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Friday, July 08, 2011

TGIF: Blair Warner and Jo Polniaczek from The Facts Of Life

Have you ever wondered how two people who might be so incredibly different from each other in personality, social backgrounds, and belief systems could end up becoming best friends?  How they stand by one another and defend each other no matter what, even though they have absolutely nothing in common?

I'll talk to you about one fictional pair of friends who were just like that, but before I go on, I figure I should introduce the show in which these girls came from.

When The Facts Of Life first premiered on NBC on August 24, 1979, it was initially a spinoff of another successful show called Diff'rent Strokes.  The pilot episode of The Facts Of Life was actually the season one finale of Diff'rent Strokes, and in that episode, Kimberly Drummond (the daughter in Diff'rent Strokes played by the late Dana Plato) was attending Eastland (then called East Lake), where she needed Mrs. Garrett's help to sew costumes for a school play.  At the time, Mrs. Garrett worked as the Drummond's housekeeper.  Mrs. Garrett helped out by making the costumes, and the play was a success.  Mrs. Garrett was asked to stay on at Eastland, but she initially decided to stay with the Drummond family instead.

Apparently, she must have changed her mind over those three months, because by August of 1979, Mrs. Garrett was working as a housemother to seven young girls in Eastland.

The show was a huge ratings success over the years, and the show ran for nine seasons until it finally went off the air on May 7, 1988.  The road to success was kind of a rocky one.  During the first season, the show focused on seven girls (including one played by an eleven year old Molly Ringwald), but by the end of the first season, the decision was made to retool the show.  Four of the girls (including Ringwald's character) were dropped to recurring during the next season, and only Blair, Tootie, and Natalie remained.  To make up for the loss, a new character was brought in named Jo, in the fall of 1980.

And it was in the fall of 1980 that our story starts off between two girls who became friends, even though they had nothing in common.

Blair Warner (played by Lisa Whelchel) and Jo Polniaczek (played by Nancy McKeon) could not be further apart from each other.  In fact, when they first met, they ended up hating each other almost at first sight.

Blair Warner was your typical spoiled princess diva character.  Coming from a privileged family where there was more money than she could even count, Blair had almost everything that money could buy.  Her preppy style of dress and classic blonde-haired beauty look attracted men of all kinds, and she took pride in the fact that she was attractive.  She grew up in the country club scene and was used to having the very best in life.  Blair was also not one to mingle with just anyone.  Although she got along with her housemates Natalie and Tootie, Blair didn't just socialize with anyone.  Quite often, if she felt someone was beneath her, she very rarely talked to them at all.  Her confidence and her appreciation for the rich world have sort of made her a bit flighty, and her spoiled background made it quite difficult for her to appreciate the value of a dollar, or how hard people really worked to make money.  Nevertheless, she was widely considered to be one of the more popular students at Eastland.

Jo Polniaczek's background couldn't be more different.  Growing up in a Polish-American family in the heart of the Bronx, her family was all about working hard to get what they wanted.  Jo's father ended up spending some time in jail for attempted theft...a fact that embarrassed Jo greatly.  Jo gave off the impression that she was a tough street-smart kid who never let anyone walk all over her, but the truth was that she had a softer side that she almost seemed afraid to show off for fear of showing her vulnerability.  While most Eastland students had parents who could afford the tuition, Jo had earned a scholarship to the school.  She rode into Eastland on her motorcycle, which lead to her first meeting with Blair, which didn't exactly go so well.  You'll have to start the video around the three and a half minute mark.

Not exactly the best way to make a first impression, is it? 

Jo disliked Blair because in her judgment, she was a stuck-up rich kid who was so obsessed with material things that she was incredibly shallow.  Blair disliked Jo because she was someone who didn't measure up to her standards, and she found her incredibly classless and tasteless.

Not exactly the seeds that sprout a healthy friendship.

What changed?

As time went on, Blair started to realize that Jo might not be as classless as she initially believed, and started to think that she was misunderstood.  And Jo began to realize that Blair wasn't as stuck-up as she had thought, and that maybe underneath, she was a good person.

In fact, when the girls ended up having to do kitchen duty at Eastland because of a situation that Jo had gotten them into, it was Blair who offered the olive branch first.  It begins into the three minute or four minute mark.

This is an interesting episode, because had it not been for Blair standing up for Jo, and convincing her to talk to Mrs. Garrett about staying, Jo would have left Eastland for good.

Blair also proved to be a good friend to Jo when Jo was invited to a cotillion by one of Blair's rich friends.  It initially didn't start off that way, though, as Blair seemed to be jealous of Jo going out with him in the first place.  But when Jo's date turned out to be a real jerk, Blair helped set things straight.

And, Jo proved to be a great friend to Blair as well.  When Blair got involved with a boy at school who treated her terribly, Jo tried to convince Blair that he was no good for her.

Now, certainly, the friendship between Blair and Jo has been tested quite a few times.  When Jo's scholarship to Eastland was in danger of running out, and Blair tried to get her father to give Jo one, Jo was offended by the gesture, saying that she didn't need anyone's charity.  In the end, she accepted Blair's offer, after a talk with Mrs. Garrett.  And, when Blair's sister came to visit and told everyone that she was going to become a nun, Blair did not take it very well at all.  When Jo tried to defend Blair's sister against Blair, and countered that she wanted to become a nun, Blair immediately got in Jo's face about it and got a punch in the face for her trouble.  It was later revealled that she prayed to God to keep her family together, and the next day, they filed for divorce.  She stopped believing in God after that.  In the end, the event triggered a much needed conversation between Blair and her sister, and she and Jo made up.

Sometimes, the strain between Blair and Jo made for some hilarious moments, such as this 1985 episode entitled 3,2,1.

(Did anyone notice George Clooney was in this episode too?  How surreal.)

So, I guess the point I'm making is this.  Two people can have so many differences between them that it seems almost inconceivable that they would ever become friends.  Yet Blair and Jo did exactly that.  And the reason they did exactly that is simply because they had one thing in common that made all the other differences seem insignificant.

They both wanted to become better people.  And, because of their friendship, they did.

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