Rae at the 1988 Emmy Awards
|Born||Charlotte Rae Lubotsky
April 22, 1926
Milwaukee, Wisconsin U.S.
|Occupation||Actress, singer, dancer|
Charlotte Rae (born April 22, 1926) is an American character actress, singer and dancer, who in her six decades of television is perhaps best known for her portrayal of Edna Garrett in the sitcoms Diff'rent Strokes and The Facts of Life (in which she starred from 1978 to 1986). She received a Best Actress Emmy Nomination in a Comedy in 1982. She also appeared in two Facts of Life television movies: The Facts of Life Goes to Paris in 1982 and The Facts of Life Reunion in 2001. She also provided the voice of Nanny in the cartoon 101 Dalmatians: The Series.
Rae was born Charlotte Rae Lubotsky in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, to Russian Jewish immigrants Esther (née Ottenstein), who was a childhood friend of Golda Meir, and Meyer Lubotsky, a retail tire business owner. She had two sisters (Miriam, a pianist, writer, and composer, and Beverly, an opera singer), and graduated from Shorewood High School in 1944. For the first ten years of her life, Rae's family lived in Milwaukee, after which they moved to Shorewood, Wisconsin. In a 2002 interview, Charlotte said she was interested in acting as a little girl. She did a lot of radio work and was with the Wauwatosa Children's Theatre. At 16, she was an apprentice with the Port Players, a professional theater company that came for the summer to Milwaukee, with several established actors such as Morton DaCosta, who was the director of the Music Man on Broadway. She said that she had great teachers at her high school, which also had a beautiful campus. Rae attended but did not complete her studies at Northwestern University in Evanston, Illinois.
When a radio personality told her that her last name wouldn't do, she dropped it, becoming simply Charlotte Rae. She moved to New York City in 1948, where she performed a lot of stage and theater, and lived there until 1974.
A stage actress since the 1950s, she appeared in Three Wishes for Jamie, The Threepenny Opera with Bea Arthur, Li'l Abner, and Pickwick. In 1955 she released her first (and only) solo album, Songs I Taught My Mother, which featured "silly, sinful, and satirical" songs by (among others) Sheldon Harnick, Vernon Duke, John La Touche, Cole Porter, Rodgers & Hart, and Marc Blitzstein (who wrote the song "Modest Maid" especially for Rae). The album was issued on CD in 2006 by PS Classics. Also in the 1950s, Rae made several acclaimed appearances on the Ed Sullivan Show.
She appeared in Ben Bagley's revue The Littlest Revue (and on its cast album) in 1956, appearing alongside the likes of Joel Grey and Tammy Grimes and singing songs by Sheldon Harnick ("The Shape of Things"), Vernon Duke ("Summer is a-Comin' In"), and Charles Strouse & Lee Adams ("Spring Doth Let Her Colours Fly," a parody of opera singer Helen Traubel's Las Vegas night club act), among others. Rae also later appeared on Bagley's studio recording Rodgers & Hart Revisited with Dorothy Loudon, Cy Young, and Arthur Siegel, singing "Everybody Loves You (When You're Asleep)" and in several other duets and ensembles.
In 1954 Rae, on her way to becoming a top-notch character actress, made her TV debut on an episode of Look Up and Live. This led to roles on other shows such as The United States Steel Hour, Armstrong Circle Theatre, Kraft Television Theatre, NBC Television Opera Theatre, The Philco Television Playhouse, The DuPont Show of the Week, The Phil Silvers Show, Way Out, The Defenders, Temperatures Rising, The Love Boat, The Partridge Family, Love, American Style, McMillan & Wife, Barney Miller, 227, Murder, She Wrote, St. Elsewhere, Diagnosis Murder, among many others. She also guest-starred on Norman Lear's All in the Family and Good Times.
Her first significant success was on the sitcom Car 54, Where Are You? (1961–1963), in which she played Sylvia Schnauser, the wife of Officer Leo Schnauser (played by Al Lewis). She was nominated for an Emmy Award for her supporting role in the 1975 drama Queen of the Stardust Ballroom. In January 1975, Rae became a cast member on the ABC television comedy Hot L Baltimore, wherein she played Mrs. Bellotti, whose dysfunctional adult son Moose, who was never actually seen, lived at the hotel. Mrs. Bellotti, who was a bit odd herself, would visit Moose and then laugh about all the odd situations that Moose would get into with the others living at the hotel. Rae also appeared in early seasons of Sesame Street as Molly the Mail Lady. In 1964, she appeared in a commercial for Oil Heat in which, while taking a shower, she explained how wonderful Oil Heat was. At the end of the commercial, the announcer asked her if she knew she was on television, to which she responded, in her usual "trying to be sexy" voice, "Yes, I know!" and then giggled softly afterward.
In 1978, NBC was losing to both CBS and ABC in sitcom ratings, and Fred Silverman, future producer and former head of CBS, ABC, and NBC, insisted that Norman Lear produce Diff'rent Strokes. Knowing that Rae was one of Lear's favorite actresses, he hired her immediately for the role of housemother Edna Garrett, and she co-starred with Conrad Bain in all 24 episodes of the first season. Her character proved to be so popular that 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 (played by the late Dana Plato). 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 thus The Facts of Life was born. The program, which focused on a housemother residing with four young ladies in a prestigious private school, dealt with many of the major issues facing teenage girls in the 1980s, including weight loss, depression, AIDS, drugs, alcohol, autism, celebral palsy, dating, and marriage. The show wasn't an immediate hit, but thanks to a new time slot the show became a ratings winner between 1980 and 1986. During the sixth season, Rae left the show despite all the fame she had gained, owing to a health problem. (She later returned to the stage, displeasing the show's producers.) At the beginning of the 1986-1987 season, her character was written out as having gotten remarried and joined the Peace Corps. Cloris Leachman was then brought in as Mrs. Garrett's sister, Beverly Ann Stickle, for the show's last two years. In 1988, after 200 episodes, The Facts of Life was canceled.
Also starring on Facts were a lot of unfamiliar actresses/actors who were only on the first season before being fired, including Felice Schachter as Nancy Olson, Julie Piekarski as Sue Ann Weaver, Julie Ann Haddock as Cindy Webster, Molly Ringwald as Molly Parker, and John Lawlor as Steven Bradley. In addition, the show cast more unfamiliar actresses who also appeared on the spinoff show, Diff'rent Strokes, consisting of former Mouseketeer Lisa Whelchel as rich spoiled brat Blair Warner and Kim Fields as resident gossip Dorothy "Tootie" Ramsey. Rae approached a 13-year-old unknown Mindy Cohn at Westlake School in Los Angeles, California and suggested that she take the role of smart Natalie Green. The second season introduced Nancy McKeon as the tomboy Jo. During the show's seventh season, two new stars, George Clooney and Mackenzie Astin, joined the cast.
Rae herself went to Westlake and interviewed several young actresses for the role of Natalie. Cohn later said, "I was just one of the random kids that was picked to go talk to the people, and we had lunch and we chatted. The next day, the head master called me into his office and said, 'These people want to write a part for you in the show they're doing.' And I'm like, 'Whatever,' you know? As long as I'm not in trouble, terrific." Rae and Cohn are still close friends with the other cast. Charlotte created the character of Beverly Ann for Leachman to play on The Facts of Life. In 2001, Cohn, Rae, and other cast members were reunited in a TV Movie, The Facts of Life Reunion. In 2006, Cohn, Fields, and Whelchel were invited to appear on Today. The following year, the entire cast were invited to attend the TV Land Awards. Kim Fields was nominated for the "Most Beautiful Braces" Award and Nancy McKeon was nominated for the "When Bad Teens Go Good" Award, but neither won. Several members of the cast, including Rae, sang the theme song from the show.
In 1979, she played the Lady in Pink in the musical movie Hair. Other appearances on screen have included roles in The Worst Witch television movie and on the series Sisters, 101 Dalmatians: The Series, The King of Queens, and ER
In 1993, she was the voice of Aunt Prestine Figg in Tom and Jerry: The Movie. She also appeared in The Vagina Monologues in New York. In 2000, she starred as Berthe in the Paper Mill Playhouse production of Pippin. In 2007, she appeared in a cabaret show at the Plush Room in San Francisco for several performances. In the 2008 movie You Don't Mess with the Zohan, Rae has a role as an older woman who has a fling with Adam Sandler's character. On February 18, 2009 she appeared in a small role as Mrs. Ford on the "I Heart Mom" episode of Life.
She was married to composer John Strauss on November 4, 1951, with whom she had two sons, and was divorced in 1976. She has three grandchildren. One of her sons is autistic. In 1998, Rae's oldest sister, Beverly, an opera singer, died of pancreatic cancer.
In 1982, Rae went to the hospital for the doctors to place a pacemaker in her heart.
On June 12, 2008, Rae attended the James Stewart Centennial Tribute at the Samuel Goldwyn Theater in Beverly Hills, California, which was hosted by Robert Wagner. Among the attendees were Ann Rutherford, Shirley Jones, Cora Sue Collins, and Stewart's daughter, Kelly Stewart. Carroll Baker was also supposed to have attended the tribute, but if she did, she is nowhere to be found in the Academy's photos.
Charlotte: "You can take wonderfully talented actors, wonderfully talented writers and producers, and, uh, do a wonderful show!... but if it doesn't hit with the public in two minutes, it's bye-bye"
Charlotte: "Because of the power of television, I was visible to everybody all over the world. But there are many things in the theater that are more fulfilling and that I look forward to doing more. But really, I love it all: theater, film, television."
Charlotte on her feud with Joan Collins: "Joan Collins is a bitch, there's no doubt about it, everyone says she's an extremely difficult person. I know that Joan Collins is a bitch!" (Source: TheInsider.com)
Charlotte on her professional friendship with Norman Lear: "So open. So up front. Not a big shot. Not afraid to take a risk, make a mistake." (Source: TVGuide.com)
Charlotte who said in 1979 about her small, awkward, plump stature: "How did I fit? I didn't. I felt inferior. I had this tremendous need to perform. I wanted to be acceptable to my peers. To feel equal. I had an older sister, Beverly, who seemed to be very secure. I had a younger sister, Mimi, who was cute! I thought if I could just be a big star, I'd feel like somebody too." (Source: TVGuide.com)
Charlotte on theater: "I became drunk with power. I was burning to get to New York. But my parents begged me to stay. I needed to graduate, they said. I did soap opera on radio in Chicago. When I told the director my name was Lubotsky, he said, 'But you can't use that.' My father was very hurt. 'But why?', he wanted to know." (Source: TVGuide.com)
Charlotte on Teresa Brewer: "Teresa Brewer and I stood on the bar and sang 'Can't Help Lovin' That Man' and 'Cockeyed Optimist. Sometimes a drunk would give me 50 cents. My father came in once and nearly died. With tears in his eyes, he told me the cigarette girl had tried to hustle him." (Source: TVGuide.com)
Charlotte on having an on-screen romance with Adam Sandler: "On a table from one to 10, I rate him 'not bad'". (Source: TVGuide.com)
Charlotte: "I can't even go to Barbados without people wanting to hug me and 'Oh, Mrs. Garrett!' You know, it [The Facts of Life] really had an impact on their lives." (Source: USIMDB.com)