R.I.P. Charlotte Rae, Mrs. Garrett of The Facts of Life

Former co-stars pay tribute to the beloved 'Diff'rent Strokes' and 'Facts of Life' actress.

Image: The Everett Collection

Oh, to be a drama student at Northwestern University in the mid-1940s. Your classmates would have included Cloris Leachman, Golden Globe-winner Patricia Neal, Jeffrey Hunter (the original captain of the Enterprise in the first Star Trek pilot), Paul Lynde of Bewitched, and Claude Akins, the Western veteran who would become Sheriff Lobo of BJ and the Bear. In that same circle of friends was Charlotte Rae. 

Born and raised in Milwaukee, Rae would head to New York city after college. There, she brushed shoulders with Barbra Streisand in the club scene before making the jump to Broadway. Her stage work earned her two Tony nominations for lead actress, one for a musical (Pickwick) and one for a play (Morning, Noon and Night).

At the same time, Rae was building her television resume, showing off her talents on sponsored anthology series such as The United States Steel HourKraft Television Theatre, and The Colgate Comedy Hour. Her big break came on Car 54, Where Are You? (1961–63), playing Sylvia Schnauser, wife of Leo Schnauser (Al Lewis in his pre-Grandpa Munster phase). A decade later, she landed a role on a Norman Lear sitcom, the short-lived Hot L Baltimore. It may not have been the next All in the Family, but it did lead to her most famous role.

NBC's Fred Silverman was hoping to lure Norman Lear to produce his latest sitcom, Diff'rent Strokes. As a lure, Silverman cast one of his favorite actresses, Rae. Lear may not have made the leap, but Rae bloomed nonetheless. Her housekeeper character, Edna Garrett, proved to be so popular, a spin-off was developed about an all-girls school.

The Facts of Life would go on to air for nine seasons. Rae would leave the series as a regular after season seven, but an old college friend stepped in as a replacement — Cloris Leachman.

On Sunday, August 5, Rae died at her home in Los Angeles. She was 92.

Her former costars opened their hearts to pay tribute to the beloved TV star.


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