Big hair, fresh faces, and a whole lot of bangs, the 80s were quite a time for women, especially the era’s sitcom actresses. From the young girls in The Wonder Years and Punky Brewster to the ladies of Three’s Company and Kate & Allie, 80s sitcom actresses were once the talk of the household. So, it begs the question, where are some of the sitcom favorites today? While some stayed in the entertainment industry, others went on to write books and have families.
Geena Davis: Then
Geena Davis got her big break in 1982 when Sydney Pollack decided to cast her as a soap opera actress in his upcoming comedy Tootsie. Then, one year later, she landed the role of Wendy Killian in the sitcom series Buffalo Bill.
While Davis’ character wasn’t the lead, she was part of the main cast, being brought in to partake in the various ventures of her egotistical talk show host boss “Buffalo” Bill Bittinger. The show was short-lived, running from 1983 through 1984.
Geena Davis: Now
Geena Davis is one of those lucky actresses who was able to make a successful transition from TV to film. After her time on Buffalo Bill, Davis landed prominent roles in popular films such as The Fly, Beetlejuice, and The Accidental Tourist.
She even won an Academy Award for Best Actress in the latter film. More recently, though, Davis starred in the Fox thriller series The Exorcist, playing the role of Regan MacNeil/Angela Rance in the first season.
Priscilla Barnes: Then
Actress Priscilla Barnes got her big break back in 1973 when none other than Bob Hope spotted her at a local fashion show. With Bob’s encouragement, Barnes packed up and moved to Los Angeles, landing small parts in films such as The New Original Wonder Woman.
It wasn’t until she joined the cast of Three’s Company as Terri Alden, replacing Suzanne Somers, that Barnes became instantly recognizable. Not bad for someone who had trouble landing big roles!
Priscilla Barnes: Now
After Three’s Company wrapped up in 1984, actress Priscilla Barnes went on to appear in various films and television series. Her most recent role being that of Magda Andel in the CW comedy series Jane the Virgin, a character she played from 2014 to 2019.
Other than her work in the entertainment industry, though, Barnes has made her way on to the stage, performing in the Bloomington Playwrights Project’s production of To Quiet the Quiet.
Danica McKellar: Then
In 1988, the world was introduced to the quintessential girl next door character, Danica McKellar’s Winnie Cooper, in the sitcom The Wonder Years. Winnie is Kevin’s main love interest throughout the series six seasons.
Even though Kevin and Winnie don’t wind up together in the end, she is part of some of the most important years of his life. Not too bad for a young girl who was taking weekend acting classes in Los Angeles!
Danica McKellar: Now
Unfortunately for Danica McKellar, she is one of those actresses that had a hard time making the transition from child star to adult actress. Of course, she landed small supporting roles here and there, but nothing as prominent as Winne Cooper.
Currently, she is the voice of Judy in The Jetsons. But aside from acting, McKellar also authored six non-fiction books, all encouraging middle-school and high-school girls to gain the confidence to succeed in mathematics.
Olivia D’Abo: Then
While Olivia D’Abo got her Hollywood start as Princess Jehnna in the 1984 film Conan the Destroyer, she is best known as Karen, the rebellious older sister of Kevin Arnold in the comedy-drama The Wonder Years.
O’Abo portrayed the long blonde-haired hippie teenager for the first four seasons of the popular 80s sitcom, coming back for two appearances in the final two seasons of the show as a guest star.
Olivia D’Abo: Now
After her time on The Wonder Years, actress Olivia D’Abo traded in her flower headband for more serious roles, such as guest appearances on Star Trek: The Next Generation and the SciFi series Eureka. But she didn’t stop at TV. D’Abo has also ventured into film, the stage, as well as music.
Most recently, she has voiced the character Jedi Luminara Unduli in a cameo role in Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker, a character she previously voiced in the animated series Star Wars: Clone Wars.
Marisa Tomei: Then
After dropping out of Boston University to pursue acting, Marisa Tomei landed the role of Marcy Thompson on the 1983 soap opera As the World Turns. The controversial character isn’t the only one she would portray in the 80s, though.
Her time on the soap opera was brief, but she soon landed a more regular role in 1987, in the sitcom A Different World. Tomei was part of the series for 21 episodes before moving on to other projects.
Marisa Tomei: Now
Marisa Tomei is arguably one of the more relevant 80s sitcom stars on this list, as she has appeared in numerous motion pictures each year since the 90s. One of her more well-known roles being in the 1992 film My Cousin Vinny, for which she won an Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress.
More recently, though, the actress has starred as May in the MCU, the stylish aunt of Peter Parker in Captain America: Civil War, Spider-Man: Homecoming, and Spider-Man: Far From Home.
Soleil Moon Frye: Then
Starting her acting career at the age of two, it was only a matter of time before Soleil Moon Frye landed a job that would define her career. That role came when Frye turned eight. Out of 3,000 girls, she was able to win over casting directors and land the role of the title character in the upcoming sitcom Punky Brewster.
Airing in 1984, Punky was an instant hit with kids ages two through 11, even though the series had consistently low ratings.
Soleil Moon Frye: Now
While Punky Brewster was definitely Soleil Moon Frye’s defining character, she was able to land various projects here and there. In 2000, Frye joined the cast of Sabrina the Teenage Witch, sticking with the series until its final season in 2003.
Aside from acting, though, she opened the Little Seed, an organic specialty clothing boutique for children. She’s also authored a book that focuses on women’s issues and raising children, Happy Chaos: From Punky to Parenting and My Perfectly Imperfect Adventures in Between.
Mindy Cohn: Then
Mindy Cohn joined the cast of The Facts of Life in 1979 as one of Edna Garrett’s students, Natalie Green. Cohn’s role was very progressive for the time, breaking a lot of sitcom boundaries when it came to topics such as body image, adoption, and relationships.
Natalie Green might have been known for her fuller figure on the show, but she’s also known for having a positive self-image, saying, “Who wants to be a skinny pencil? I’d rather be a happy Magic Marker!”
Mindy Cohn: Now
Her performance as the body-positive character Natalie Green landed Mindy Cohn on VH1’s List of 100 Greatest Kid Stars, landing in the 43rd spot. After The Facts of Life came to an end in 1988, Cohn made various guest appearances on shows such as 21 Jump Street and The Help.
But one project she is very well-known for is her voice acting in the animated series Scooby-Doo. In the series, Cohn voices Mystery Inc. detective Velma Dinkley. Most recently, she appears as Pricilla Blum in the 2020 film A Nice Girl Like You.
Nancy McKeon: Then
After appearing in a few soap operas and commercials throughout the 70s, Nancy McKeon and her family moved to Los Angeles in 1975. A few years later, she landed the role of Jo Polniaczek in the sitcom The Facts of Life after the casting director was impressed with her ability to cry on cue.
Not that the tomboy character had to cry a lot in the series. The character of Jo was mischievous, a bit short-tempered, and yet, lovable in her own way.
Nancy McKeon: Now
Following her time on The Facts of Life, Nancy McKeon got on a weird track record of auditioning for parts and losing out to now very famous actresses. Two of the parts include Monica Gellar in Friends, of which went to Courteney Cox, and the character of Tess McGill in the TV sitcom adaptation of the film Working Girl, which went to Sandra Bullock.
The actress’s last film credit is for a brief cameo in the 2019 TV film You Light Up My Christmas.
Justine Bateman: Then
Justine Bateman actually started her acting career on the popular 80s sitcom Family Ties. Playing the role of superficial yet sweet-natured Mallory Keaton, Bateman appeared on the series for its seven-season run, from 1982 until 1989.
Bateman’s performance on the show earned her two Emmy nominations as well as a Golden Globe nomination. During the show’s run, Bateman also took the time to host an episode of the 13th season of Saturday Night Live.
Justine Bateman: Now
Like many 80s actresses, Justine Bateman decided to stay in the industry after her time on the cast of Family Ties. In 2006, she guest-starred on an episode of Arrested Development ironically titled “Family Ties,” opposite her brother Jason Bateman.
While her last film credit is the 2013 independent horror movie Deep Dark Canyon, Bateman has stayed busy with other projects. In 2018, she published her first book, titled Fame: The Hijacking of Reality.
Pam Dawber: Then
Actress pam Dawber is one of those 80s stars that is known for not one but two sitcoms. The first being the comedy Mork & Mindy, where she played Mindy McConnell, opposite the then-unknown Robin Williams. After four seasons, the series was canceled in 1982.
But Dawber wasn’t done starring in 80s sitcoms. In 1986, she landed the role of Samantha Russel in the series My Sister Sam. The show ran for two seasons, ending in 1988.
Pam Dawber: Now
After her 80s sitcom days came to an end, Pam Dawber stayed in the industry for some time, taking on guest appearance roles in TV shows as well as film. Some of her most notable projects include the 1999 film I’ll Remember April and the series The Odd Couple, guest-starring in one episode.
In 1987, the actress married NCIS star Mark Harmon in a tiny ceremony. The couple is still happily married with two sons.
Sara Gilbert: Then
Actress Sara Gilbert first came on the television sitcom scene as Darlene in the 80s series Roseanne. Ironically, the showrunners almost didn’t hire Gilbert, thinking she wasn’t cute enough for the role.
Thankfully, they changed their minds. Gilbert lent her acting talent to the unconventional tomboy character that many child actors might not have been able to accomplish. She was part of the show’s main cast for its ten season run.
Sara Gilbert: Now
Since the last episode of Roseanne came to an end, actress Sara Gilbert has stayed fairly active in the world of television. She’s appeared in numerous popular series, including ER, 24, and The Class.
Gilbert even reunited with one of her Roseanne co-stars, Johnny Galecki, in the CBS sitcom The Big Bang Theory, where she plays Leonard’s scientist friend and Sheldon’s arch-nemesis, Leslie Winkle. Most recently, Gilbert has portrayed Professor Judd in a reoccurring role on the Netflix series Atypical.
Donna Dixon: Then
Before becoming a sitcom star, Donna Dixon was active in the beauty pageant circuit. In 1976 she was crowned Miss Virginia and then the following year Miss District of Columbia World.
It wasn’t until 1980 that she made her way to the television screen as the beautiful Sonny Lumet in the ABC situation comedy Bosom Buddies, opposite a young Tom Hanks and Peter Scolari. She appeared in the show for all 37 episodes before it ended in March of 1982.
Donna Dixon: Now
The project Donna Dixon landed directly after Bosom Buddies was a comedy film called Doctor Detroit. In the movie, she plays the character of Monica McNeil, opposite Dan Aykroyd. Ironically, a few months after filming wrapped up on the 1983 film, she and Aykroyd married.
Most recently, in 2020, Dixon voiced Meghan #2 in the Twilight Zone episode “You Might Also Like.” This wasn’t her first time with the anthology. In 1983, she appeared alongside her husband in Twilight Zone: The Movie.
Jane Curtin: Then
Actress Jane Curtin, also known as Queen of the Deadpan, came on the Hollywood scene in 1975 as a cast member on the comedy sketch show Saturday Night Live. Praised for her incredible work ethic, Curtin opted to stay with television while many of her SNL castmates moved on to the silver screen.
A good thing, too, because in 1984, she starred alongside Susan Saint James in the sitcom Kate & Alley, a show about two divorced women with kids who decide to be roommates.
Jane Curtin: Now
After winning back-to-back Emmys for her role in Kate & Allie, actress Jane Curtin went on to join the cast of 3rd Rock from the Sun as Dr. Mary Abright, a series that ran from 1996–2001.
Most recently, the Queen of the Deadpan co-starred in the 2020 ABC sitcom United We Fall. In the series, she plays Sandy Ryan, the main character’s neurotic mother, who decides to move in with his family and critiques his parenting style at every turn.
Susan Saint James: Then
Through the 60s, Susan Saint James appeared in numerous TV shows and films, with her breakout role in the 1966 TV movie Fame Is the Name of the Game. Making her way through the next decade, Saint James began making a name for herself as an actress.
But it wasn’t until she landed the co-starring role in the sitcom Kate & Allie opposite Jane Curtin that she really became well-established in her acting career.
Susan Saint James: Now
During Kate & Allie‘s run, Susan Saint James took on a very interesting gig that no one expected, a commentator on Word Wrestling Federations’ WrestleMania 2, alongside Vince McMahon. The job would be one of the last on-screen appearances for Saint James.
Following the 1989 finale of Kate & Allie, the actress announced her retirement from the industry. Now, she is very involved in the Special Olympics, making occasional guest appearances in shows like Law & Order: Special Victims Unit.
Shelley Long: Then
Before she was known as Diane Chambers on Cheers, actress Shelley Long produced, wrote, and co-hosted the local program Sorting it Out. For her work on the show, Long won three Regional Emmy Awards.
Of course, she is very much known for her role in the NBC sitcom Cheers, where she plays bar waitress Diane Chambers for five seasons, after which time Long left the show, and her character was written out. She also guest appears in the 11th season episode “One for the road.”
Shelley Long: Now
After winning an Emmy Award and two Golden Globes for her performance in Cheers, actress Shelley Long was far from done with the industry. Through the 90s, she appears in multiple series, including the spin-off Frasier where she reprises her role of Diane Chambers in four episodes.
Then, in 2009, she joined the cast of Modern Family as DeDe Pritchett. Most recently, Long plays the role of Judy Wilkins in the 2018 film The Christmas Trap.