Milwaukee Talks: Charlotte Rae
OMC: There were twice as many girls in the show during the first season. Why were so many girls cut from the script?
CR: Because there were too many to focus in on for a half-hour show. Maybe if the show had been an hour, but for a half-hour, there were just too many characters.
OMC: Is it true that you discovered Mindy Cohn, who played the role of "Natalie?"
CR: Yes. I discovered Mindy. She wasn't even looking for an acting job. We went to the Westlake school for girls -- our place on "Facts" was called "Eastlake" -- to interview girls and to do research. When I met Mindy, I thought she was adorable and said we had to have her read for the show. I also named her character "Natalie." She turned out to be a wonderful asset to the show.
OMC: It's been rumored that Nancy McKeon's character, Jo, was supposed to be a lesbian, but because it was the '80s, the network had to be very low key about it. Is this true?
CR: No, she was a "tom boy," not a lesbian, but I'm sure that if she was supposed to be a lesbian, they would have talked about it. There is so much talk today about sexuality on television, and I think people are reading into something that wasn't meant to be.
OMC: Tell me about growing up in Milwaukee.
CR: For the first ten years of my life I lived at 1232 N. 12th St. It's a freeway now. My father owned a tire store. There were three girls in my family, and I was the middle one. All three of us were very talented. My older sister, Beverly, settled in Milwaukee and she died a few years ago. She was an opera singer who sang with the symphony and a group called the Saturday Arts' Club. My younger sister, Mimi, is an accomplished musician and composer. She wrote a children's album that I recorded for her, called "Wally Koala" and she's written a couple of musicals as well.
OMC: Did you like being a student at Shorewood High School?
CR: Great school. Beautiful campus. I had some wonderful teachers that I will never forget.
OMC: Do you remember what street you lived on in Shorewood?
CR: We moved to Shorewood when I was 10 years old, to 4431 N. Murray Ave. between Lake Bluff and Kensington Blvd.
OMC: Wow, great memory ...
CR: Cramer, Oakland Avenue ... I remember all of those streets.
OMC: Do you ever make it back to Milwaukee these days?
CR: No, I haven't been there in a long time because my parents and sister and brother-in-law have passed away.
OMC: What do you remember most about Milwaukee?
CR: I remember Milwaukee very fondly. My neighbors were very friendly. I remember all of the wonderful, German food. I love Lake Michigan and the beach. I used to like to ride my bicycle down there. I love all of my girlfriends from Milwaukee.
OMC: Did you start your acting career in Milwaukee?
CR: Yes, I was interested in acting since grade school. I did a lot of radio work and I was also with the Wauwatosa Children's Theatre. When I was 16, I was an apprentice with the Port Players, a professional theater company that would come for the summer to Milwaukee. They had several distinguished actors involved, like Morton DaCosta who was the director of the Music Man on Broadway.
OMC: Why did you leave Milwaukee?
CR: When I graduated from Shorewood, I went to Northwestern University and graduated from there in '48 with a bachelor's in speech. I did a lot of theater work at Northwestern, and decided to go to New York, where I lived until '74. While I lived in New York I did a lot of stage and theater. I was the original Mammy Yokum in "Lil' Abner" and I played Mrs. Peachum in the first production of the "Three Penny Opera" with Bea Arthur. I also did a lot of television work because television was very big in New York.
OMC: Weren't you on "Sesame Street" for a while?
CR: Yes. I was Molly the Mail person on "Sesame Street." I've done a lot of stuff for PBS.
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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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