American actress, comedian, singer and dancer Charlotte Rae, best known for her role as Edna Garrett on Diff’rent Strokes and The Facts of Life, passed away on August 5, 2018 at the age of 92. Her death was confirmed by her manager, Paul Hilepo.
Charlotte Rae Lubotsky was born on April 22, 1926 in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. The actress, whose career spanned six decades, got her start doing radio work and performing with the Wauwatosa Children’s Theatre. When she was 16, Rae began apprenticing with the professional theater company the Port Players. She then attended Northwestern University, where she met then unknown stars such as Agnes Nixon, Charlton Heston, Paul Lynde, Gerald Freedman, Claude Akins, and songwriter Sheldon Harnick.
After moving to New York City in 1948, Rae appeared on Broadway in Three Wishes for Jamie, The Threepenny Opera, Li’l Abner, Pickwick, and Morning, Noon and Night, to name a few. During her Broadway career, Rae received a Tony nomination for Best Featured Actress in a Musical for Pickwick and Best Actress in a Play for Morning, Noon and Night. Around this time, Rae released her solo album, Songs I Taught My Mother, which featured “silly, sinful, and satirical” songs. She followed this with appearances in Ben Bagley’s revue The Littlest Revue, as well as recording Rodgers & Hart Revisited with Dorothy Loudon, Cy Young, and Arthur Siegel.
Rae made her television debut on Look Up and Live, before going on to appear on 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, and The Phil Silvers Show. Her first significant success came from playing Sylvia Schnauzer opposite Al Lewis on the sitcom Car 54, Where Are You?. This led to her casting as housekeeper Edna Garrett on Diff’rent Strokes, which ultimately spun off into her own successful sitcom, The Facts of Life. The popular series centered around a housemother in a prestigious private school and dealt with such issues as weight issues, depression, drugs, alcohol, and dating.
The Facts of Life ran from 1979 to 1988, making it one of the longest-running sitcoms of the 1980s. In 2001, Rae reunited with the cast for the TV movies, The Facts of Life Goes to Paris and The Facts of Life Reunion. A few years later, the series won the TV Land Award for Pop Culture Icon. More recently, Rae was honored at the Looking Ahead Awards for her decades long career with The Shirley Temple Award.
Rae was married to composer John Strauss from 1951 to 1976, with whom she had two sons Larry and Andrew. Along with Rae’s son Larry and his wife, she is survived by her sister Miriam, and grandchildren Sean, Carly, and Nora.