Housemother of the prestigious Eastland School for Young Women is no longer with us. Charlotte Rae sadly passed away over the weekend. She was 92 years old. She is perhaps best known for playing Mrs. Garrett, first on early episodes of Diff'rent Strokes and then as the lead on The Facts of Life.
Charlotte Rae died Sunday night at her home in Los Angeles. In her early career she she earned two Tony nominations. She starred as Woody Allen's mother in the 1971 comedy Bananas. And she was the long-suffering wife in the classic cop sitcom Car 54, Where Are You? In April of 2017, Rae had been diagnosed with bone cancer. 7 years earlier, she had been diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. At the time of her bone cancer diagnosis, she made this statement.
"Now, at the age of 91, I have to make up my mind. I'm not in any pain right now. I'm feeling so terrific and so glad to be above ground. Now I have to figure out whether I want to go have treatment again or opt for life. I love life. I've had a wonderful one already ... I've had a great life, but I have so many wonderful things happening. I'd like to choose life. I'm grateful for the life I've already had."
Charlotte Rae originated the role of Edna Garrett in 1978 for the first season of NBC's huge hit sitcom Diff'rent Strokes. She would then move over to The Facts of Life, where she took the lead for 7 seasons. In 1982, she earned an Emmy nod for outstanding lead actress in a comedy series. The Facts of Life debuted in 1979, just a year after Diff'rent Strokes hit the air to huge ratings. The show was a spin-off that featured Mrs. Garrett as housemother to a group of private New York City boarding school girls.
Rae had grown up wanting to be an actress, and made her Broadway debut in 1952 with the musical comedy Three Wishes for Jamie. She then starred as Mrs. Peachum in the 1954 revival of The Threepenny Opera. Then, in 1956, she created the role of Mammy Yokum in the original Broadway production of the hit musical based on the comic strip Lil' Abner. She would get nominated for her first Tony in 1966, as best featured actress in the musical Pickwick. She would be recognized a second time in 1969 for playing best actress in Morning Noon and Night. Rae was also a singer, putting out the album Songs I Taught My Mother in 1955.
Moving from Broadway to the small screen, Rae started her long television career in the 1950s. Her first appearances were on The United States of Steel Hour and The Phil Silvers Show. She would work steadily throughout the 60s and 70s, appearing on such sitcoms as The Defenders; The Partridge Family; McMillan & Wife; Love, American Style; All in the Family; Good Times; and Barney Miller. She even appeared as Molly the Mail Lady on Sesame Street.
During this time, she would also take on the occasional film role. Along with co-starring in Bananas with Woody Allen, she was featured in Hello Down There (1969), Jenny (1970),The Hot Rock (1972) and Hair (1979).
Legendary TV producer Norman Lear loved working with Charlotte Rae. They met in the 1950s when both were working on The Colgate Comedy Hour. He would continually give her guest shots on his later sitcoms. In 1978, then NBC president Fred Silberman was putting together a show called 45 Minutes From Harlem, which wound up becoming Diff'rent Strokes. By hiring Rae as the household maid, he convinced Norman Lear to produce through his company Tandem Productions, and the show was an instant hit, starring Maude breakout Conrad Bain and newly discovered child star Gary Coleman.
While Coleman was the breakout star of the show, Edna Garrett also became wildly popular, so just one year later, NBC developed the spin-off The Facts of Life. An episode of Diff'rent Strokes, called The Girls School, served as a backdoor pilot in the spring. The Facts of Life debuted that following August.
Charlotte Rae remained on the hit series for seven seasons. She then asked if her role could be reduced. She was subsequently replaced, and her character was sent to Africa to work with the Peace Corps. Cloris Leachman was introduced as Mrs. Garrett's sister, taking over the lead. Rae remained active on TV throughout the 80s and 90s, and appeared in some more recent movies, including You Don't Mess With the Zohan (2008), Love Sick Love (2012) and Ricki and the Flash (2015).
In 2001, Charlotte Rae would revisit the role of Mrs. Garrett for the TV movie The Facts of Life Reunion. In 2015, she released a memoir title The Facts of My Life}, which was written alongside her son Larry Strauss. According to The Hollywood Reporter, In lieu of flowers, her family asked that donations be made to The Actors Fund, Pancreatic Cancer Action Network (Pan-Can) or the Clare Foundation.