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Charlotte Rae

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Charlotte Rae is one of America's best known character actresses, particularly in long-running television situation comedies. She was born Charlotte Rae Lubotsky in the city of Milwaukee, a city on the Lake Michigan in the United States upper Midwest. Her father was a Russian Jewish immigrant who owned a retail tire business. She was a small girl, felt herself plain and awkward, and found that in performing she could feel popular and accepted. She began doing children's theater and community radio, and became serious about theater as a career. Her supportive parents sent her to Northwestern University in Evanston, Illinois (a suburb of Chicago), whose theater school has a reputation as one of the finest in the United States. There she met her close friends and classmates Paul Lynde and Cloris Leachman, all of whom regarded him- or herself as some sort of oddball. Together, they sparked their creativity: Leachman recalled in an interview that they could make up whole operas on the spot. Rae quickly became known as an effective "character ingenue" and a moving musical theater singer, and she played Mrs. Peachum in a studio presentation of Kurt Weill's Der Dreigroschenoper. She was a member of a traditional college review for three years in a row and was reviewed by the Chicago Tribune as "big-league material." She and Leachman moved to New York, where they shared an apartment while trying to break into show business. When out of money, she would sing for coins at a rough bar, but soon was an opening act for the well-known folk singer Richard Dyer Bennett at the Village Vanguard. In 1952 she joined the cast of the Blitzstein English translation of Der Dreigroschenoper, "The Three-Penny Opera," off Broadway, and participated in its legendary original cast recording. She married composer John Strauss, who helped her develop her stage act. He first Broadway show was a musical directed by the great Abe Burrows called "Three Wished for Jamie." It was a flop, but it led to her being cast as Mammie Yokum in the musical comedy Li'l Abner, a hit. She did a considerable amount of live television during that medium's golden age, and had a part on the 1961 situation comedy Car 54 Where Are You? In 1971 she had a part in Woody Allen's film Bananas, and turned again to series television for a pilot of an American version of the British series Are You Being Served? She also appeared in the Robert Redford film The Hot Rock, and, in 1974, a guest appearance on the hit All in the Family TV series. Its producer, Norman Lear, was then planning a series called Hot L Baltimore, and cast her as a regular. The show was cancelled soon after its debut in 1975, but in 1978 Rae landed the part of a housekeeper named Mrs. Garrett on another situation comedy, Diff'rent Strokes." This show was a major hit, and her character one of the most popular parts of it. Two years later the Mrs. Garrett character was made the center of a new ensemble show called The Facts of Life as the housekeeper of a dormitory of adolescent girls. Since the program ended its run of original episodes, she has continued making character appearances in TV series (including Murder She Wrote and The Worst Witch) and as a voice artist for animated series, including the part of Tarara Boomdeaye in "The Brothers Flub," Nanny in the 101 Dalmatians series, and Aunt Pristine Figg in Tom and Jerry: The Movie.

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April 22, 1926 in Milwaukee, WI

Years Active:

'50s, '60s, '70s, '80s