Best Known For
Actress Nancy McKeon played Jo on the long-running 1980s sitcom The Facts of Life.
Nancy McKeon - Full Biography (45:17)
She became a star when she was just 14 on The Facts of Life, but she quickly learned that life can be tough. This profile of Nancy McKeon follows the popular performer's career through all its triumphs and disappointments.
Actress Lisa Whelchel, best known for playing the role of Blair Warner, describes a storyline that was rejected on "The Facts of Life."
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Born in Westbury, NY in 1966, Nancy McKeon moved to California with her family so her brother Philip could star in the sitcom Alice. Nancy's own big break didn't come until 1980 when she was cast as Jo Polnaiczek in The Facts of Life, a hit sitcom about a girls boarding school. The show lasted eight years. Afterward, McKeon continued to act in TV shows like The Division and Sonny with a Chance.
"I've been lucky. The audience has allowed me the chance to grow up and to be taken seriously."
Actress Nancy McKeon was born on April 4, 1966, in Westbury, New York. The daughter of a travel agent, Nancy McKeon and her brother, Philip, grew up in the entertainment industry. McKeon started making commercials at the age of 2, followed by guest appearances on such soap operas as Another World, before moving to California in the mid-1970s.
McKeon and her family relocated to Los Angeles for her brother's career. He had landed a leading role in the sitcom Alice starring Linda Lavin. Lavin played the title character, a widowed single mother who works as a waitress in a diner. Philip McKeon played her son, Tommy. While her brother starred in a hit comedy, Nancy McKeon landed guest spots on such shows as Starsky and Hutch and The Love Boat.
In 1980, McKeon had a supporting role on the short-lived police drama Stone, playing the daughter of a detective (Dennis Weaver). Her career, however, really took off that fall with her role on the sitcom The Facts of Life. She joined the show, which followed a group of girls at an elite boarding school, in its second season.
On the show, McKeon played a rough-around-edges tomboy named Jo Polnaiczek. Her fellow students included Lisa Whelchel as the pretty and snobby Blair Warner, Mindy Cohn as the funny but insecure Natalie Green, and Kim Fields as the bubbly and active Tootie Ramsey. Charlotte Rae played their housemother, acting as a maternal figure for the girls. For a time, the cast also included George Clooney and Cloris Leachman.
The coming-of-age comedy became a big hit with television viewers, lasting for nearly a decade. At the time it ended in 1988, The Facts of Life was one of the longest running sitcoms to date. McKeon also found time to take on other projects, branching out to take on more serious roles. She appeared in several television movies, including 1985's Poison Ivy with Michael J. Fox. The two were reportedly a couple off-screen for a time as well. In 1987's Strange Voices, McKeon starred as a young woman with schizophrenia. She also served as a producer on the project.
After The Facts of Life ended, McKeon found success in television films. She starred in 1989's A Cry for Help: The Tracy Thurman Story as a woman works to rebuild her life after becoming paralyzed from a physical attack by her husband. The film received strong reviews. Unlike some child stars, McKeon transitioned into more mature parts fairly easily. "I've been lucky. The audience has allowed me the chance to grow up and to be taken seriously," she told Entertainment Weekly.
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Join Biography.com in a nostalgic look back at the popular 1980s sitcom set in an all-girls boarding school, The Facts of Life. Learn more about the cast of the series, including Lisa Whelchel, the face of Blair Warner; Kim Fields, who played Dorothy "Tootie" Ramsey; Mindy Cohn (Natalie Green); Charlotte Rae (Edna Garrett); Nancy McKeon (Jo Polniaczek); and George Clooney (George Burnett). Explore this collection for full biographies, photos, videos and more.
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