Charlotte Rae

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Charlotte Rae
Charlotte Rae at the 1988 Emmy Awards cropped.jpg
Rae at the 1988 Emmy Awards.
Born Charlotte Rae Lubotsky
(1926-04-22) April 22, 1926 (age 89)
Milwaukee, Wisconsin, U.S.
Nationality American
Occupation Actress, singer, dancer, comedienne
Years active 1954–present
Known for Edna GarrettDiff'rent Strokes
The Facts of Life
Spouse(s) John Strauss (m. 1951–76)
Children 2

Charlotte Rae (born Charlotte Rae Lubotsky; April 22, 1926) is an American character actress of stage, comedienne, singer and dancer whose career spans six decades.

Rae is best 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 1979–1986). She received the 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 voiced the character of "Nanny" in 101 Dalmatians: The Series. She also appeared as Gammy Hart in Girl Meets World.

In 2015, she returned to the silver screen in the feature film Ricki and the Flash, with Meryl Streep, Kevin Kline, and Rick Springfield. In November 2015, Charlotte released her new autobiography, The Facts of My Life, which was co-written with her son, Larry Strauss.

Early life[edit]

She was born as Charlotte Rae Lubotsky on April 22, 1926, in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, to Russian Jewish immigrants Esther (née Ottenstein), who was a childhood friend of Israeli Prime Minister Golda Meir, and Meyer Lubotsky, a retail tire business owner.[1][2] She is one of three sisters, along with Miriam and the late Beverly (December 21, 1921 – June 2, 1998).[3]

She graduated from Shorewood High School in 1944.[4] For the first ten years or so of her life, Rae's family lived in Milwaukee, then moved to Shorewood, Wisconsin. She did 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 would eventually direct The Music Man on Broadway.

Rae attended Northwestern University, although she did not complete her studies, where she met Cloris Leachman, who many years later succeeded Rae on The Facts of Life for the show's last two seasons.[5] At Northwestern she met several unknown stars and producers, including Agnes Nixon, Charlton Heston, Paul Lynde, Gerald Freedman, Claude Akins and songwriter Sheldon Harnick. When a radio personality told her that her last name wouldn't do, she dropped it, to her father's chagrin.[citation needed] 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-Bennet) and at the posh Blue Angel, home to budding talents Barbra Streisand, Mike Nichols and Elaine May. She moved to Los Angeles in 1974.[citation needed]

Stage actress and singer[edit]

A stage actress since the 1950s, she appeared in Three Wishes for Jamie, The Threepenny Opera, 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 Sheldon Harnick, Vernon Duke, John La Touche, Cole Porter, Rodgers & Hart, and Marc Blitzstein (who reportedly wrote the song "Modest Maid" especially for Rae), among others.[citation needed]

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 & Lee Adams ("Spring Doth Let Her Colours Fly"), a parody of opera singer Helen Traubel's Las Vegas night club act), among others. Rae would later record 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 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.[citation needed]

Character actress[edit]

In 1954, Rae 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, The DuPont Show of the Week, The Phil Silvers Show, Car 54, Where Are You?, 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, All in the Family and Good Times. In 1993, Rae voiced the character "Aunt Pristine Figg" in Tom and Jerry: The Movie.[citation needed]

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 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 in the Life episode "I Heart Mom".


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). 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 early seasons of Sesame Street as Molly the Mail Lady.

Diff'rent Strokes and The Facts of Life[edit]

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. 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 a fictional school called Eastland. In July 1979, Rae proposed the idea for the spinoff. NBC approved the show, to be called The Facts of Life, which would portray a housemother in a prestigious private school and dealt with such issues facing teenagers as weight issues, depression, drugs, alcohol, and dating.

Rae said in a 2015 interview with Entertainment Tonight, about The Facts of Life series that had an off-stage scale to weigh the girls, when the pressure had the opposite effect that 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."[6]

After working as a character actress/comedienne in supporting roles or in guest shots on television series and specials, The Facts Of Life gave Rae not only her best-known role but it finally made her a television star. The role of Edna Garrett was the unifying center of attention of the program as well as a warm, motherly figure for the girls.

The Facts of Life had marginal ratings at first but after a major restructuring and time change, the show became a ratings winner between 1980 and 1986. Midway throughout both the 1984-85 and 1985-86 seasons, she missed several episodes because she was planning on leaving the show, and the story lines focused more on the other characters. At the beginning of the eighth season, Rae left the show and Cloris Leachman was then brought in as Mrs. Garrett's sister, Beverly Ann Stickle, for the show's last two years. The part of Beverly was quite similar to Leachman's character of Phyllis Lindstrom on The Mary Tyler Moore Show and Phyllis from the 1970s. Unfortunately, the character of Beverly was not as popular with viewers as Mrs. Garrett had been. Nevertheless, Leachman remained with the show until it was canceled in 1988.

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. 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 & Tootie, respectively) also 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.[7]

Personal life[edit]

Rae in 2012

She married composer John Strauss on November 4, 1951.[1] In the mid 1970s he came out as bisexual and the couple divorced in 1976.[8] Strauss died in 2011 at age 90 following a long battle with Parkinson's disease.[9] The couple had two sons,[10] Larry[11] and Andrew.[12]

Health issues[edit]

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 died of the disease. Rae is cancer-free.[13]


Rae received two Tony Award nominations during her Broadway career. The first in 1966 for Best Featured Actress in a Musical in Pickwick.[14] The second came in 1969 for Best Actress in a play for Morning, Noon and Night.[15] She has also received Emmy nominations.

Selected filmography[edit]


  1. ^ a b "Charlotte Rae Biography (1926-)". Retrieved January 21, 2013. 
  2. ^ "TV icon brings cabaret act to town". 2007-11-21. Retrieved 2015-08-05. 
  3. ^ Notice of death of Rae's brother-in-law, Dr. Jules Levin, the widower of her elder sister, Beverly.
  4. ^ Auer, James. "Actress returning here for class reunion", Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, September 21, 1994. Accessed September 17, 2007.
  5. ^ "Charlotte Rae curriculum vitae". Retrieved 2015-08-05. 
  6. ^ "Charlotte Rae Opens Up About Body Shaming on 'Facts of Life' Set, Ex-Husband's Bisexuality". 2015-10-14. Retrieved November 10, 2015. 
  7. ^ "'The Facts of Life' Cast Reunites on 'GMA' (04.12.11)". April 12, 2011. 
  8. ^ Ravitz, Justin (2013-01-21). "Charlotte Rae, Facts of Life Star: My Husband Was Gay, Cheated on Me - Us Weekly". Retrieved 2015-08-05. 
  9. ^ Propst, Andy (February 17, 2011). "Composer and Sound Editor John Strauss Dies at 90". Retrieved January 21, 2013. 
  10. ^ Buck, Jerry (April 12, 1982). "Paul Lynde Helped Charlotte Rae". Associated Press via The Free Lance-Star. Retrieved January 21, 2013. Miss Rae, the divorced mother of two grown sons.... 
  11. ^ Fox, Margalit (2011-02-17). "John Strauss, Composer of ‘Car 54' Theme, Dies at 90". The New York Times. Retrieved 2011-02-24. 
  12. ^ "Charlotte Rae: Biography". Retrieved January 21, 2013. 
  13. ^ Video on YouTube
  14. ^ Zolotow, Sam (May 31, 1966). "NOMINEES LISTED FOR TONY AWARDS". The New York Times. Retrieved November 8, 2011. 
  15. ^ Zolotow, Sam (March 18, 1969). "2 Musicals Get 8 Nominations For Tony Prizes". The New York Times. Retrieved November 8, 2011. 

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