Why Did Cloris Leachman Replace Charlotte Rae on ‘The Facts of Life’?

Cloris Leachman died Jan. 27 at the age of 94. She’s had so many legendary roles that TV’s The Facts of Life may not make many headlines. Obituaries are more likely to mention her roles on The Mary Tyler Moore Show and her own spinoff Phyllis, Young Frankenstein and other Mel Brooks comedies, The Last Picture Show, Bad Santa or perhaps recent roles like The Croods, American Gods or Mad About You

Cloris Leachman Facts of Lie
L-R: Kim Fields, Cloris Leachman, Lisa Whelchel, Mindy Cohn | Alice S. Hall/NBC/NBCU Photo Bank

Leachman was on The Facts of Life for two seasons, though. She took over when Charlotte Rae left after seven seasons. Here’s why Rae left and Leachman decided to join the show. 

Before Cloris Leachman, ‘The Facts of Life’ was a ‘Diff’rent Strokes’

Edna Garrett (Rae)’s story began on Diff’rent Strokes. She was the Drummonds’ housekeeper. The Facts of Life began with Mrs. Garrett becoming the housemother of a girls school. Mrs. Garrett was a mother figure to Blair (Lisa Whelchel), Tootie (Kim Fields), Natalie (Mindy Cohen) and Jo (Nancy McKeon).

Over the years, the girls graduated school but remained on the show. Mrs. Garrett opened Edna’s Edibles. The girls worked for her there, but when the shop burned down, they became partners converting it to Over Our Heads. After seven seasons, Rae decided not to renew her contract and NBC brought in Leachman.

Why Charlotte Rae left ‘The Facts of Life’

In the two part season 8 premiere, Mrs. Garrett reunited with Bruce Gaines (Robert Mandan), an old flame from her time in the Peace Corps. They married and Mrs. Garrett left for Africa to continue their Peace Corps work. Leachman played Garrett’s sister, Beverly Anne Stickle. Stickle took over Garrett’s duties at Over Our Heads. In an Oct. 17, 1986 interview with the Orlando Sentinel, via Newspapers.com, Rae explained her departure.

“Sometimes it’s just time to move on,” Rae told the Sentinel. “The show is wonderfully popular and the public loves all the characters, but I just felt I had done all that I could do with Mrs. Garrett. It’s just like Jean Stapleton deciding to leave the role of Edith Bunker when she did. I felt I had investigated every nook and cranny, and for my own stimulation as an actress, it was important for me to move on.”

Facts of Life
L-R: Mindy Cohen, Lisa Whelchel, Charlotte Rae, Nancy McKeon, Kim Fields | NBCU Photo Bank/NBCUniversal via Getty Images

RELATED: Molly Ringwald on Getting Kicked Off ‘The Facts of Life’ and How She Became the 1980s’ Teen Movie Queen

Rae already had big plans in 1986. The Facts of Life was in good hands with Leachman.

“I have a production company, and I have a writer doing a script treatment on a book that I think would make a wonderful feature film,” Leachman continued. “I would be one of the stars, though.”

The only thing she did not want to do again was play “an awful lot of Mrs. Garrett-type roles, which I have carefully refused to do.”

Cloris Leachman wanted back in with television 

The Los Angeles Times interviewed Leachman for an article on Oct. 14, 1986 about joining The Facts of Life. True to her irreverent nature, Leachman couldn’t even keep the title of the show straight.

“All the names of these shows are so similar,” Leachman told the Times. “I can’t tell them apart.”

Leachman was making a conscious move to get back into television a decade after her Phyllis spinoff ended.

“I thought, it’s time to get back and say ‘Cloris is here,’” Leachman said.

Facts of Life: Stacey Q
L-R: Stacey Q, Kim Fields and Cloris Leachman | Alice S. Hall/NBC/NBCU Photo Bank

RELATED: A ‘The Facts of Life’ Star Was Seriously Considered For a Role on ‘Friends’

NBC made sure she was well compensated, Leachman said of “a considerable amount of money” she received. She said they figured out the character of Stickle once she got there. 

“None of us really knew who I was going to be,” Leachman said. “Then, once I was cast, I think they looked in on me. My own fun that I have in my own life with whatever I’m doing–they’re catching that in my character.”