Being number four on a Top Five list is kind of like being the fourth person in an orgy. The fifth guy, the one videotaping the whole thing, is just happy to be there. Then there’s the core threesome happening on the bed next to you. Number four? He’s just moving around the outside of the pack like a bird trying to find a way to get to the bagel. It’s a lonely spot.
My number four is an embodiment of this sad place. But this is through no fault of her own – she was a product of her environment. Could she have been a Top Three? Absolutely. But something went terribly wrong somewhere. Her agent, her parents, her drug dealers – somewhere down the line someone dropped the ball on her career, and now she’s just a Number Four, lost, looking in from the outside.
Dana Plato of “Diff’rent Strokes” was my original #4, and Dana Plato is remaining my #4.
So why do I say that Dana Plato is the product of her environment? Because she was. (Bear with me, it’s been a while since I’ve written one of these arguments where I have to make statements and provide factual evidence to support those statements. Since college, I’ve taken to the “scream and use emotional hand gestures” method to prove a point.)
But before we get to that, let’s first acknowledge that facts: Even with that hair, Dana Plato was hot.
Not at the beginning, mind you, but none of these girls were hot in the very beginning (probably because they were pre-pubescent). What Dana had going for her though was that she was a product of the 70’s (like me). Her prime time came right after the sexy hippie/disco era and never quite made it to the big hair/baggy sweaters era that was like a wet blanket on so many other sitcom starlets. (See the other sister in “Charles in Charge.” If you’ve seen recent pictures of her, you know she could have been a contender . . .)
The other thing Dana had going for her was THAT LOOK.
I can just imagine the publicity photographers trying desperately to get her to smile like a Barbie, or at least like a child who was happy with her life, but no – she insisted on giving the camera the look. It’s a look that says, “I don’t care how old I am, I want to be sexy.” To a 12 year old boy, this is probably the most exhilarating/terrifying look out there. It’s the same look Tracy had at summer camp that year when I had my first kiss. She was a year older than me (also the camp slut) and as the other campers crowded around us to create a shield from the counselor’s view so we could kiss, I remember looking at her looking at me with that gaze thinking, “She’s going to eat me.” Later on, we snuck away together to the sports shed where she sat on my lap. I was so petrified all I could do the whole time we sat there was offer idle chit-chat and kick a kickball against the wall . . . from the sitting position with her on my lap. I might never forget that. But that’s neither here nor there. Point is, Dana was sexy
Where did it go wrong? More like where didn’t it go wrong for Kimberly on “Diff’rent Strokes.”
First her mother dies. Never easy for a girl to grow up without a mother. But worse than that is her father’s reaction to her mother dying. Unable to stand his daughter’s resemblance to his deceased wife, Phillip Drummond goes out and adopts two black children from Harlem, essentially saying, “I need something different in my life.”
OK, this isn’t exactly what happened (the kids were his housekeeper’s sons and he promised to take care of them when she passed away). But you get the point. Mom dies, Dad adopts two new children, spends A LOT more time with them because, well, they were the crux of the show. Just think of how many times you saw the inside of Willis and Arnold’s bedroom. Now, do you remember what Kimberly’s looked like? Of course not! They never showed it! And you want to know why? Because they didn’t want the audience to see Kimberly crying herself to sleep every night. That’s not “funny” enough for “Diff’rent Strokes.” Pain isn’t funny.
In a way, though, you can’t blame Mr. Drummond or the producers of the show. Look what Kimberly was trying to compete with:
Cute freckles aren’t going to compete with Mr. T. Not in 1985, not today – not ever. The cards were stacked against her. The drugs, the ribald movies, the eventual tragic death, none of it was a surprise if you look at what she was forced to grow up with. Yes, it is a sad story. But this is no surprise ending . . .
Was she one of my favorites? No doubt. Could she have been better? Even less doubt. Is she the perfect fit for my #4? The least amount of doubt of all.
That’s Kimberly. My #4. RIP (November 7th, 1964 – May 8th, 1999)*
Another word of warning: Don’t do a Google image search for Dana Plato. Just don’t.
*Terrifying Statistic Of The Day: Not only was Dana Plato born on my birthday, but she DIED on my SISTER’S birthday! No wonder I had no idea she died. I was too busy eating birthday cake. Just another injustice against Dana Plato. Add it to the list.