alexis Kenin, who played Jesse on the " New York New York" episode, and then later starred in Pretty in Pink with Molly Ringwald, where she played one of Molly's friends.
Continuing the Facts of Life/ John Hughes connections, after Molly Ringwald and Alexis Kennin who both starred on Facts of Life and Pretty In Pink, is Jami Gertz, who played Boots St. Clair, a recurring character on the Facts of Life in 1983 and 1984, and then in 1984 starred in Sixteen Candles with Facts of Life alumn Molly Ringwald.
According to the recent Entertainment Weekly article on The Facts of Life there was at one point an anti-gay joke in the script, where one of the male characters was slammed for being effeminate. But Charlotte Rae vetoed the joke, saying "we do not make fun of people's sexuality on this show".
The Facts of Life was honored at the TV Land Awards. In a speech to the audience Charlotte Rae praised the girls from the cast for "turning out straight.". Little did she realize Geri Jewell was a lesbian.
Though the Facts of Life was a Norman Lear production, and though it was a popular and successful show, still the longest running program featuring an all female cast, Norman Lear never put his name on the credits, opting for the more generic "Tandem Productions," and he also never mentions it in interviews.
It's significant Molly Ringwald did not return for the "Little Chill" reunion episode when all the other girls did. Molly was in essence fired from the show during the 1980-1981 season. She went from being a series regular during the 1979-1980 season to a reoccurring character who made only one appearance during the next season, before then vanishing all together. She has said this was "humiliating." She had the last laugh because as everyone knows she became a superstar during this period, starring in three classic John Hughes movies. In 1986, when they shot the "Little Chill" episode Molly was on the cover of Time Magazine.
In addition to featuring 3 members of the cast who are Academy Award winners, 3 members of the Facts of Life cast were also arrested. The Diffrent Strokes kids were all arrested for criminal activities, and they all also made cameos on the Facts of Life.
Both "Dope", the episode when Sue Anne experiments with drugs, and "Breaking Point", the episode when new student Cynthia kills herself, rarely get shown in reruns due to the controversial subject matter.