Charlotte Rae, housemother on “The Facts of Life,” dead at 92

FAN Editor

LOS ANGELES — Charlotte Rae, who played a wise and patient housemother to a brood of teenage girls on the long-running sitcom “The Facts of Life” during a career that encompassed many other TV roles as well as stage and film appearances, has died. She was 92.

Rae died at her Los Angeles home Sunday, said her publicist, Harlan Boll. A cause of death was not immediately available, but Rae reportedly was diagnosed last year with bone cancer after beating pancreatic cancer.

She originated the character of Mrs. Garrett in 1978 during the first season of NBC’s comedy “Diff’rent Strokes,” then took Mrs. Garrett with her for the spinoff “Facts,” which premiered the following season.  Initially set at a girls’ boarding school, that NBC series ran for nine seasons. Rae left after its seventh year, however, explaining later, “I needed some time for the rest of my life.”

She earned an Emmy nomination for the part, and was a two-time Tony nominee for her work on Broadway.

Edna Garrett provided kind if sometimes wry counsel to her charges (played by young co-stars including Lisa Whelchel, Nancy McKeon and Molly Ringwald) on a series that was praised for dealing with such sensitive issues of teenhood as sex, drug use, eating disorders and peer pressure.


(Left to right) Actress Mindy Cohn, Geri Jewell, Lisa Whelchel, Charlotte Rae and Nancy McKeon at “The Facts of Life” 35th Anniversary Reunion at The Paley Center for Media on September 15, 2014 in Beverly Hills

Frederick M. Brown, Getty Images

“I wanted to bring in as much humanity as possible, as well as the humor,” Rae told The Associated Press early in the show’s run. “I don’t want her to be Polly Perfect, because she must have human failings and make mistakes.”

Rae landed the role after years of theater and television performances.

Her last feature film credit was “Ricki and the Flash” with Meryl Streep in 2015. That same year she released her autobiography “The Facts of My Life,” co-written by her son Larry Strauss.

Born Charlotte Rae Lubotsky in Milwaukee, on April 22, 1926, the daughter of Russian Jewish immigrants, she had studied drama at Northwestern University, then moved to New York where, despite early plans to be a “serious” actress, she quickly found work doing satirical sketches in Greenwich Village clubs.

It was there that Broadway producers, who frequented such bistros, discovered her, leading to her first Broadway musical, called “Three Wishes for Jamie,” in 1952. A few years later, she originated the role of Mammy Yokum in the Broadway musical “Li’l Abner.”

Rae made numerous TV appearances in 1950s drama anthologies including “The U.S. Steel Hour,” ”Playhouse 90″ and “Armstrong Circle Theater,” sharing the black-and-white screen with such actors as Zero Mostel, Art Carney and Gertrude Berg.

In 1961 she became a semi-regular on the New York-based cop sitcom “Car 54, Where Are You?” as the wife of the NYPD officer played by future “Munsters” grandpa Al Lewis.

She received Tony nominations in 1966 for “Pickwick” and in 1969 for “Morning, Noon and Night.”

In the early 1970s, Rae moved to Los Angeles with her then-husband, composer and music editor John Strauss, and their sons Andy and Larry. There she was cast in the short-lived Norman Lear sitcom “Hot L Baltimore” and a similarly unsuccessful variety show hosted by Rich Little before scoring “Diff’rent Strokes,” on which Mrs. Garrett was the family’s housekeeper.

After “Facts,” Rae stayed busy with film and stage appearances.

In 2005, at age 79, she appeared in a new comedy, “Leading Ladies,” at Ford’s Theater in Washington.

Subsequent credits include the 2008 comedy “You Don’t Mess with the Zohan” and the 2012 thriller “Love Sick Love.”

In 2013, Rae went public with an account of why her marriage to Strauss had ended in the mid-1970s after a quarter-century. She said he confessed to her that he was gay and had being having an affair with another man. Strauss died in 2011.

She is survived by her son Larry Strauss, sister Miriam Guten and three grandchildren. Her other son Andy Strauss died in 1999. Rae was divorced from John Strauss after 25 years of marriage.

Services were pending, Boll said.

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