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Milwaukee's Daily Magazine for Saturday, Oct. 25, 2014

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Milwaukee Talks: Charlotte Rae


Charlotte Rae is best known as the quavery-voiced, red-headed Mrs. Garrett from the 1980s television series, "The Facts of Life," who did her best to keep the cafeteria clean and Blair, Natalie, Jo and Tootie out of trouble.

Less known is the fact she grew up in Milwaukee.

Born Charlotte Rae Lubotsky on April 22, 1926 to Russian-Jewish immigrants, she spent the first 10 years of her life living on 12th Street. Her family later moved to Murray Avenue in Shorewood, and Rae graduated from Shorewood High School in 1944.

In 1952, Rae made her Broadway debut in "Three wishes for Jamie" and went on to star as Mammy Yokum in "Lil' Abner." Although she has always been most fulfilled working on stage, she made numerous television appearances in the '50s, '60s and '70s including the "The Phil Silvers Show," "Car 54, Where Are You?" and "The Rich Little Show."

Her big break came in 1978 when Norman Lear cast her as Edna Garrett, the Drummond family's ditsy but down-to-earth housekeeper on "Diff'rent Strokes." In 1979, her character moved to her own spin-off series, "The Facts of Life." The first season was poorly rated, but after a shift in concept and a cast overhaul (which included the firing of Molly Ringwald and Lauren Tom), it became the toast of prime time.

Rae left the show after seven seasons (the show continued for two more season with Mrs. Garrett's sister, Beverly Ann, as the housemother, but it was never the same) because she was tired of the TV series grind and wanted to get back into stage acting.

Since then, Rae has performed in many shows and musicals, including her most recent stint in "The Vagina Monologues" in New York. She has also appeared in numerous television movies, "Sisters," "The Facts of Life Reunion Movie" and has made a number of commercials, including the memorable Excedrin spot with Charles Nelson Riley.

Today, Rae is 76, living in L.A. and still working. Sharp as a tack, spunky and warm, Rae was eager to reflect on her life, her role as "Mrs. G" and her memories of Milwaukee.

OMC: What are you working on right now?

CR: I just got back from New York where I did the "Vagina Monolgues" at the Westside Theater for six weeks. I'm getting ready to do a new play for Gary Marshall's theater -- The Falcoln Theater in L.A. We start rehearsals in January and open in February.

OMC: Which monologues did you perform from "Vagina Monologues?"

CR: I did the one called "I'm angry," the one on childbirth and the one about the woman who could never have an orgasm. Jane Atkinson and Alice Ripley from "The Rocky Horror Picture Show" were also in the show with me.

OMC: Did you meet Eve Ensler (the writer and original performer of "Vagina Monologues")?

CR: I didn't meet her in New York during the show, but I met her in L.A.. She's working on a new work about Bosnia.

OMC: Do you think there will ever be another "Facts of Life Reunion Show?"

CR: Well, everyone loved doing the show so much. We had a wonderful time and if they (the network) wanted to do another show, we certainly would.

OMC: Do you still keep in touch with the "girls" from "Facts?"

CR: Oh yes. They are all wonderful women.

OMC: Who are you the closest to?

CR: I appreciate each one for their particular personality. Lisa (Whelchel), Kim (Fields), Nancy (McKeon) and Mindy (Cohn) are all very special to me.

OMC: Was "Facts" the highpoint of your career?

CR: No, not really, but it certainly was important. Because of the power of television, I was visible to everybody all over the world. But there are many things in the theater that are more fulfilling and that I look forward to doing more. But really, I love it all: theater, film, television.

OMC: "Facts of Life" was a spin-off from "Diff'rent Strokes." How did that happen?

CR: Fred Silverman, the head of NBC, saw me in "Diff'rent Strokes" and years ago in "Car 54 Where Are You?" and wanted to do a spin off. So we tried to think of something that we thought would be good, and came up with "Facts of Life."

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Talkbacks

OMCreader | Nov. 23, 2005 at 3:18 a.m. (report)

JODI said: I JUST FINISHED WRITING A LETTER TO CHARLOTTE FOR THE FIRST TIME SINCE I GREW UP WITH FACTS (IM 37). THAT HAS ALWAYS BEEN MY FAVORITE SHOW AND SINCE I LIVE IN CHICAGO (I USED TO WORK IN MILWAUKEE-THE OLD SCHLITZ BREWERY, LOVELY TOWN), WE GET THE FACTS OF LIFE EVERYDAY. I TAPE EVERY EPISODE AND FEEL LIKE A KID AGAIN. CHARLOTTE'S RIGHT-THOSE EPISODES ARE TIMELESS! I JUST INTRODUCED MY 12 Y/O NEICE TO MY TAPED :) EPISODES AND SHE LOVES THEM! I'M GOING TO CRUISE ON OVER TO CHARLOTTES ADDRESS IN SHOREWOOD AND TAKE A PICTURE OF THE HOUSE, OR WHATEVER IS THERE NOW AND MAIL IT TO HER. THANKS FOR THE WONDERFUL ARTICLE!

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