Editor’s note: Charlotte Rae, the actress who played Mrs. Garrett in The Facts of Life, recently passed away. So we wanted to revisit the show and its gayest episode ever as a way to commemorate her memory within this beloved series.
Over the course of its nine seasons, The Facts of Life seemed willing to tackle any subject in one of its Very Special Episodes. The show covered the obvious topics, sure, but on occasion it also skewed darker than you might remember. There’s one about Tootie (Kim Fields) almost getting lured into an underage prostitution ring, for example. Yep, The Facts of Life went there.
However, despite that wide range of topics, there isn’t a Facts of Life gay episode — not really. And if you’re more familiar with the version of the show once Nancy McKeon’s Jo joined up, you might be surprised to learn that the closest Facts came to exploring LGBT themes is actually its pilot episode, with an entirely different tomboy character at its center.
For this week’s Gayest Episode Ever, my cohost and I rewatched the first-ever Facts of Life: “Rough Housing,” which aired August 24, 1979. We were taken aback at how nasty an early-season Blair Warner (Lisa Whelchel) could be. In the episode, Blair picks on Cindy (Julie Anne Haddock), a tomboy who likes sports and who has no interest in boys. When Blair sees Cindy hug a female classmate and tell her that she loves her, she goes out of her way to tell Cindy that she is “strange” — that being “polite” Conservative lingo for queer and therefore wrong.
Whelchel’s Blair would later mellow out and turn into a sitcom icon for more than a few little gay boys, but it’s interesting that in this first official Facts of Life, casual homophobia is a prominent a character trait as her vanity. She’s better off dropping the homophobia by the time Cousin Geri shows up at least.
Have a listen to this week’s episode, where we’re joined in our discussion of all things Facts of Life by Steve Yockey, an L.A.-based playwright and a writer for Supernatural.