Charlotte Rae

Charlotte Rae
Charlotte Rae

Rae at the 1988 Emmy Awards
Born Charlotte Rae Lubotsky
April 22, 1926 (1926-04-22) (age 85)
Milwaukee, Wisconsin, U.S.
Occupation Actress, singer, dancer
Years active 1952–present

Charlotte Rae (born April 22, 1926) is a prolific American character actress of stage, comedienne, 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 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 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.


Early life

She 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.[1][2] She had two sisters (Miriam, a pianist, writer, and composer, and Beverly, an opera singer), and graduated from Shorewood High School in 1944.[3] At the same high school where Charlotte attended, she had a best friend simply called "Natalie," (whom she created the character for future co-star, Mindy Cohn, to play on The Facts of Life). For the first ten years of her life, Rae's family lived in Milwaukee, after which they moved to Shorewood, Wisconsin, not that far from where she was born. 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, where she met Cloris Leachman, who would not just become best friends for life, but roommates, who in turn replaced Rae on The Facts of Life, for the last 2 seasons.[4] At the same college, she also met several unknown stars and producers such as: Agnes Nixon, Charlton Heston, Paul Lynde, and songwriter, Sheldon Harnick. Rae sang to honour Harnick at a benefit, years after her days in college. Each summer, while attending college, she also appeared its annual student theatrical extravaganza, the Waa-Mu Show. She also did some stock before she became an actress.

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 in the theater and nightclubs. During her early years in New York, she worked at the Village Vanguard (alongside up-and-coming talents such as singer Richard Dyer-Bennett) and at the posh Blue Angel, home to budding talents Barbra Streisand, Mike Nichols and Elaine May. She moved to Los Angeles in 1974.

Popular 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.

Rae received 2 Tony Award nominations during her Broadway career. The first in 1966 for Best Featured Actress in a Musical in 'Pickwick' (losing to Bea Arthur from 'Mame'). The second came in 1969 for Best Actress in a play for 'Morning, Noon and Night' (losing to Julie Harris in 'Forty Carats').

Popular character actress

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 Colgate Comedy Hour (where she first became friends with a unknown producer Norman Lear), 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.

TV roles

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 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.[5]

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 housekeeper 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, 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, cerebral 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. Midway throughout both the 1984-85 and 1985-86 seasons, she missed several episodes, all because she was planning on leaving the show, while at the same time, the storylines focused more on the girls, in lieu of Mrs. Garrett. At the beginning of the eighth 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 209 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 another unfamiliar star, Nancy McKeon as the tomboy Jo, who stayed on for the entire run. During the show's seventh season, two new stars, George Clooney and Mackenzie Astin, joined the cast. During the show's first season, the entire cast didn't get along with Rae, by the time the second season was renewed after 5 actors were fired, when Nancy was brought in as the only replacement girl, the entire cast actually had a lot of fun, esp. Cohn.

During the show's eight season run, while Rae was playing her role for 7 of 9 seasons, she was nominated only once for an Emmy Award for Outstanding Lead Actress in a Comedy Series in 1982, but didn't win.

Mindy Cohn who said about being hired to playing Natalie, after Charlotte talked her into it was, "The next day, I get a call from the Headmasters’ office and saying, ‘These people want to talk to you,’ and Charlotte said, ‘I’m falling madly in love with you, I want to create a role for you on the show. We’re going to call you [Natalie], and do you want to do this?’ And I was like, ‘I don’t know! I mean 8th grade lady, what do I know? Is this going to mess up with my tennis team schedule, you know?’" The last thing Cohn responded as to why Charlotte Rae really wanting to leave the show was, "One of the reasons she left was because this show is really started to focused on the girls, the pull of the show started to be different of her, she sorta felt like ‘I’m done!’" Rae and Cohn are currently close friends with the other cast. Beverly Ann's (Charlotte's real-life sister, who named Cloris Leachman's character on The Facts of Life, after her) death in 1998, obviously drew the relationship real closer between Rae, Cohn, amongst other cast members, this was years before John's (Charlotte's real-life ex-husband) death in 2011, which also drew the relationship real-closer, a second time. In 2001, Cohn, Rae, and other cast members 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. On April 19, 2011, the entire cast (esp. Cohn) were reunited - a second time, to attend the TV Land Awards, where the show was Nominated and won the Award for Pop Culture Icon. That same day, both Nancy McKeon & Kim Fields (who played Jo & Tootie respectively) also gave out a speech in honor of her 85th Birthday. The cast was did the same on ABC's Good Morning America, where at the end of the segment, reporter, Cynthia McFadden wished Charlotte a very Happy 85th Birthday. In honor of her big birthday, the entire cast sang the show's theme song.

Other roles

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 1987, Charlotte was a judge together with Isabel Sanford during the Miss Universe 1987 Pageant held in Singapore.

In 1993, she was the voice of Aunt Pristine 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.

On January 31st, 2011 she starred as the woman who made mysterious beaded bracelets on "Pretty Little Liars" episode 1.15.


Her hobbies also included: golfing, dancing, dining, taking spending time with her family, taking care of people (especially her son) with disabilities and sewing. She also did a lot of singing, esp. to the theme song on the 1st season of The Facts of Life.

Personal life

She married composer John Strauss on November 4, 1951, had two sons, and divorced in 1976. She has three grandchildren. One of her sons is autistic. In 2011, ex-husband, John Strauss, died after a long battle of Parkinson's Disease.[6]

In 1982, Rae went to the hospital for the doctors to place a pacemaker in her heart.

In 2009, due to the fact pancreatic cancer occured frequently in her family, Rae was screen and diagnosed for the disease, even though she showed no symptoms. Her mother, uncle, and in 1998, her older sister Beverly, who was an opera singer, all died of the same disease. Rae's cancer was detected early and is now cancer-free, as of 2011.[7]


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.

Rae received 2 Tony Award nominations during her Broadway career. The first in 1966 for Best Featured Actress in a Musical in 'Pickwick'.[8] The second came in 1969 for Best Actress in a play for 'Morning, Noon and Night'.[9] She also received two Emmy Nominations for her work on TV. The first in 1975 for Best Supporting Actress in a TV movie for he performance in 'The Queen of the Stardust Ballroom'. She also received a nomination for her work on The Facts of Life, Best Actress in a Comedy Series, in 1982.

On April 19, 2011, Rae and some of the Facts of Life cast (Mindy Cohn, Lisa Whelchel and Kim Fields) had won the TV Land Award where The Facts of Life was nominated for Pop Culture Icon, this was done before the entire cast threw Rae an 85th Birthday Party.



External links

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Look at other dictionaries:

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