Charlotte Rae, best known for playing Edna Garrett on TV’s Diff’rent Strokes and its spinoff, The Facts of Life, passed away August 5 in Los Angeles at the age of 92. The actor had been diagnosed with bone cancer in April 2017 following a bout with pancreatic cancer seven years earlier.
Although she gained international fame through her role as the beloved Garrett on both Diff’rent Strokes (housekeeper to the motherless Drummonds in 1978) and The Facts of Life (house mother to a group of girls at a boarding school in 1979), Ms. Rae enjoyed a career in both TV and theatre prior to her breakout role.
Born Charlotte Rae Lubotsky in Milwaukee on April 22, 1926, the redhead with the quavering voice and wide smile briefly attended Northwestern University before heading to New York in 1948. She made her Broadway debut in 1952 in Three Wishes for Jamie and then went on to play Mrs. Peachum in the 1954 revival of Threepenny Opera.
Other Broadway credits included The Golden Apple (1954), The Littlest Revue (1956), Li’l Abner (1956), and The Beauty Part (1962). She received Tony nominations for her next two Broadway outings: Mrs. Bardell in the musical Pickwick in 1965 and Gertrude, Beryl, and Filigree Bones in Israel Horovitz’s Morning, Noon and Night in 1968. Her final Main Stem credits were Murray Schisgal’s short-lived The Chinese and Dr. Fish in 1970 and David Rabe’s In the Boom Boom Room in 1973.
Although Ms. Rae never returned to Broadway, she continued to perform onstage for years, including the national tour of Into the Woods as Jack's Mother (1988), an Off-Broadway mounting of Samuel Beckett's Happy Days (1990), the Paper Mill Playhouse production of Stephen Schwartz's Pippin (2000), and the City Center Encores! staging of 70, Girls, 70 (2006).
Ms. Rae's TV career also spanned decades, beginning in 1951 with Once Upon a Tune and continuing through 2014, playing Gammy Hart in Girl Meets World. In between were appearances in Car 54, Where Are You?; Sesame Street; The Partridge Family; All in the Family; Hot L Baltimore; Phyllis; The Love Boat; Murder, She Wrote; Sisters; 101 Dalmatians: the Series; ER; and Pretty Little Liars, among many others. Her last screen appearance was in 2015 in the Meryl Streep-led film Ricki and the Flash.
Ms. Rae received two Primetime Emmy Award nominations: in 1975 for playing Helen in Queen of the Stardust Ballroom and in 1982 for her signature role as Garrett in The Facts of Life. She played Garrett for seven seasons, but departed at the start of the eighth season due to health issues. She was succeeded by her longtime friend Cloris Leachman until the show's conclusion.
Ms. Rae released both a solo album and a memoir, Songs I Taught My Mother: Silly, Sinful & Satiric Selections and The Facts of My Life, respectively. In the latter, written with her son Larry Strauss (who confirmed her death to The New York Times), the actor discussed her struggles with alcoholism, her 25-year marriage to composer John Strauss that later ended in divorce, and the heartbreak of losing her autistic son Andy, who died of a heart attack while in his 40s.
In 2011, Ms. Rae reunited with much of the cast of The Facts of Life at the TV Land Awards, where she was presented with the Pop Icon Award.