Category Archives: Diff’rent Strokes

“A Very Special Episode, Part 2”: Diff’rent Strokes

Here is Part 2 of the Diff’rent Strokes article. This was originally published on June 18, 2010.

Today I will wrap up the Diff’rent Strokes tribute. Here is a little write-up on the stars of the show:

Gary Coleman (Arnold Jackson) – Born on February 8, 1968, and was adopted by a fork-life operator and his nurse practitioner wife from a Chicago hospital when he was just a few days old. Raised in Zion, Illinois, it was discovered that Gary had severe health issues before the age of 2. Born with one atrophied kidney and an endangeringly weak second one, he had two kidney transplants by the time he reached age 16 and the effects of his dialysis medication permanently stunted his growth (to 4’8″).

In addition to Diff’rent Strokes, Coleman was in the movies On the Right Track (1981) and Jimmy the Kid (1982) as well as several TV movies. He also had his own Hanna-Barbera cartoon – “The Gary Coleman Show” in 1982.

He was 18 when Diff’rent Strokes ended, and he was happy that it ended because he felt trapped and typcasted. However, with the end of Diff’rent Strokes, so was Gary Coleman’s popularity. He could not get any more good work.

In addition to his health issues, Coleman had legal and financial problems. He was arrested for punching a woman who was persistent about getting an autograph from him, and was fined and ordered to take anger-management classes. He also had disorderly conduct and reckless driving charges brought up against him at various times. He also admitted that his problems led to several suicide attempts. In 1989 Coleman successfully sued his parents and business manager for pilfering money he had earned when he was a child. However, in 1999 he had to declare bankruptcy and was forced to find work outside the Hollywood industry as a security guard. In 2007 he married Shannon Price, whom he met on the set of the low budget film Church Ball (2006), but the marriage dissolved quickly into domestic squabbles in which he would have to face the court system again. As a gag he ran for California’s governorship during its recall election (which was won by Arnold Schwarzenegger). He later moved and settled in Utah.

Coleman managed to star in one last film before he died – Midgets Vs. Mascots (2009). He died on May 28, 2010.

Todd Bridges (Willis Jackson) – Born May 27, 1965, in San Francisco, California. Before starring in Diff’rent Strokes, Bridges became the first African-American child actor to have a recurring role on a successful TV series, The Waltons. He also appeared on Little House on the Prairie, and in the miniseries Roots. Then he became a series regular on the Barney Miller spinoff, Fish, playing a character named Loomis. But his most success came from playing Willis.
Like his fellow child stars, Gary Coleman and Dana Plato, he had trouble adjusting to life after Diff’rent Strokes. In 1988, he was arrested and tried for the attempted murder of Kenneth “Tex” Clay, a Los Angeles area drug dealer, who prosecutors argued had been shot by Bridges while on a binge. Bridges pleaded not guilty to the charges and was represented by the high-profile defense attorney Johnnie Cochran. Cochran successfully portrayed Bridges as an abused minor who had been driven to drugs by an exploitive entertainment industry, and was now being unfairly framed. A witness finally testified that Bridges was not present at the time of the shooting. Bridges was acquitted of all charges by a jury.
Then in 1993, Bridges was involved in an altercation with a tenant, David Joseph Kitchen, in his house after a disagreement about unpaid rent. Kitchen attacked Bridges with a sword, then Bridges retaliated by stabbing him in the chest with a kitchen knife. The prosecutors dropped the charges, concluding Bridges had acted in self-defense.

It is not well published, but after that incident, Bridges has reportedly been sober, and in the late ’90s he started getting his act together. He wrote, directed, produced and starred in the story of his own life, aptly titled “Building Bridges” (1999).

More recently, Bridges wrote a book called “Killing Willis”, where he his drug addiction, criminal charges, and his efforts to establish himself again. He appeared on The Oprah Winfrey Show on April 28, 2010 to discuss his life as a child star and legal troubles that followed.

Dana Plato (Kimberly Drummond) – (November 7, 1964 – May 8, 1999). Dana Plato was born on November 7, 1964 in Maywood, California. She played Kimberly Drummond until 1984. That was when she became pregnant by her boyfriend, a musician named Lanny Lambert. The producers of Diff’rent Strokes did not feel that a pregnancy would fit the show’s wholesome image, so Plato was let go. She did return for some guest appearances on ABC during the last season. In her final appearance in the series Kimberly suffers the effects of bulimia.
After Diff’rent Strokes, Plato unsuccessfully tried to establish herself as a serious actress. Toward the end of her career, Plato chose roles that could be considered erotic or even softcore pornography.

In 1991, Plato ended up in Las Vegas with no work. She took a job at a dry-cleaning store to support herself. One day, she entered a video store, produced a gun, and demanded the money from the register. She was arrested minutes later. Las Vegas entertainer Wayne Newton posted her $13,000 bail. Plato was given five years’ probation. The gun was only a pellet gun and the robbery netted Plato less than $200. She made headlines and became part of the national debate over troubled child stars, particularly given the difficulties of her Diff’rent Strokes co-stars, Gary Coleman and Todd Bridges. In January 1992, she was again arrested, this time for forging a prescription for Valium. She served 30 days in jail for violation of the terms of her probation and entered a drug program immediately thereafter.

On May 7, 1999, Plato appeared on The Howard Stern Show, where she told Stern and Robin Quivers that she was engaged to 28-year-old Robert Menchaca, and that he was managing her career. She was frank about her situation, discussing her financial problems and past run-ins with the law. She admitted to being a recovering alcoholic/drug addict, but claimed that she had been sober for more than ten years by that point, and was not using any drugs, with the exception of prescribed painkillers due to discomfort and pain from the recent extraction of her wisdom teeth. Many of her callers called her everything from a “has been” to an addict. She was referred to by one caller as an “ex-con lesbian drug addict with mental problems”. This provoked a defiant Plato, as she offered to take a drug test on the air (and even placed a large wager on the results of the test to one particularly doubtful caller). Some callers, however, came to Plato’s defense by consoling and complimenting her.

The next day, Plato and Menchaca were returning to California. The couple stopped at Menchaca’s mother’s home in Moore, Oklahoma for a Mother’s Day visit. Plato went to lie down inside her recreational vehicle parked outside the house and subsequently died of an overdose. er death at the age of 34 was eventually ruled a suicide.

Then, almost 11 years to the day of Dana Plato’s death, on May 6, 2010, Plato’s son Tyler Lambert died of a self-inflicted gunshot wound to the head in Tulsa, Oklahoma, at age 25.

Conrad Bain (Mr. Drummond) – Conrad Bain was born on February 4, 1923 in Lethbridge, Alberta. He first appeared on regular television when he played a stuffy next-door neighbor Dr. Arthur Harmon on the show Maude from 1974-1978. Then he had his iconic role as Mr. Drummond. His last regular role was as presidential aide Charley Ross on the George C. Scott show Mr. President in 1987. His last television appearance was on the series finale of The Fresh Prince of Bel Air. You can see the clip in this article from April 6.

Charlotte Rae (Mrs. Garrett) – Charlotte Rae was born April 22, 1926. She was a character actress early in her career, and had her first breakout role as Sylvia Schnauser in the television show Car 54, Where Are You? from 1961-1963. Rae also appeared in early seasons of Sesame Street as Molly the Mail Lady.

In 1978, Rae was selected to play housekeeper Edna Garrett on Diff’rent Strokes. Her character was so popular that the producers decided to do an episode that could lead to a spinoff. That episode (called “The Girls School”) was about girls attending Eastland, the school attended by Kimberly Drummond. In July 1979, after the last episode of Strokes, Rae proposed the idea for the new spinoff to the heads of NBC. They greenlighted the show, and The Facts of Life was born.

The Facts of Life ran from 1979-1988. In 1986, Rae left the show, citing health problems. However, she went on to stage acting, which annoyed the show’s producers. She was replaced by Cloris Leachman on the show.

She has not had any big television roles since she left The Facts of Life. She has made guest appearances on several shows such as Diagnosis: Murder, The King of Queens, and ER.

Nedra Volz (Adelaide Brubaker) – Nedra Volz’s (June 18, 1908 – January 20, 2003) character, Adelaide Brubaker, replaced Mrs’ Garrett. She was on the show from January 1980 until May 1982. She only made guest appearances on some television shows, such as Aunt Iola, Edith Bunker’s favorite aunt on All in the Family, and Post Office Employee Miz Emma Tisdale on The Dukes of Hazzard.
Nedra passed away on January 20, 2003 of complications from Alzheimer’s disease in Mesa, Arizona.

Mary Jo Catlett (Pearl Gallagher) – Mary Jo Catlett was born on September 2, 1938. Her role as Pearl was her best known role. She also appeared on General Hospital and in several episodes of M*A*S*H. She currently provides the voice for “Mrs. Puff” on SpongeBob SquarePants.

Dixie Carter (Maggie McKinney Drummond #1)Dixie Carter (May 25, 1939 – April 10, 2010) played the original Maggie. She first appeared in the series in February 1984, during a three-part story arc that took the cast to California. Maggie and Philip Drummond fell in love, so Maggie and her son Sam came home with the Drummonds.

In the spring of 1985, NBC canceled Diff’rent Strokes because of poor ratings. However, production continued as ABC picked up the series for an eighth season. In what turned out to be the final season, Mary Ann Mobley replaced Dixie Carter (who had started work on Designing Women in the aftermath of NBC’s cancellation of Diff’rent Strokes).
Dixie Carter became more famous by playing Julia Sugarbaker in Designing Women. More recently, Carter earned an Emmy nomination for playing the very disturbed Gloria Hodge on Desperate Housewives during the 2006-2007 season.

Dixie Carter just died this past April 10 of complications from endometrial cancer.

Mary Ann Mobley (Maggie McKinney Drummond #2) – Mary Ann Mobley was born on February 17, 1939. She was Miss America in 1959. In addition to playing Maggie in the final season of Diff’rent Strokes, she made some appearances on shows such as The Love Boat, Fantasy Island, General Hospital, and Falcon Crest. She also appeared in 2 Elvis movies in 1965, Girl Happy and Harum Scarum.

Danny Cooksey (Sam McKinney) – Danny Cooksey was born on November 2, 1975. He also starred in several TV roles, most notably Nickelodeon’s Salute Your Shorts. He also does a lot of voice acting. He was also the lead singer in a heavy metal band called Bad4Good. This is a long way from Sam:

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“A Very Special Episode”: Diff’rent Strokes

In honor of Conrad Bain, here is a repost of a Diff’rent Strokes article I wrote on June 9, 2010, just a couple of weeks after Gary Coleman died (Wow, almost 3 years already!!). Part 2 will follow.

Now, the world don’t move to the beat of just one drum,
What might be right for you, may not be right for some.
A man is born, he’s a man of means.
Then along come two, they got nothing but their jeans.
But they got, Diff’rent Strokes.
It takes, Diff’rent Strokes.
It takes, Diff’rent Strokes to move the world.
Everybody’s got a special kind of story
Everybody finds a way to shine,
It don’t matter that you got not alot
So what,
They’ll have theirs, and you’ll have yours, and I’ll have mine.
And together we’ll be fine….
Because it takes, Diff’rent Strokes to move the world.
Yes it does.
It takes, Diff’rent Strokes to move the world.

Dana Plato’s son had a tragic death when he committed suicide On May 6. And as we know, almost two weeks ago Gary Coleman had an untimely death. The controversy surrounding his death is still going strong. So, instead of focusing on the tragedy and troubles of the cast members of Diff’rent Strokes, let’s return to a happier time…

Diff’rent Strokes premiered on NBC on November 3, 1978. Gary Coleman and Todd Bridges starred as Arnold and Willis Jackson, two orphaned children from Harlem who are taken in by rich Park Avenue businessman Phillip Drummond (Conrad Bain) and his daughter Kimberly. Willis and Arnold’s decased mother had worked for Mr. Drummond. The show also starred Charlotte Rae as the Drummonds’ housekeeer, Edna Garrett. Partway through the second season, Charlotte Rae left the show to star in the spinoff The Facts of Life.
Following Rae’s departure, Nedra Volz took over as the housekeeper, Adelaide Brubaker. In season 5, the last of the three maids joined the show – Pearl Gallagher played by Mary Jo Catlett.

The show was a hit, mostly due to the extraordinary talent of Gary Coleman. He was THE child TV star of the late ’70s and early ’80s. He was confident, had a great personality, and had awesome comic timing – especially for somebody as young as he was. Every week, you could count on his catchphrase “What’chu talkin’ about, Willis?”, or “What’chu talkin’ about,” to whoever he was talking to.

Everybody played off of Gary Coleman very well, though. It was fun watching Arnold and Willis getting into trouble, and being taught life’s lessons. The show was also an influence on the TV show Webster (about a little African-American boy being taken in by a rich couple), and was even an influence on The Fresh Prince of Bel Air (a teenage boy from a bad neighborhood being raised by a rich family).

Diff’rent Strokes was also known for its “very special episodes.” People remember “very special episodes” of shows such as Blossom and Family Ties, but I believe that these types of episodes were started by Diff’rent Strokes. The most famous of these episodes were the Anti-drug episode (“The Reporter”, in Season 5) that featured then-First Lady Nancy Reagan, who promoted her “Just Say No” campaign, and an episode that guest starred Gordon Jump as a pedophile bicycle-shop owner, who attempted to sexually molest Arnold and Dudley. There was also the episode where Kimberly’s new love Roger (who turns out to be racist) not allowing his sister to go to their school’s costume ball with Willis because of his race. In another episode on the dangers of hitchhiking, Kimberly and Arnold were abducted by a deranged man (played by Woody Eney), who initially acted as a “Good Samaritan” and a very nice guy by giving the two of them a ride, and inviting them to his apartment. At the end of that episode, Conrad Bain spoke these words as a Public Service Announcement, “If you know of a case of sexual assault or an attempted sexual assault, please contact your local law enforcement agency or emergency medical facility.”

In the final season (when the show moved from NBC to ABC), the one-hour season opener revolved around Sam being kidnapped by a bereaved father (played by Royce D. Applegate) to replace his own dead son. In yet another episode, the family discovered that Kimberly was suffering from bulimia after witnessing her devour an entire sheet cake, and then go to the bathroom to vomit.

Even those tough episodes were funny.

Then the show “jumped the shark” after NBC canceled the show, and then was picked up by ABC. Dana Plato was pregnant, and was forced to leave the show. And then Maggie and her son Sam became regulars on the show. Sam was brought in to bring in the “cute” factor now that Gary Coleman was getting older. But he was horrible in comparison to Coleman. The show ended on March 7, 1986.

It was a great run, and was great television throughout the ’80s.