Charlotte Rae

Charlotte Rae Lubotsky (April 22, 1926 – August 5, 2018), known professionally as Charlotte Rae, was an American character actress, comedian, and singer whose career spanned six decades.

Charlotte Rae
Charlotte Rae in 2012
Charlotte Rae Lubotsky

(1926-04-22)April 22, 1926
DiedAugust 5, 2018(2018-08-05) (aged 92)
Resting placeAshes scattered off Point Dume in Malibu, California
Alma mater
OccupationActress, singer, dancer, comedienne
Years active1952–2018
Known forEdna Garrett – Diff'rent Strokes
The Facts of Life
John Strauss
(m. 1951; div. 1976)

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 1979–1986). 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 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.

Early life

Charlotte Rae Lubotsky was born April 22, 1926, in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. Her parents, Esther (née Ottenstein; 1900–1971) and Meyer Lubotsky (1898–1956), 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.[1][2] Rae was the second of three sisters, in between Beverly (1921 1998) and Miriam (called "Mimi"; born 1930).[3][4] 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.[4] She graduated from Shorewood High School in 1944.[5] She did radio work and was with the Wauwatosa Children's Theatre. In 1942, at age 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. 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.[6] 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."[7] When a radio personality told her that her last name would not do, she dropped it, to her father's chagrin.[4]

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.

Stage actress and singer

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.[8]

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.[9]

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.[10]

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.[8]

In 1973, Rae played the role of Southern Comfort in Terrence McNally's spoof Whiskey at Saint Clements' Theatre Off-Broadway.[11] She appeared in The Vagina Monologues Off-Broadway in 1999.[12]

Television and film

In 1954, Rae made her TV debut on episodes of Look Up and Live[13] and The United States Steel Hour.[14] 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.

In 1993, Rae voiced the villain, Aunt Pristine Figg, in Tom and Jerry: The Movie.[15] 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 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".

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).[13] 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, 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.[4]

Diff'rent Strokes and 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 (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.[4]

In July 1979, Rae proposed the idea for a spinoff based on "The Girls' School" episode. 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 may return to Diff'rent Strokes if the new spinoff was not successful.[4]

After working as a character actress/comedian 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 for the second season, the show became a ratings winner between 1980 and 1986. Midway throughout both the 1984–85 and 1985-86 seasons, Rae missed several episodes because she requested her appearances be reduced. She felt the girls' characters were maturing and not requiring as much of Mrs. Garrett's rearing and advice. Rae began to contemplate leaving the series, as she felt her time on the show had run its course. She left at the beginning of the eighth season, and Cloris Leachman was then brought in as Mrs. Garrett's sister, Beverly Ann Stickle, for the show's last two years.[4] 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.

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."[16]

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) 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.[17]

Personal life

Rae married composer John Strauss on November 4, 1951.[1] In the mid 1970s, he came out as bisexual,[16] and the couple divorced in 1976.[18] Strauss died in 2011 at age 90 following a long battle with Parkinson's disease.[19] Rae had two sons with Strauss;[20] Lawrence, a high school teacher, and his older brother Andrew (called "Andy"; 1955 – 1999). Andy was autistic and suffered from epilepsy as well.[21][22][4]

Rae joined Alcoholics Anonymous in the early 1970s. The organization became an important part of her personal life.[4]

Health issues and death

In 1982, Rae had a pacemaker implanted. With periodic alterations, the same pacemaker worked over 30 years, but it stopped abruptly several years before Rae's 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.[4]

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.[23]

Rae died at her home in Los Angeles, California, on August 5, 2018. She was 92 years old.[24]



Year Title Role Notes
1969 Hello Down There Myrtle Ruth [25]
1970 Jenny Bella Star [25]
1971 Bananas Mrs. Mellish [25]
1972 The Hot Rock Ma Murch [25]
1977 Sidewinder 1 Mrs. Holt [25]
1978 Rabbit Test Cousin Claire [25]
1979 Hair Lady in Pink [25]
1986 The Greatest Adventure: Stories from the Bible Noah's Wife Short film: "Noah's Ark"; Voice
1992 Tom and Jerry: The Movie Aunt Pristine Figg Voice [25]
1993 Thunder in Paradise Lola Miller Direct to video [26]
1997 Nowhere Fortune Teller [25]
2000 The Tangerine Bear: Home in Time for Christmas Mrs. Caruthers Voice; Direct to video
2008 You Don't Mess with the Zohan Mrs. Greenhouse [25]
2008 Christmas Cottage Vesta [26]
2012 Love Sick Love Edna
2015 Ricki and the Flash Oma [26]
2016 Norman Lear: Just Another Version of You Herself Documentary
2018 Broadway: Beyond the Golden Age Herself Documentary


Year Title Role Notes
1954 The United States Steel Hour Ramona
1954 Armstrong Circle Theatre Mrs. Ogburn / Party Snob
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 [25]
1958 DuPont Show of the Month Myrtle May [25]
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) [25]
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
1970–72 Sesame Street Molly the Mail Lady Main role (Season 3) [25]
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" [25]
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) [25]
1975 Phyllis Shirley Episode: "So Lonely I Could Cry"
1976 Barney Miller Mrs. Rebecca Sobel Episode: "The Sniper" [25]
1976 The Rich Little Show Herself 11 episodes
1976 All's Fair Madge
1977 Our Town Mrs. Soames Television film
1978 Szysznyk Mrs. Dinsmore
1978 Family Nurse Rondo Episode: "Magic" [25]
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) [25]
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) [25]
1982–85 The Love Boat Ellen van Bowe 4 episodes [25]
1982 The Facts of Life Goes to Paris Mrs. Edna Garrett Television film
1985 WonderWorks: Words by Heart Mary Tom Chism
1986 The Worst Witch Miss Cackle/Agatha Television film [25]
1987 St. Elsewhere Proud Mary Episode: "You Again?" [25]
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
2001 Another Woman's Husband Stella Television film
2001 The Facts of Life Reunion Mrs. Edna Garrett Television film
2004 Strong Medicine Maude
2005 The King of Queens Betty
2008 ER Roxanne Gaines 4 episodes
2009 Life Mary Ford
2011 Pretty Little Liars Bead shop woman Special guest star
2014 Girl Meets World Gammy Hart Episode: "Girl Meets World of Terror" [25]


Year Title Role Location
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

Video Games

Year Title Role
2010 Red Dead Redemption The Local Population


Published works

  • The Facts of My Life (2015), co-written with her son, Larry Strauss.

Awards and nominations

Year Award Category Work Result
1966 Tony Award Best Featured Actress[27] Pickwick Nominated
1969 Tony Award Best Actress[28] 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


  1. "Charlotte Rae Biography". Retrieved January 21, 2013.
  2. "TV icon brings cabaret act to town". November 21, 2007. Retrieved August 5, 2015.
  3. Notice of death of Rae's brother-in-law, Dr. Jules Levin, the widower of her elder sister, Beverly Archived December 15, 2013, at the Wayback Machine
  4. Rae, Charlotte. Strauss, Larry. The Facts of My Life. BearManor Media, 2015. ISBN 978-1-593-93853-6
  5. Auer, James. "Actress returning here for class reunion", Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, September 21, 1994; accessed September 17, 2007.
  6. "Charlotte Rae curriculum vitae". Retrieved August 5, 2015.
  7. "Charlotte Rae Talks". Milwaukee Talks. March 9, 2016. Retrieved October 30, 2017.
  8. "Charlotte Rae Broadway and Awards" Playbill, retrieved August 6, 2018
  9. Songs I Taught My Mother, retrieved August 6, 2018
  10. The Littlest Revue Playbill, retrieved August 6, 2018
  11. Whiskey, retrieved August 6, 2018
  12. The Vagina Monologues, retrieved August 6, 2018
  13. Rossi, Rosemary (August 5, 2018). "Charlotte Rae, Mrs Garrett in '80s Sitcom 'The Facts of Life,' Dies at 92". TheWrap. Retrieved August 6, 2018.
  14. Carey, Matthew (June 25, 2016). "TV Academy marks 70th anniversary with star-studded celebration". Los Angeles Daily News. Retrieved August 6, 2018.
  15. "Tom and Jerry: The Movie (1993) | Cast and Crew". AllMovie. RhythmOne, LLC. Retrieved May 20, 2017.
  16. "Charlotte Rae Opens Up About Body Shaming on 'Facts of Life' Set, Ex-Husband's Bisexuality". October 14, 2015. Retrieved November 10, 2015.
  17. "'The Facts of Life' Cast Reunites on 'GMA'". April 12, 2011.
  18. Ravitz, Justin (January 21, 2013). "Charlotte Rae, Facts of Life Star: My Husband Was Gay, Cheated on Me". Retrieved August 5, 2015.
  19. Propst, Andy (February 17, 2011). "Composer and Sound Editor John Strauss Dies at 90". Retrieved January 21, 2013.
  20. 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...
  21. Fox, Margalit (February 17, 2011). "John Strauss, Composer of 'Car 54' Theme, Dies at 90". The New York Times. Retrieved February 24, 2011.
  22. "Charlotte Rae: Biography". Retrieved January 21, 2013.
  23. Dugan, Christina (April 27, 2017). "The Facts of Life's Charlotte Rae Has Been Diagnosed with Bone Cancer at 91". Retrieved April 27, 2017.
  24. Haring, Bruce. "Charlotte Rae Dies: House Mother On "The Facts of Life" Was 92". Retrieved August 5, 2018.
  25. "Charlotte Rae List of Movies and TV Shows". TV Guide. Retrieved August 7, 2018.
  26. "Filmography for Charlotte Rae". Turner Classic Movies. Retrieved August 8, 2018.
  27. Zolotow, Sam (May 31, 1966). "NOMINEES LISTED FOR TONY AWARDS". The New York Times. Retrieved November 8, 2011.
  28. 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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