She Played Jo on "The Facts of Life." See Nancy McKeon Now at 56.
The actor is still close with her sitcom "sisters."
When The Facts of Life—a spinoff of Diff'rent Strokes focused on an all-girls boarding school—returned for its second season in 1980, it was without four of its original cast members (including a young, brunette Molly Ringwald, who played Molly Parker). In their place arrived a surprising addition to the cast in the form of a motorcycle-riding Bronx-born tomboy named Jo Polniaczek.
During her seven seasons playing the rough-and-tumble Jo, Nancy McKeon would bring main characters Tootie (Kim Fields), Blair (Lisa Whelchel), and Natalie (Mindy Cohn) closer together (via the punishment the five received after stealing the school's van to drink at a local bar); bicker with Blair; and intimidate men with her mechanical aptitude. Neither her acting career nor her ties to her Facts of Life co-stars would end with the show in 1988, however. Read on to find out what happened to McKeon in the decades that followed and where she is now at age 56.
She passed up college to continue acting and direct a film.
Unlike co-stars Fields and Cohn, McKeon opted not to pursue a college degree. Instead, she sought to hone her craft with additional acting training after The Facts of Life ended. She kept acting, appearing in a number of television movies throughout the late 1980s and early '90s, producing some of those movies of the week through her production company, Forest Hills Productions. In the late '90s, she even fulfilled an ambition to direct, helming the short film A Wakening, which she also wrote and produced.
"I just thought, I'm going to take what would have been my college tuition, and I'm going to make this short," she recalled on Cohn's podcast, Mondays with Mindy.
The film was released in 1999 and won two festival awards. While McKeon would mostly stick to acting in the years to come, she later directed two episodes of The Division while also appearing on the series, and hopes to direct more in the future, she told Cohn.
She was almost Monica on Friends.
In a 2012 Vanity Fair oral history of the series Friends, Lori Openden, former head of casting at NBC, revealed that the choice of who should play Monica Geller came down to just two actors: "Nancy McKeon, from The Facts of Life, also read for [Courteney Cox's] part. She gave a terrific performance. [NBC President] Warren [Littlefield] let [co-creators] Marta [Kauffman] and David [Crane] make the call. They went off for a walk and came back and said Courteney."
Instead, McKeon went on to star in her own sitcom, Can't Hurry Love, which ran for one season in 1995 before being canceled despite solid ratings. She had another one-season run playing Midwesterner Jane Sokol alongside a Martha Stewart-esque Jean Smart on Style & Substance in 1998 before landing the role of Inspector Jinny Exstead on the Lifetime crime drama The Division, which she played from 2001 to 2004.
She put family first.
McKeon—who dated Michael J. Fox for three years in the '80s and was previously engaged to hockey player Luc Robitaille—met film technician Marc Andrus on the set of the TV movie A Mother's Gift in 1995. They married eight years later and moved to a ranch in the Austin, Texas area, where they raised daughters Aurora (born in 2004) and Harlow (born in 2006) before selling it in 2020, according to her appearance on Cohn's podcast. (McKeon's brother, the late Alice actor Philip McKeon, eventually joined her, living outside Austin until his passing in December of 2019.) While Andrus was active in the Austin film industry, McKeon acted only sporadically during the girls' younger years, opting to focus on their care.
"I have two little girls, and my primary job is here with them, so when I choose to step away, the timing has to be right," she said in a 2011 interview with Tulsa World.
Through the early 2000s, that timing only permitted McKeon the occasional TV movie until 2009, when she took on a recurring role on the Disney Channel sitcom Sonny With a Chance as the mother of the title character, a teen comedian played by a young Demi Lovato.
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She competed on Dancing With the Stars.
Following the end of Sonny With a Chance in 2011, McKeon left screens until 2018, when she returned as a contestant on Season 27 of Dancing With the Stars, competing with pro Val Chmerkovskiy. She followed that appearance with a cameo in the Lifetime movie You Light Up My Christmas starring former Facts of Life co-star Fields. In her most recent role, McKeon played the mother of a teen participating in a dangerous post-high school competition in the 2021 Amazon Prime thriller Panic, based on the young adult novel series by Lauren Olivier.
She still considers her Facts of Life costars "sisters."
Despite her absence from a recent Facts of Life reunion, McKeon is still close friends with her former co-stars. Her castmates mourned alongside McKeon in the wake of her brother's death in 2019, McKeon took part in a series of conversations Fields recorded in honor of her 2020 birthday, and Whelchel has said that they all stay in touch via a group chat called the "sisters' thread."
"We went through our formative years together," McKeon said of their bond on Mondays with Mindy. "We truly were sisters…In my heart we still are."