Charlotte Rae in 2012
Charlotte Rae Lubotsky
April 22, 1926, Milwaukee, Wisconsin, U.S.
Actress, singer, dancer
In her six decades of television she 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 Primetime Emmy Award nomination for Best Actress 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.
Stage actress and singer
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 1960, she appeared in a commercial for the National Oil Fuel Institute in which, while taking a shower, she explained how wonderful Heating oil|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.
Diff'rent Strokes & The Facts of Life
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, 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.
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 had a pacemaker implanted in her heart. In 2009, due to the frequency of pancreatic cancer in her own family, Rae was screened and diagnosed early. Her mother, an uncle, and her elder sister Beverly all reportedly died of the disease. Rae is cancer-free and in remission as of 2013.
- 1954: The United States Steel Hour .... Ramona (1 episode, 1954)
- 1954: Armstrong Circle Theatre (1 episode, 1954)
- 1955: Kraft Television Theatre (1 episode, 1955)
- 1955: NBC Television Opera Theatre .... Mariella (1 episode, 1955)
- 1955: Appointment with Adventure (1 episode, 1955)
- 1955: The Phil Silvers Show .... Flossie (2 episodes, 1955–1958)
- 1955: The Philco Television Playhouse (1 episode, 1955)
- 1961: Way Out .... Hazel Atterbury (1 episode, 1961)
- 1961: From These Roots (TV series) .... Hilda Furman (1961)
- 1961: Car 54, Where Are You? .... Sylvia Schnauser (8 episodes, 1961–1963)
- 1964: The Defenders .... Mrs. Abeles (1 episode, 1964)
- 1968: Hallmark Hall of Fame Pinocchio
- 1969: Hello Down There .... Myrtle Ruth
- 1970: Jenny .... Bella Star
- 1971: Bananas .... Mrs. Mellish
- 1971: NET Playhouse .... (segment "Foul!") (1 episode, 1971)
- 1972: The Hot Rock .... Ma Murch
- 1972: Sesame Street .... Molly ... (8 episodes, 1971–1972)
- 1972: Temperatures Rising .... Mrs. Moscowitz (1 episode, 1972)
- 1972: The Partridge Family .... Dr. Beecher (1 episode, 1972)
- 1972: McMillan & Wife .... Mrs. Drake (1 episode, 1972)
- 1972: Love, American Style .... (segment "Love and the Clinic") (1 episode, 1972)
- 1972: The Paul Lynde Show .... Aunt Charlotte (2 episodes, 1972)
- 1974: All in the Family .... Miss Lillian Henderson (1 episode, 1974)
- 1974: Good Times .... Ms. Rogers (1 episode, 1974)
- 1975: Queen of the Stardust Ballroom (TV) .... Helen
- 1975: Hot l Baltimore .... Mrs. Bellotti (13 episodes, 1975)
- 1975: Phyllis .... Shirley (1 episode, 1975)
- 1976: Barney Miller .... Mrs. Rebecca Sobel (1 episode, 1976)
- 1976: The Rich Little Show TV series (unknown number of episodes)
- 1976: All's Fair .... Madge (1 episode, 1976)
- 1978: Szysznyk .... Mrs. Dinsmore (1 episode, 1978)
- 1978: Rabbit Test .... Cousin Claire
- 1978: Family .... Nurse Rondo (1 episode, 1978)
- 1978: Diff'rent Strokes .... Edna Garrett (41 episodes, 1978–1984)
- 1979: Beane's of Boston (TV) .... Mrs. Slocombe
- 1979: Hair .... Lady in Pink
- 1979: The Triangle Factory Fire Scandal (TV) .... Bessie
- 1979: The Facts of Life .... Edna Garrett (145 episodes, 1979–1986)
- 1982: The Love Boat .... Ellen van Bowe (4 episodes, 1982–1985)
- 1985: WonderWorks: Words by Heart (TV) .... Mary Tom Chism
- 1986: The Worst Witch (TV) .... Miss Cackle/Agatha
- 1987: St. Elsewhere .... Proud Mary (1 episode, 1987)
- 1987: Murder, She Wrote .... Nettie Harper (1 episode, 1987)
- 1989: 227 .... Millie McMillan (1 episode, 1989)
- 1991: Baby Talk .... Aunt Beverly (1 episode, 1991)
- 1992: Tom and Jerry: The Movie (voice) .... Aunt Pristine Figg
- 1993: Thunder in Paradise (V) .... Lola Miller
- 1994: Itsy Bitsy Spider TV series .... Adrian
- 1994: Thunder in Paradise .... Lola (1 episode, 1994)
- 1994: Sisters .... Mrs. Gump (3 episodes, 1994–1995)
- 1995: Can't Hurry Love .... Helen (1 episode, 1995)
- 1996: The Secret World of Alex Mack .... Dave's Mother (1 episode, 1996)
- 1997: Nowhere .... Fortune Teller
- 1997: 101 Dalmatians: The Series .... Nanny (43 episodes, 1997–1998)
- 1999: Crime in Connecticut: The Story of Alex Kelly (TV)
- 2000: Diagnosis: Murder .... Estelle (1 episode, 2000)
- 2001: The Facts of Life Reunion (TV) .... Mrs. Edna Garrett
- 2004: Strong Medicine .... Maude (1 episode, 2004)
- 2005: The King of Queens .... Betty (1 episode, 2005)
- 2008: You Don't Mess with the Zohan .... Mrs. Greenhouse
- 2008: Thomas Kinkade's Home for Christmas (V) .... Vesta
- 2008: ER .... Roxanne Gaines (4 episodes, 2008)
- 2009: Life .... Mary Ford (1 episode, 2009)
- 2011: Pretty Little Liars .... Bead shop woman (1 episode, 2010)
- 2012: Love Sick Love .... Edna
Rae received two Tony Award nominations during her Broadway career. The first in 1966 for Best Featured Actress in a Musical in Pickwick. The second came in 1969 for Best Actress in a play for Morning, Noon and Night. She has also received Emmy nominations.
- ^ Charlotte Rae Biography (1926-)
- ^ j. - Rae of sunshine: TV icon brings cabaret act to town
- ^ Auer, James. "Actress returning here for class reunion", Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, September 21, 1994. Accessed September 17, 2007.
- ^ 1960 National Oil Fuel Institute – Classic Charlotte Rae TV Commercial.
- ^ a b http://Silveropossum.homestead.com/CharlotteRae