Actresses Mindy Cohn, Geri Jewell, Lisa Whelchel, Charlotte Rae and Nancy McKeon attend The Paley Center for Media's PaleyFest 2014 Fall TV Preview - "The Facts of Life" 35th Anniversary Reunion at The Paley Center for Media on September 15, 2014 in Beverly Hills, California.
It's hard to believe it's been 35 years since The Facts of Life premiered. And, in fact, the cast would prefer you not even mention that at all.
"That's a terrible way to start things off," Lisa Whelchel, who played Blair Warner, teased the moderator at the start of Monday night's 35th anniversary reunion at the Paley Center for Media in Beverly Hills.
In what became a running joke, Nancy McKeon, who played Jo Polniaczek, also gave anyone who brought that number up a (good-naturedly) hard time. "Why is everyone saying that so slowly?" she quipped. "Say it faster."
The cast — which also included Charlotte Rae (Edna Garrett), Mindy Cohn (Natalie Green) and Geri Jewell ("Cousin" Geri) — kept the audience laughing throughout the two-hour event. (Kim Fields, who played Tootie Ramsey in the 1979-88 sitcom, couldn't be there in person but recorded a video message for the fans.)
Case in point: When asked about kissing George Clooney for a scene, Whelchel said she had no memory of it. "I am all for repressed memories, but why I repressed that one, I don't know. … I pulled it up on YouTube and it's Blair pretending to be his fiancé and she comes in and lays one on him. I've since watched that several times," she added with a laugh.
Meanwhile, Cohn and Rae also regaled the audience with the story of how the former came to be cast in the show despite having no acting experience. Rae, Lear and Alan Horn, the current Walt Disney Studios chairman who was a production supervisor on the show, visited Cohn's high school to get some real-life insight into teenage girls. They happened to talk to Cohn, with whom Rae became intrigued.
"They asked me questions, and the next day … they told me, [Rae] wants to write a part for you," Cohn said. Added Rae: "You must have been scared shitless."
Meanwhile, Jewell also acknowledged her groundbreaking role as the first person with a disability to have a regular role on a primetime series and as the first actor with cerebral palsy to be featured on a TV show. (She has more recently appeared on series including Deadwood, Alcatraz and Glee.)
"It was the most amazing thing to have happened to me, and I think everybody was surprised that America embraced me," Jewell told THR. "It was like, 'What do we do with cerebral palsy? We can't talk about cerebral palsy in every episode.' So they let me be me; they let me be Blair's cousin. And that was a steppingstone to the mainstreaming that we're seeing today with people with disabilities in the industry. We have a long way to go, but I was first, and I am very proud of having that be a part of who I am."