Charlotte Rae

Charlotte Rae

Rae in 2012.
Born Charlotte Rae Lubotsky
(1926-04-22) April 22, 1926
Milwaukee, Wisconsin, U.S.
Nationality American
Occupation Actress, singer, dancer, comedian
Years active 1954–2015
Known for Edna GarrettDiff'rent Strokes
The Facts of Life
Spouse(s) John Strauss (m. 1951–76)
Children 2

Charlotte Rae (born Charlotte Rae Lubotsky; April 22, 1926) is an American character actress of stage, comedian, singer and dancer whose career spans six decades.

Rae is 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 the 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. She also appeared as Gammy Hart in Girl Meets World.

In 2015, she returned to the silver screen in the feature film Ricki and the Flash, with Meryl Streep, Kevin Kline, and Rick Springfield. In November 2015, Rae released her new autobiography, The Facts of My Life, which was co-written with her son, Larry Strauss.

Early life

She was born as Charlotte Rae Lubotsky on April 22, 1926, in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, to Russian Jewish immigrants Esther (née Ottenstein), who was a childhood friend of Israeli Prime Minister Golda Meir, and Meyer Lubotsky, a retail tire business owner.[1][2] She is one of three children, along with Miriam and Beverly (December 21, 1921 – June 2, 1998).[3]

For the first ten years or so of her life, Rae's family lived in Milwaukee, then moved to Shorewood, Wisconsin. She graduated from Shorewood High School in 1944.[4] She did radio work and was with the Wauwatosa Children's Theatre. At 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, where she met Cloris Leachman, who many years later succeeded Rae on The Facts of Life for the show's last two seasons.[5] At Northwestern she met several unknown stars and producers, including Agnes Nixon, Charlton Heston, Paul Lynde, Gerald Freedman, Claude Akins and songwriter Sheldon Harnick. When a radio personality told her that her last name wouldn't do, she dropped it, to her father's chagrin. 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 in Three Wishes for Jamie, The Threepenny Opera, Li'l Abner, and Pickwick. 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 (who reportedly wrote the song "Modest Maid" especially for Rae), among others.

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 & Lee Adams ("Spring Doth Let Her Colours Fly"), a parody of opera singer Helen Traubel's Las Vegas night club act), among others. Rae would later record Rodgers & Hart Revisited with Dorothy Loudon, Cy Young, and Arthur Siegel, singing "Everybody Loves You (When You're Asleep)" 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.

Character actress

In 1954, Rae made her TV debut on an episode of Look Up and Live. This led to roles on other shows such as The United States Steel Hour, Armstrong Circle Theatre, Kraft Television Theatre, NBC Television Opera Theatre, The Philco Television Playhouse, The Colgate Comedy Hour, The DuPont Show of the Week, The Phil Silvers Show, Car 54, Where Are You?, 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. In 1993, Rae voiced the character "Aunt Pristine Figg" in Tom and Jerry: The Movie.

In 1973, Rae played the role of Southern Comfort in Terrence McNally's spoof Whiskey at Saint Clements' Theatre off-Broadway. She appeared in The Vagina Monologues off-Broadway. 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 has 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). 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.

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. Her character proved to be so popular that producers decided to do an episode that could lead to a spinoff. That episode (called "The Girls School") was about girls attending a fictional school called Eastland. In July 1979, Rae proposed the idea for the spinoff. NBC approved the show, to be called The Facts of Life, which would portray a housemother in a prestigious private school and dealt with such issues facing teenagers as weight issues, depression, drugs, alcohol, and dating.

Rae said in a 2015 interview with Entertainment Tonight, about The Facts of Life series that had an off-stage scale to weigh the girls, when the pressure had the opposite effect that 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."[6]

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, the show became a ratings winner between 1980 and 1986. Midway throughout both the 1984-85 and 1985-86 seasons, she missed several episodes because she was planning on leaving the show, and the story lines focused more on the other characters. At the beginning of the eighth season, Rae left the show and Cloris Leachman was then brought in as Mrs. Garrett's sister, Beverly Ann Stickle, for the show's last two years. 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. 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 & 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.[7]

Personal life

She married composer John Strauss on November 4, 1951.[1] In the mid 1970s he came out as bisexual and the couple divorced in 1976.[8] Strauss died in 2011 at age 90 following a long battle with Parkinson's disease.[9] The couple had two sons,[10] Larry[11] and Andrew.[12]

Health issues

In 1982, Rae had a pacemaker implanted in her heart. In 2009, due to the frequency of pancreatic cancer in her own family, Rae was screened and diagnosed early. Her mother, an uncle, and her elder sister Beverly all died of the disease. Rae is cancer-free.[13]



Year Title Role Notes
1969 Hello Down There Myrtle Ruth
1970 Jenny Bella Star
1971 Bananas Mrs. Mellish
1972 The Hot Rock Ma Murch
1977 Sidewinder 1 Mrs. Holt
1978 Rabbit Test Cousin Claire
1979 Hair Lady in Pink
1986 Noah's Ark Noah's Wife Short film; Voice role
1992 Tom and Jerry: The Movie Aunt Pristine Figg Voice role
1993 Thunder in Paradise Lola Miller Direct to video
1997 Nowhere Fortune Teller
2000 The Tangerine Bear: Home in Time for Christmas Mrs. Caruthers Voice role; Direct to video
2008 You Don't Mess with the Zohan Mrs. Greenhouse
2008 Christmas Cottage Vesta
2012 Love Sick Love Edna
2015 Ricki and the Flash Oma


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
1958 DuPont Show of the Month Myrtle May
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
1961-63 Car 54, Where Are You? Sylvia Schnauser / Miss Berger Recurring role (Season 1–2); 11 episodes
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
1971-72 Sesame Street Molly the Mail Lady Main role (Season 3)
1972 Temperatures Rising Mrs. Moscowitz
1972 The Partridge Family Dr. Beecher
1972 McMillan & Wife Mrs. Drake
1972 Love, American Style Edna Albertson
1972 The Paul Lynde Show Aunt Charlotte 2 episodes
1974 Great Performances Madame Aigreville
1974 All in the Family Miss Lillian Henderson
1974: Good Times Ms. Rogers
1975 Queen of the Stardust Ballroom Helen Television film
1975 Hot l Baltimore Mrs. Bellotti Main cast (Season 1); 13 episodes
1975 Phyllis Shirley
1976 Barney Miller Mrs. Rebecca Sobel
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
1978 The Eddie Capra Mysteries Polly
1978 Flying High Woman
1978–84 Diff'rent Strokes Edna Garrett Main cast (season 1–2) Guest star (Season 6)
31 episodes
1979 Beane's of Boston Mrs. Slocombe
1979 The Triangle Factory Fire Scandal Bessie
1979 Hello, Larry Edna Garrett 3 episodes
1979–86 The Facts of Life Edna Garrett Lead role (Season 1–7) Guest star (Season 8)
148 episodes
1982-85 The Love Boat Ellen van Bowe 4 episodes
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
1987 St. Elsewhere Proud Mary
1987 Murder, She Wrote Nettie Harper
1988 Save the Dog Voice role; Television film
1989 227 Millie McMillan
1991 Baby Talk Aunt Beverly
1994-95 Itsy Bitsy Spider Adrienne Van Leydon Voice role; Main cast (Season 1–2); 26 episodes
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
1996 The Secret World of Alex Mack Dave's Mother
1997-98 101 Dalmatians: The Series Nanny Voice role; (Season 1–2); 43 episodes
1999 Crime in Connecticut: The Story of Alex Kelly Television film
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
2014 Girl Meets World Gammy Hart


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

Video Games

Year Title Role
2010 Red Dead Redemption The Local Population


Studio albums
  • Songs I Taught My Mother (1955)

Published works

Awards and nominations

Year Award Category Work Result
1966 Tony Award Best Featured Actress [14] Pickwick Nominated
1969 Tony Award Best Actress .[15] 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


  1. 1 2 "Charlotte Rae Biography (1926-)". Retrieved January 21, 2013.
  2. "TV icon brings cabaret act to town". 2007-11-21. Retrieved 2015-08-05.
  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. Auer, James. "Actress returning here for class reunion", Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, September 21, 1994. Accessed September 17, 2007.
  5. "Charlotte Rae curriculum vitae". Retrieved 2015-08-05.
  6. "Charlotte Rae Opens Up About Body Shaming on 'Facts of Life' Set, Ex-Husband's Bisexuality". 2015-10-14. Retrieved November 10, 2015.
  7. "'The Facts of Life' Cast Reunites on 'GMA' (04.12.11)". April 12, 2011.
  8. Ravitz, Justin (2013-01-21). "Charlotte Rae, Facts of Life Star: My Husband Was Gay, Cheated on Me - Us Weekly". Retrieved 2015-08-05.
  9. Propst, Andy (February 17, 2011). "Composer and Sound Editor John Strauss Dies at 90". Retrieved January 21, 2013.
  10. 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....
  11. Fox, Margalit (2011-02-17). "John Strauss, Composer of 'Car 54' Theme, Dies at 90". The New York Times. Retrieved 2011-02-24.
  12. "Charlotte Rae: Biography". Retrieved January 21, 2013.
  13. Video on YouTube
  14. Zolotow, Sam (May 31, 1966). "NOMINEES LISTED FOR TONY AWARDS". The New York Times. Retrieved November 8, 2011.
  15. 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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