If you’re a Glee fan, you’re probably pretty excited about tonight’s season finale. (The New Directions are going to Nationals!) But before Mr. Shu came along, there was another musical TV show that people like me waited in anticipation for every week. That show was called Rags to Riches.
Most people I’ve met have no recollection of Rags to Riches whatsoever (which is really unfortunate if I have the urge to dish about how awesome it was when Rose, Diane and Marva performed “Rockin’ Robin” at Spiro’s Place.) Running from 1987-88, the series was sort of a mixture of Annie and Oliver! but with a broader cast of characters, so it was easier to find someone to relate to if you didn’t have red hair, a dog named Sandy, and weren’t on the run from a crazy band of criminals.
Beginning as a made-for-TV movie pilot, Rags to Riches told the story of bachelor Nick Foley (of Foley’s Frozen Foods), a self-made millionaire and notorious playboy who needed to clean up his image to secure a big client. The only logical solution? Adopting six girls, of course! (This changed to five girls after the pilot, with the explanation that Nina "went to find her birth mother.”) Though his motives initially weren’t the best, and though his slimy girlfriend Carlotta told the girls of his plan to ship them off to boarding school as soon as he made his business deal, Nick and the girls genuinely came to love one another and formed a real family – along with Nick’s English butler, Clapper. By the end of the pilot (and a brief stint back at the orphanage), the kids were settled into the mansion permanently, Carlotta was kicked to the curb, and the fact that Nick had no idea of how to raise a pack of girls provided the perfect setup for the delightful hijinks that would run through the rest of the series.
The show was set in the 1960s (though the fashion was quintessentially ‘80s and the representation of Elvis in a sequined jumpsuit was clearly ‘70s), and in every episode, the girls (and sometimes Nick) would sing an assortment of oldies, changing the words to fit the situation. Obviously, this meant that my five-year-old-self wanted nothing more than to hang out with the Foley girls.
(For the record, I thought these were the most glamorous outfits ever, particularly the ensemble at 1:17)
Each girl had her own distinct personality. There was eight-year-old Mickey, who was forever playing the saxophone and desperately wanted to be included with her older sisters; fourteen-year-old Patty, the tomboy; business-minded fifteen-year-old Marva; Rose, the introspective seventeen-year-old who acted as a mother to the group; and my personal favorite, sixteen-year-old Diane.
Though I always adored the whole gang, when I was a little girl, I wanted to be Diane Foley. She was into fashion. (Her biggest threat was from Patty in a Dracula voice saying, “Diane, I am going to eat your hair!”) She was boy crazy. She kind of dressed like my Barbies. She had the coolest pink poodle pajamas and had the funkiest bedroom (complete with a turquoise telephone!)
She got to sing the best songs (like “I Will Follow Him,” “Teenager in Love,” and “You’re No Good”), and while she was pretty, girly and fabulous, she was never stuck up like that jerk at her school, Amy Hillerman. She even got a signed guitar from Elvis for her school auction. In short, she was just plain awesome.
(Confession: I'm a "grown up" now, and I still kind of want to be Diane Foley.)
What was great about the Foley girls was that they were always supportive of each other. The reason they got adopted as a group in the first place was because they refused to be split up. Sure, they bickered (like that one episode where Patty and Diane fought over the same lifeguard at the beach), but when it came right down to it, they always had each other’s backs. They empowered each other, and showed that if we put our minds to it and help each other out, rather than tear each other down, we girls can do anything. And then we can sing and dance about it during a montage of trying on different outfits. Because, really, who doesn’t love that?
There are only two tragedies when it comes to Rags to Riches. One is that it only lasted two short seasons; the other is that it has not been released on DVD. I guess for fans like me, we can only hope that one day the series will be available for purchase, or at least be shown in reruns on TV Land or the Hallmark channel. In the meantime, we’ll just have to surf around for grainy YouTube clips and remember the days when Diane snuck off to the drive-in with Duke, when Rose became a debutante, and when Marva opened up her own food truck. Then again, I suppose we could always sing feisty songs, make posters and compile petitions for whichever studio owns the show, proving that there still is a demand for the greatest musical series in TV history.
After all, it’s what the Foley girls would do.