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Remembering Charlotte Rae on what would have been her 95th birthday (LONG)
Posted by: bwaynut 09:43 pm EDT 04/22/21

Today it’s time to celebrate what would have been actor/singer Charlotte Rae’s 95th birthday. A Broadway staple of the 1950’s, Ms. Rae was lured to Hollywood to portray Sylvia Schnauzer in early TV’s “Car 54, Where Are You?” … and became most famous on the small screen as Mrs. Edna Garrett, first on “Different Strokes” and, then, on its spinoff, “The Facts of Life.” And yet, as a true person of the theater, she regularly returned to her theater roots for the rest of her life.

A fabulous comedienne, gifted with impeccable timing and hilarious facial expressions, Ms. Rae’s Broadway turns included Tirsa Shanahan in “Three Wishes for Jamie,” Mammy Yokum in “Li’l Abner,” and Mrs. Bardell in “Pickwick.” Her resume also included many plays including “The Beauty Part” (with Bert Lahr) and the now-classic show “The Golden Apple.”” Off-Broadway, she scored a triumph as Mrs. Peachum in the legendary cast of Kurt Weill’s “The Threepenny Opera,” which also starred Beatrice Arthur, Jo Sullivan, and William Duell. She also figured prominently in another cast that spawned many other theater regulars — “The Littlest Revue” — which launched the careers of Joel Grey and Tammy Grimes.

Switching from an operatic soprano (as in her one solo recording) to a comedic belt was a cinch for this versatile actress.

In addition, she would often star in the Musicals in Mufti and Encores! Series in such shows as “Plain and Fancy” and “70, Girls, 70.” At the Paper Mill Playhouse she played Berthe in “Pippin.” She was Jack’s Mother in the National Tour of “Into the Woods.” Early in her career, she performed Shakespeare at the Delacorte Theatre in productions of “Henry IV” and “Romeo and Juliet.” And, sadly, her outrageous turn as Mother Sweet in the pre-Broadway musical “Prettybelle,” starring Angela Lansbury, closed out-of-town.

In 2015, assisted by her son, Larry Strauss, Ms. Rae published her autobiography, entitled “The Facts of My Life.” Although I’ve purchased this book (BearManor Media), I have yet to dive in to savor the highlights of her life, replete with backstage stories and personal anecdotes. When I wrote for my copy, I explained that I was a lifelong fan. On the title page, her son Larry wrote the following: “Thanks so much for being a loyal fan of my mother, Charlotte Rae, especially of her stage work which she was most proud of. She always had a special place in her heart for fans like you. May her story bring a little light and inspiration to your 2021. As she always loved to say: ‘Onward and upward with the great adventure.’”

One of my all-time theatergoing highlights was to be in attendance at the benefit reunion of “The Threepenny Opera” in 2000 at the Theatre de Lys, featuring many of the original cast members. What an amazing, fun, nostalgic evening!

Today, I came across the article linked below and felt the need to share it with this post. Several members of Ms. Rae’s immediate family died from pancreatic cancer. Late in her own life, Ms. Rae battled and overcame both pancreatic and bone cancer. What an inspiration she was and remains. Thank goodness for her legacy, which lives on in cast albums, reruns, photographs, and in the words of her autobiography.

Happy birthday, Ms. Rae! You are loved, appreciated, and missed!
Link Remembering the Late, Great Charlotte Rae
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