WITH HER CURRENT ADULT role in the national touring production of "One Monkey Don't Stop No Show," Kim Fields, of television's "Facts of Life," feels she has shed her child actor image forever.
"There definitely is life after 'The Facts of Life,'" says Fields, 22, who played Tootie on the popular TV sitcom for nine years.
In the broad comedy by Don Evans, which opens tomorrow night at the Lyric Opera House and plays through April 7, Fields and Lewis Dix are featured as one of three couples trying to cope with the amusing vagaries of love and communication.
A cool young lady who has gotten her act together, Fields has made the transition from pigtailed pre-teen to beautiful young woman. Taught the importance of education by her mother, Chip Fields (and co-star in "One Monkey"), the actress graduated from Pepperdine University in California with a degree in telecommunications.
An associate producer of the touring show, Fields is in the process of developing her own production company to concentrate on television, movie and stage projects.
While at Pepperdine, she wrote, produced and hosted "Campus Spotlight: Live with Kim Fields" and interviewed such luminaries as Gladys Knight, Betty White, Blair Underwood, Jason Bateman and Whoopi Goldberg.
Last year she collaborated with Carvin Winans on a young peoples gospel album, "The Gospel Buggy."
She would like to stretch herself dramatically by working in an August Wilson play and in movies being directed by such notable black filmmakers as Mario Van Peebles, Robert Townsend and Spike Lee.
"Or do it yourself," she says during a pre-show interview. "You can't wait around for other people to call to ask you to star or to direct.
"This work, directed by playwright Ron Milner, has strong black characters but the situations are universal," she says. "They are not a bunch of caricatures but real people in real situations."
The play, scheduled to open on Broadway next September, derives its title from an everyday black idiom meaning there is no obstacle that can restrain the indomitable spirit.
Fields enacts the role of Beverly, a minister's niece, who comes to New York after her father's death to realize his dream of running the nightclub he shared with Felix (Lewis Dix), a young entrepreneur.
A rocky romance ensues between Beverly and Felix, while her aunt (Chip Fields) and uncle (Marvin Wright Bey) struggle to resolve their middle-aged marital woes. Much to the older couple's dismay, their college student son (Kelly Neal) becomes romantically involved with a girl (Judi Williams) from "the other side of the tracks."
"The play is pure entertainment," says Fields. "It is an audience participation piece. We break the fourth wall and talk to the audience and invite responses. It is incredibly well received."
Wearing a smart red leather coat and boots, her smooth, long black hair tucked under a black cowboy hat, Fields makes a stunning appearance.
Fields began her professional career at age 7 in a commercial for Mrs. Butterworth syrup. She later starred in TV's "Baby I'm Back" and then grew up before America's eyes on "Facts of Life," an experience she fondly remembers as a "family show."
She appeared in the miniseries "Roots" and played a 12-year old gymnast dependent on alcohol in a TV movie, "Children of Divorce," starring Billy Dee Williams.
When Fields was 7, her mother, seeking greater creative opportunity, moved the two of them to Los Angeles. Chip Fields has received recognition as an actress, scriptwriter and songwriter. She recently directed the home video, "The Winans Return," at the Apollo Theatre.
"We are good friends," says the younger Fields. "It's that way because Mother had me at such a young age. She is 38. What do you know of mothering at 17? She nurtured me and brought me up as a friend."
Fields attributes her life values to her mother.
"She taught me to always put God first and always treat other people nicely and sincerely. Don't step on the people helping you climb the ladder of success. When you come down you don't want those people ticked off at you."
She smiles the same sweet smile familiar to millions. "Never forget where you come from and always give something back."