Charlotte Rae Lubotsky
April 22, 1926
Milwaukee, Wisconsin, U.S.
|Died||August 5, 2018 (aged 92)|
Los Angeles, California, U.S.
|Known for||Edna Garrett – Diff'rent Strokes|
The Facts of Life
(m. 1951; div. 1976)
Charlotte Rae Lubotsky (April 22, 1926 – August 5, 2018) was an American character actress and singer whose career spanned six decades.
Rae was known for her portrayal of Edna Garrett in the sitcoms Diff'rent Strokes and its spin-off, The Facts of Life (in which she had the starring role from 1979 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 films: The Facts of Life Goes to Paris in 1982 and The Facts of Life Reunion in 2001. She voiced the character of "Nanny" in 101 Dalmatians: The Series and Aunt Pristine Figg in Tom and Jerry: The Movie. She also appeared as Gammy Hart in Girl Meets World.
In 2015, she returned to film in the feature film Ricki and the Flash, with Meryl Streep, Kevin Kline, and Rick Springfield. In November 2015, Rae released her autobiography, The Facts of My Life, which was co-written with her son, Larry Strauss.
Charlotte Rae Lubotsky was born April 22, 1926, in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. Her parents, Esther (née Ottenstein) and Meyer Lubotsky, were Russian Jewish immigrants. Mr. Lubotsky was a retail tire business owner. Rae's mother, Esther Lubotsky, had been childhood friends with Israeli Prime Minister Golda Meir. Rae was the second of three sisters, in between Beverly and Miriam (called "Mimi"). For the first ten years of her life, Rae's family lived in an apartment built for them above her father's Milwaukee tire store. In 1936, her parents purchased a home for the family in nearby Shorewood, Wisconsin. She graduated from Shorewood High School in 1944.
Rae attended Northwestern University, although she did not complete her studies. While there, she met friend Cloris Leachman. Many years later, Leachman succeeded Rae on The Facts of Life for the show's last two seasons. At Northwestern she met several then unknown stars and producers, including Agnes Nixon, Charlton Heston, Paul Lynde, Gerald Freedman, Claude Akins and songwriter Sheldon Harnick. In a 2016 interview with Milwaukee Talks, she said about her decision in appearing in only dramatic television: "When I started out, I wanted to be a serious actor, I never thought I'd get into comedy." When a radio personality told her that her last name would not do, she dropped it, to her father's chagrin.
In 1954, Rae made her TV debut on episodes of Look Up and Live and The United States Steel Hour. This led to roles on other similar variety shows such as Armstrong Circle Theatre, Kraft Television Theatre, NBC Television Opera Theatre, The Philco Television Playhouse, The Colgate Comedy Hour, The DuPont Show of the Week, and The Phil Silvers Show.
Her first significant success was on the sitcom Car 54, Where Are You? (1961–1963), in which she played Sylvia Schnauzer, the wife of Officer Leo Schnauzer (played by Al Lewis). This was followed by roles in 'Way Out; The Defenders; Temperatures Rising; The Love Boat; The Partridge Family; Love, American Style; McMillan & Wife; Barney Miller; Phyllis; 227; Murder, She Wrote; St. Elsewhere; Diagnosis: Murder; All in the Family; and Good Times. 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 Norman Lear's ABC television comedy Hot l Baltimore, wherein she played Mrs. Bellotti, whose dysfunctional adult son Moose, who was never actually seen, lived at the "hot l" (the "E" on the hotel's neon sign was burnt out). 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 an early season of Sesame Street as Molly the Mail Lady.
Rae was a regular on the Rich Little Show, a variety show that ran for 11 episodes in 1976.
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 (in addition to Hot l Baltimore, she also appeared in a 1974 episode of All in the Family) he hired her immediately for the role of housekeeper Edna Garrett, and she co-starred with Conrad Bain in all 24 episodes of the first season. In "The Girls' School" episode, Mrs. Garrett is asked to help out at Kimberly Drummond's (actress Dana Plato) private school for girls called East Lake (later changed to Eastland). At the end of the episode, Mrs. Garrett decides to return to her housekeeping job at the Drummond residence.
In July 1979, Rae proposed the idea for a spinoff based on "The Girls' School" episode from Diff'rent Strokes. NBC approved the show, to be called The Facts of Life, which would portray a housekeeper turned housemother for boarding students in a prestigious private school. The program would deal with issues facing teenagers such as weight gain and dieting, depression, drugs, alcohol, and dating. Rae had a stipulation written into her contract that said she could return to Diff'rent Strokes if the new spinoff was not successful.
After working as a character actress/comedienne in supporting roles or in guest shots on television series and specials, The Facts of Life not only gave Rae her best-known role but also finally made her a television star.
The Facts of Life had marginal ratings at first, but after a major restructuring including some cast alterations, plus a time change for the second season, the show became a ratings winner between 1980 and 1986. Between the first and second seasons, Rae went on a very stringent diet and at the start of the second season had lost an enormous amount of weight. As a result, it was briefly mentioned in the second-season premiere two-part episode "The New Girl" and in the sixth installment "Shoplifting" that Rae's character of Mrs. Garrett had also gone on a diet and lost weight. As the seasons passed, the show's success and Rae's popularity continued to grow. In 1982, Rae received an Emmy Award nomination for Best Actress in a Comedy Series for her role as Edna Garrett in The Facts of Life. However, midway through both the 1984–85 and 1985–86 seasons, the series was undergoing a gradual transition. It was at this time that Rae's appearances on the show were reduced at her request, and as a result, she was not seen in several episodes. The reason for this was that Rae felt that the girls' characters were maturing and not requiring as much of Mrs. Garrett's rearing and advice.
Towards the end of the seventh season, Rae began to contemplate leaving the series. She wanted to spend more time doing theater as well as do some traveling. The producers of the show tried to persuade Rae to continue with The Facts of Life for at least another two years, but she felt her time on the program had run its course and decided to leave at the end of the 1985–86 season. Academy and Emmy Award-winning actress Cloris Leachman was signed as her replacement. In order to help with the transition, Rae agreed to make her last appearance on the show in the two-part eighth-season premiere "Out of Peekskill". In that episode, Edna Garrett would marry, leave Peekskill with her new husband (played by Robert Mandan), and they both would move to Africa to work in the Peace Corps. In that same installment, Leachman would be introduced as Mrs. Garrett's sister, Beverly Ann Stickle, who would attend the wedding, and then with Mrs. Garrett's departure, she would then take over as a mother figure and friend for the girls. Rae and Leachman were very good friends having known each other since they were students at Northwestern University. Leachman inherited Rae's top billing in the cast and her character remained for the show's last two years. The part of Beverly Ann was quite similar to Leachman's character of Phyllis Lindstrom on The Mary Tyler Moore Show and Phyllis from the 1970s. The cast change from Rae to Leachman did not seriously affect viewership. The series continued to garner healthy ratings until it ended in the spring of 1988. NBC wanted to renew the show for a tenth season, but cast members Nancy McKeon and Mindy Cohn wanted to move on to other things.
After her departure from The Facts of Life, Rae still kept busy acting. In 1993, she voiced the villainess, Aunt Pristine Figg, in Tom and Jerry: The Movie. In 2000, she starred as Berthe in the Paper Mill Playhouse production of Pippin.
In 2001, Rae, Lisa Whelchel, Mindy Cohn, and Kim Fields were reunited in a TV movie, The Facts of Life Reunion. In 2007, the entire cast was invited to attend the TV Land Awards where several members of the cast, including Rae, sang the show's theme song.
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 had 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 in the Life episode "I Heart Mom".
In a 2015 interview with Entertainment Tonight, Rae said that The Facts of Life series had an off-stage scale to weigh the girls, but that the pressure had the opposite effect producers were hoping for; "The more they tried to pressure them and weigh them and threaten them, the more they would eat. It's not the way you handle adolescence. You don't do that."
On April 19, 2011, the entire cast was reunited again to attend the TV Land Awards, where the show was nominated and won the award for Pop Culture Icon. The same day, Nancy McKeon and Kim Fields (who played Jo and Tootie, respectively) gave a speech in honor of her 85th birthday. The cast did likewise on ABC's Good Morning America, where at the end of the segment, reporter Cynthia McFadden wished Rae a happy birthday, and the cast sang the show's theme song.
In 1955, she released her first (and only) solo album, Songs I Taught My Mother, which featured "silly, sinful, and satirical" songs by Sheldon Harnick, Vernon Duke, John La Touche, Cole Porter, Rodgers & Hart and Marc Blitzstein, among others.
She appeared in Ben Bagley's revue The Littlest Revue (and on its cast album) in 1956, appearing alongside Joel Grey and Tammy Grimes, among others, and singing songs by Sheldon Harnick ("The Shape of Things"), Vernon Duke ("Summer is a-Comin' In"), and Charles Strouse and Lee Adams ("Spring Doth Let Her Colours Fly"), a parody of opera singer Helen Traubel's Las Vegas night club act, among others.
Rae later recorded Rodgers & Hart Revisited with Dorothy Loudon, Cy Young, and Arthur Siegel, singing "Everybody Loves You (When You Sleep)" and in several other duets and ensembles for Bagley's studio. Rae received two Tony Award nominations during her Broadway career. The first was 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.
A stage actress since the 1950s, she appeared on Broadway in Three Wishes for Jamie (1952), The Threepenny Opera (1954), Li'l Abner (1956) and Pickwick (1965), among others. In 1973, Rae played the role of Southern Comfort in Terrence McNally's spoof Whiskey at Saint Clements' Theatre Off-Broadway. She appeared in The Vagina Monologues Off-Broadway in 1999.
Rae married composer John Strauss on November 4, 1951. In the mid-1970s, he came out as bisexual, and the couple divorced in 1976. Strauss died in 2011 at age 90 following a long battle with Parkinson's disease. Rae had two sons with Strauss: Lawrence, a high school teacher, and his older brother Andrew (1955–1999). Andy was autistic and suffered from epilepsy.
Rae joined Alcoholics Anonymous in the early 1970s. The organization became an important part of her personal life.
In 1982, Rae had a pacemaker implanted. With periodic alterations, the same pacemaker worked for over 30 years, but it stopped abruptly several years before her death. Her heart rate was around 35 beats per minute prior to entering emergency surgery to install a new pacemaker. The old pacemaker was left in place on the left side of her chest and the new, smaller pacemaker was placed on the right side. It functioned well until her death. In addition to pacemaker replacement, Rae had open-heart surgery to replace her mitral valve with a mechanical equivalent. Her left carotid artery was cleared of blockage as well.
In 2009, due to the frequency of pancreatic cancer in her own family, Rae was screened, diagnosed early, and became cancer-free after six months of chemotherapy. Her mother, an uncle, and her elder sister Beverly all reportedly died from pancreatic cancer. In 2017, aged 91, she was, however, diagnosed with bone cancer.
Rae died at her home in Los Angeles, California, on August 5, 2018. She was 92 years old.
|1969||Hello Down There||Myrtle Ruth|||
|1972||The Hot Rock||Ma Murch|||
|1977||Sidewinder 1||Mrs. Holt|||
|1978||Rabbit Test||Cousin Claire|||
|1979||Hair||Edin the Lady in Pink|||
|1986||The Greatest Adventure: Stories from the Bible||Noah's Wife Christine||Short film: "Noah's Ark"; voice|
|1992||Tom and Jerry: The Movie||Aunt Pristine Figg||Voice|
|1993||Thunder in Paradise||Lola Miller||Direct to video|
|1997||Nowhere||Madame Maude Rae|||
|2000||The Tangerine Bear: Home in Time for Christmas||Mrs. Edna Caruthers||Voice; direct to video|
|2008||You Don't Mess with the Zohan||Mrs. Ruthie Greenhouse|
|2012||Love Sick Love||Edna|
|2015||Ricki and the Flash||Oma|||
|2016||Norman Lear: Just Another Version of You||Herself||Documentary|
|2018||Broadway: Beyond the Golden Age||Herself||Documentary|
|1954||The United States Steel Hour||Ramona|
|1954–55||Armstrong Circle Theatre||Mrs. Ogburn / Party Snob||2 episodes|
|1955||Kraft Television Theatre|
|1955||NBC Television Opera Theatre||Mariella|
|1955||Appointment with Adventure||Beverly|
|1955||The Philco Television Playhouse|
|1955–58||The Phil Silvers Show||Flossie / Mrs. Whitney||2 episodes|
|1958||DuPont Show of the Month||Myrtle May|||
|1959||The World of Sholom Aleichem||Television film|
|1959||Play of the Week||The Angel Rochele|
|1961||Way Out||Hazel Atterbury|
|1961||From These Roots||Hilda Furman||Unknown episodes|
|1961–63||Car 54, Where Are You?||Sylvia Schnauser / Miss Berger||11 episodes|
Recurring role (Season 1–2)
|1963||Look Up and Live|
|1964||The Defenders||Mrs. Abeles|
|1966||The Journey of the Fifth Horse||Terentievna||Television film|
|1966–69||New York Television Theatre||Various roles||3 episodes|
|1968||Pinocchio||Rosa Whale||Television film|
|1970||NET Playhouse||Episode: "Foul!"|
|1971–72||Sesame Street||Molly the Mail Lady||Main role (Season 3)|
|1972||Temperatures Rising||Mrs. Moscowitz|
|1972||The Partridge Family||Dr. Beecher||Episode: "You're Only Young Twice"|
|1972||McMillan & Wife||Mrs. Drake|
|1972||Love, American Style||Edna Albertson||Segment: "Love and the Clinic"|
|1972||The Paul Lynde Show||Aunt Charlotte||2 episodes|
|1974||Great Performances||Madame Aigreville|
|1974||All in the Family||Miss Lillian Henderson||Episode: "Where's Archie?"|
|1974||Good Times||Ms. Rogers||Episode: "Florida's Big Gig"|
|1975||Queen of the Stardust Ballroom||Helen||Television film|
|1975||Hot l Baltimore||Mrs. Bellotti||13 episodes|
Main cast (Season 1)
|1975||Phyllis||Shirley||Episode: "So Lonely I Could Cry"|
|1976||Barney Miller||Mrs. Rebecca Sobel||Episode: "The Sniper"|
|1976||The Rich Little Show||Herself||11 episodes|
|1977||Our Town||Mrs. Soames||Television film|
|1978||Family||Nurse Rondo||Episode: "Magic"|
|1978||The Eddie Capra Mysteries||Polly|
|1978||Flying High||Woman||Episode: "Fun Flight"|
|1978–84||Diff'rent Strokes||Edna Garrett||37 episodes|
Main cast (season 1–2); guest star (Season 6)
|1979||Beane's of Boston||Mrs. Slocombe||Episode: "Pilot"|
|1979||The Triangle Factory Fire Scandal||Bessie||Television film|
|1979||Hello, Larry||Edna Garrett||3 episodes|
|1979–86||The Facts of Life||155 episodes|
Lead role (Season 1–7); guest star (Season 8)
|1982–85||The Love Boat||Ellen van Bowe||4 episodes|
|1982||The Facts of Life Goes to Paris||Mrs. Edna Garrett||Television film|
|1983||Rosie||Aunt Gillian||Episode: "Guess Who's Coming to Dinner?"|
|1985||WonderWorks: Words by Heart||Mary Tom Chism|
|1986||The Worst Witch||Miss Cackle/Agatha||Television film|
|1987||St. Elsewhere||Proud Mary||Episode: "You Again?"|
|1987||Murder, She Wrote||Nettie Harper||Episode: "Doom with a View"|
|1988||Save the Dog||Voice role; Television film|
|1989||227||Millie McMillan||Episode: "Reunion Blues"|
|1991||Baby Talk||Aunt Beverly||Episode: "Once in Love with Cecil"|
|1994–95||Itsy Bitsy Spider||Adrienne Van Leydon||26 episodes|
Voice role; main cast (Season 1–2)
|1994||Thunder in Paradise||Lola||2 episodes|
|1994–95||Sisters||Mrs. Gump||3 episodes|
|1995||Mickey: Reelin' Through the Years||Television film|
|1995||Can't Hurry Love||Helen||Episode: "Burning Bed"|
|1996||The Secret World of Alex Mack||Dave's Mother|
|1997–98||101 Dalmatians: The Series||Nanny||43 episodes|
Voice role (Season 1–2)
|1999||The Brothers Flub||Tarara Boomdeyay||Voice role|
|2000||Diagnosis: Murder||Estelle||Episode: "A Resting Place"|
|2001||Another Woman's Husband||Stella||Television film|
|2001||The Facts of Life Reunion||Mrs. Edna Garrett||Television film|
|2005||The King of Queens||Betty|
|2008||ER||Roxanne Gaines||4 episodes|
|2011||Pretty Little Liars||Bead shop woman||Special guest star|
|2014||Girl Meets World||Gammy Hart||Episode: "Girl Meets World of Terror"|
|1952||Three Wishes for Jamie||Tirsa Shanahan||Plymouth Theatre|
|1954||Threepenny Opera||Mrs. Peachum||Theatre de Lys|
|1954||The Golden Apple||Mrs. Juniper||Alvin Theatre|
|1956||The Littlest Revue||Various||Phoenix Theatre|
|1956||Li'l Abner||Mammy Yokum||St. James Theatre|
|1962–63||The Beauty Part||Various||Music Box Theatre / Plymouth Theatre|
|1965||Pickwick||Mrs. Bardell||46th Street Theatre|
|1968–69||Morning, Noon and Night||Various||Henry Miller's Theatre|
|1970||The Chinese and Dr. Fish||Charlotte Mendelsohn||Ethel Barrymore Theatre|
|1971||Boom Boom Room||Helen||Vivian Beaumont Theatre|
|1989||Driving Miss Daisy||Miss Daisy||Chicago|
|1989||Into the Woods||Jack's Mother||Ahmanson Theatre|
|1990||Happy Days||Winnie||Mark Taper Forum|
|2000||Pippin||Berthe||Paper Mill Playhouse|
|2010||Red Dead Redemption||The Local Population|
|1966||Tony Award||Best Featured Actress||Pickwick||Nominated|
|1969||Tony Award||Best Actress||Morning, Noon and Night||Nominated|
|1975||Primetime Emmy Awards||Outstanding Single Performance by a Supporting Actress in a Comedy or Drama||Queen of the Stardust Ballroom||Nominated|
|1982||Primetime Emmy Awards||Outstanding Lead Actress in a Comedy Series||The Facts of Life||Nominated|
|2011||TV Land Awards||Pop Culture Award (shared with cast)||Won|
|2017||Looking Ahead Awards||The Shirley Temple Award||Herself||Won|
Miss Rae, the divorced mother of two grown sons...