Betty Garrett

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Betty Garrett
Laverne and Shirley cast 1976.JPG
Cast photo of Laverne & Shirley , 1976. Standing, L-R: Carole Ita White, Phil Foster, Eddie Mekka, Betty Garrett. Middle row, standing: Penny Marshall, Cindy Williams. Seated: Michael McKean, David Lander
Born(1919-05-23)May 23, 1919
DiedFebruary 12, 2011(2011-02-12) (aged 91)
Education Annie Wright School
Alma mater Neighborhood Playhouse
OccupationActress, comedian, dancer, singer
Years active1938–2011
Home town Seattle, Washington
Television All in the Family ,
Laverne & Shirley
Spouse(s) Larry Parks (m.1944–1975; his death)
Children2, including Andrew Parks

Betty Garrett (May 23, 1919 – February 12, 2011) was an American actress, comedian, singer and dancer. She originally performed on Broadway, and was then signed to a film contract with Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer. She appeared in several musical films before returning to Broadway and making guest appearances on several television series.

Comedian person who seeks to entertain an audience, primarily by making them laugh

A comedian or comic is a person who seeks to entertain an audience by making them laugh. This might take many forms including jokes, satirical observations, amusing situations, acting foolish or employing prop comedy. A comedian who addresses an audience directly is called a stand-up comedian. Other practises include the sitcom, sketch comedy and improv genres.

Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer American media company

Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Studios Inc. is an American media company, involved primarily in the production and distribution of feature films and television programs. One of the world's oldest film studios, MGM's headquarters are located at 245 North Beverly Drive in Beverly Hills, California.


Garrett later became known for the roles she played in two prominent 1970s sitcoms: Archie Bunker's liberal neighbor Irene Lorenzo in All in the Family and landlady Edna Babish in Laverne & Shirley . In later years, she appeared in television series such as Grey's Anatomy , Boston Public and Becker as well as in several Broadway plays and revivals.

Archie Bunker fictional character

Archibald "Archie" Bunker is a fictional character from the 1970s American television sitcom All in the Family and its spin-off Archie Bunker's Place, played by Carroll O'Connor. Bunker, a main character of the series, is a World War II veteran, blue-collar worker, and family man. Described as a "lovable bigot", he was first seen by the American public when All in the Family premiered on January 12, 1971, where he was depicted as the head of the Bunker family. In 1979, the show was retooled and renamed Archie Bunker's Place; it finally went off the air in 1983. Bunker lived at the fictional address of 704 Hauser Street in the borough of Queens, in New York City.

<i>All in the Family</i> American television series

All in the Family is an American sitcom TV-series that was originally broadcast on the CBS television network for nine seasons, from January 12, 1971 to April 8, 1979. The following September, it was continued with the spin-off series Archie Bunker's Place, which picked up where All in the Family had ended and ran for four more seasons through 1983.

<i>Laverne & Shirley</i> American television sitcom

Laverne & Shirley is an American television sitcom that played for eight seasons on ABC from January 27, 1976, to May 10, 1983. A spin-off of Happy Days, Laverne & Shirley followed the lives of Laverne DeFazio and Shirley Feeney, two friends and roommates who work as bottle-cappers in the fictitious Shotz Brewery in late 1950s Milwaukee, Wisconsin. From the sixth season onwards, the series' setting changed to mid-1960s Burbank, California. Michael McKean and David Lander co-starred as their friends and neighbors Lenny Kosnowski and Andrew "Squiggy" Squiggman, respectively; along with Eddie Mekka as Carmine Ragusa, Phil Foster as Laverne's father Frank DeFazio, and Betty Garrett as the girls' landlady Edna Babish.

Early life

Garrett was born in Saint Joseph, Missouri, the daughter of Elizabeth Octavia (née Stone) and Curtis Garrett. [1] Shortly after her birth, her parents relocated to Seattle, Washington, where her mother managed the sheet music department at Sherman Clay, and her father worked as a traveling salesman. His alcoholism and fiscal irresponsibility eventually led to their divorce, and Garrett and her mother lived in a series of residential hotels in order to minimize expenses. [2]

Seattle City in Washington, United States

Seattle is a seaport city on the West Coast of the United States. It is the seat of King County, Washington. With an estimated 744,955 residents as of 2018, Seattle is the largest city in both the state of Washington and the Pacific Northwest region of North America. According to U.S. Census data released in 2018, the Seattle metropolitan area's population stands at 3.94 million, and ranks as the 15th largest in the United States. In July 2013, it was the fastest-growing major city in the United States and remained in the top 5 in May 2015 with an annual growth rate of 2.1%. In July 2016, Seattle was again the fastest-growing major U.S. city, with a 3.1% annual growth rate. Seattle is the northernmost large city in the United States.

Sherman, Clay & Co. was an American retailer of musical instruments—mainly pianos—and a publisher and seller of sheet music, founded in San Francisco. Founded in 1853 as A. A. Rosenberg, it was sold to Leander Sherman and Clement Clay in 1870 and was incorporated as Sherman, Clay & Company in 1892. During the 20th century, it gradually expanded its retail operation into a nationwide chain of stores, and by the 1980s it had around 60 stores. It was based in San Francisco until at least the 1970s. In 2013, the company closed or sold its last retail stores.

Alcoholism Broad term for problems with alcohol

Alcoholism, also known as alcohol use disorder (AUD), is a broad term for any drinking of alcohol that results in mental or physical health problems. The disorder was previously divided into two types: alcohol abuse and alcohol dependence. In a medical context, alcoholism is said to exist when two or more of the following conditions are present: a person drinks large amounts of alcohol over a long time period, has difficulty cutting down, acquiring and drinking alcohol takes up a great deal of time, alcohol is strongly desired, usage results in not fulfilling responsibilities, usage results in social problems, usage results in health problems, usage results in risky situations, withdrawal occurs when stopping, and alcohol tolerance has occurred with use. Risky situations include drinking and driving or having unsafe sex, among other things. Alcohol use can affect all parts of the body, but it particularly affects the brain, heart, liver, pancreas and immune system. This can result in mental illness, Wernicke–Korsakoff syndrome, irregular heartbeat, an impaired immune response, liver cirrhosis and increased cancer risk, among other diseases. Drinking during pregnancy can cause damage to the baby resulting in fetal alcohol spectrum disorders. Women are generally more sensitive than men to the harmful physical and mental effects of alcohol.

When Garrett was eight years old, her mother married the fiancé she had jilted in order to marry Curtis. [3] They settled in Regina, Saskatchewan, where her new stepfather worked in the meat packing industry. A year later her mother discovered that her new husband was involved in a sexual relationship with his male assistant, so she and Betty returned to Seattle. [4] After graduating from public grammar school, Garrett enrolled at the Annie Wright School in Tacoma, which she attended on a full scholarship. The school had no drama department, so she frequently organized musical productions and plays for special occasions. Following her senior year performance in Twelfth Night , the bishop urged her to pursue a career on the stage. At the same time, her mother's friend arranged an interview with Martha Graham, who was in Seattle for a concert tour, and the dancer recommended her for a scholarship at the Neighborhood Playhouse in New York City. [5]

Regina, Saskatchewan Provincial capital city in Saskatchewan, Canada

Regina is the capital city of the Canadian province of Saskatchewan. The city is the second-largest in the province, after Saskatoon, and a cultural and commercial centre for southern Saskatchewan. It is governed by Regina City Council. The city is surrounded by the Rural Municipality of Sherwood No. 159.

Meat packing industry handles the slaughtering, processing, packaging, and distribution of meat from animals such as cattle, pigs, sheep and other livestock. Poultry is not included.

The meat packing industry handles the slaughtering, processing, packaging, and distribution of meat from animals such as cattle, pigs, sheep and other livestock. Poultry is not included. This greater part of the entire meat industry is primarily focused on producing meat for human consumption, but it also yields a variety of by-products including hides, feathers, dried blood, and, through the process of rendering, fat such as tallow and protein meals such as meat & bone meal.

Tacoma, Washington City in Washington, United States

Tacoma is a midsized urban port city and the county seat of Pierce County, Washington, United States. The city is on Washington's Puget Sound, 32 miles (51 km) southwest of Seattle, 31 miles (50 km) northeast of the state capital, Olympia, and 58 miles (93 km) northwest of Mount Rainier National Park. The population was 198,397, according to the 2010 census. Tacoma is the second-largest city in the Puget Sound area and the third-largest in the state. Tacoma also serves as the center of business activity for the South Sound region, which has a population around 1 million.

Garrett and her mother arrived in Manhattan in the summer of 1936 and Garrett began classes in September. Her teachers included Graham and Anna Sokolow for dance, Sandy Meisner for drama, Lehman Engel for music, and Margaret Webster for the Shakespearean classics, and fellow students included Daniel Mann and Richard Conte. She felt she was destined to be a dramatic actress and shied away from playing comedic roles. [6]

Manhattan Borough in New York City and county in New York, United States

Manhattan, often referred to locally as the City, is the most densely populated of the five boroughs of New York City and its economic and administrative center, cultural identifier, and historical birthplace. The borough is coextensive with New York County, one of the original counties of the U.S. state of New York. The borough consists mostly of Manhattan Island, bounded by the Hudson, East, and Harlem rivers; several small adjacent islands; and Marble Hill, a small neighborhood now on the U.S. mainland, physically connected to the Bronx and separated from the rest of Manhattan by the Harlem River. Manhattan Island is divided into three informally bounded components, each aligned with the borough's long axis: Lower, Midtown, and Upper Manhattan.

Anna Sokolow American dancer

Anna Sokolow was an American dancer and choreographer. that worked internationally, creating political and theatrical pieces. She worked with major companies, including the Martha Graham Company and Batsheva Dance Company. Sokolow also formed her own group “Dance Unit” which became Players’ Project after its dispersal and her death.

Lehman Engel American conductor

A. Lehman Engel was an American composer and conductor of Broadway musicals, television and film.

Early career

During the summer months, Garrett performed in the Borscht Belt, where she had the opportunity to work with Danny Kaye, Jerome Robbins, Carol Channing, Imogene Coca, and Jules Munshin, and she was encouraged to hone her singing and dancing skills. [7] She joined Orson Welles' Mercury Theatre as an understudy in what was to be its last stage presentation, a poorly-reviewed and short-lived production of Danton's Death that gave her the opportunity to work with Joseph Cotten, Ruth Ford, Martin Gabel, and Arlene Francis. [8] [9] She performed with Martha Graham's dance company at Carnegie Hall and the Alvin Theatre, sang at the Village Vanguard, and appeared in satirical and political revues staged by the Brooklyn-based Flatbush Arts Theatre, which eventually changed its name to the American Youth Theatre and relocated to Manhattan. During this period she joined the Communist Party and began performing at fundraisers for progressive causes. [10]

Borscht Belt area with (now mostly defunct) summer resorts in the Catskill Mountains, in the Sullivan, Orange, and Ulster counties, New York; so called because many Eastern European Jewish Americans from New York City would vacation there in the 1920s–1970s

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Danny Kaye American actor, singer, dancer, and comedian

Danny Kaye was an American actor, singer, dancer, comedian, musician, and philanthropist. His performances featured physical comedy, idiosyncratic pantomimes, and rapid-fire novelty songs.

Jerome Robbins American theater producer, director, and choreographer

Jerome Robbins was an American choreographer, director, dancer, and theater producer who worked in classical ballet, on stage, film, and television. Among his numerous stage productions were On the Town, Peter Pan, High Button Shoes, The King and I, The Pajama Game, Bells Are Ringing, West Side Story, Gypsy, and Fiddler on the Roof. Robbins was a five-time Tony Award-winner and a recipient of the Kennedy Center Honors. He received two Academy Awards, including the 1961 Academy Award for Best Director with Robert Wise for West Side Story.


Garrett made her Broadway debut in 1942 in the revue Of V We Sing, which closed after 76 performances but led to her being cast in the Harold Rome revue Let Freedom Sing later that year. [11] It closed after only eight performances, but producer Mike Todd saw it and signed her to understudy Ethel Merman [12] and play a small role in the 1943 Cole Porter musical Something for the Boys . [13] Merman became ill during the run, allowing Garrett to play the lead for a week. During this time she was seen by producer Vinton Freedley, who cast her in Jackpot , a Vernon Duke/Howard Dietz musical also starring Nanette Fabray and Allan Jones. [14] The show closed quickly, and Garrett began touring the country with her nightclub act. [15] [16]


After appearing on Broadway in Laffing Room Only, which closed there, Garrett traveled with the show as it played extended runs in Detroit and Chicago. After that she returned to New York and was cast in Call Me Mister , which reunited her with Harold Rome, Lehman Engel, and Jules Munshin. She won critical acclaim and the Donaldson Award for her performance, which prompted Al Hirschfeld to caricature her in The New York Times . [17] It led to her being signed to a one-year contract with Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer by Louis B. Mayer. Garrett arrived at the studio in January 1947 and made her film debut portraying nightclub performer Shoo Shoo O'Grady in Big City, directed by Norman Taurog and co-starring George Murphy and Robert Preston. [18] Mayer renewed her contract and she appeared in the musicals Words and Music , On the Town , Take Me Out To The Ball Game , and Neptune's Daughter in quick succession. [19]

The Jolson Story had been a huge hit in the United Kingdom, so Garrett and her husband Larry Parks decided to capitalize on its popularity by appearing at the London Palladium and then touring the U.K. with their nightclub act. Its success prompted them to return to the country three times but the increasing popularity of television eventually led to the decline of music hall entertainment. [20] Garrett was then cast opposite Janet Leigh and Jack Lemmon in My Sister Eileen , a 1955 musical remake of a 1940 theatrical adaptation of stories by Ruth McKenney. Garrett got the part when Judy Holliday dropped out of the project due to a contract dispute. [21] The following year she and Parks replaced Holliday and Sydney Chaplin (American actor) in the Broadway production of Bells Are Ringing during their vacation from the show. Over the next two decades she worked sporadically, appearing on Broadway in two short-lived plays (Beg, Borrow or Steal with Parks and A Girl Could Get Lucky with Pat Hingle) and a musical adaptation of Spoon River Anthology , and making guest appearances on The Dinah Shore Chevy Show , The Lloyd Bridges Show , and The Fugitive .

Later career

In the fall of 1973, All in the Family added two new people to the neighborhood, Frank Lorenzo and his feisty Irish-American wife, Irene. Lear had been the publicity man for Call Me Mister, All in the Family writers Bernard West and Mickey West knew Garrett from her time with the American Youth Theatre, and Jean Stapleton had been in the cast of Bells Are Ringing, so Garrett appeared to be a frontrunner for the role of Irene. It went instead to Sada Thompson, but Thompson, unhappy after filming one episode, asked to be released from her commitment, freeing the role for Garrett. Irene was Catholic—a source of annoyance for Protestant Archie—and assumed many of the household duties normally associated with husbands, and she therefore presented a kind of nemesis to Archie Bunker. She later worked with Archie at his place of employment, driving a forklift, and was paid less than the man she replaced (but more than Archie). Garrett remained with the series from 1973 through 1975. [22] She won the 1974 Golden Globe for her performance on the series. [23]

The following year, Garrett was performing her one-woman show Betty Garrett and Other Songs in Westwood when she was offered the role of landlady Edna Babish in Laverne & Shirley . The character was a five-time divorcée who eventually married Laverne's father Frank. Although Garrett reportedly felt she was never given enough to do on the show, she appreciated the fact that her musical talents occasionally were incorporated into the plot. In 1981, when the series was extended beyond what had been intended to be its final season, Garrett was forced to drop out because she already had committed to performing with Sandy Dennis, Jack Gilford, Hope Lange, and Joyce Van Patten in The Supporting Cast on Broadway. The play closed after only eight performances, but returning to Laverne & Shirley was not an option, as the writers had explained Edna's disappearance by having her divorce Frank, although this was not directly addressed until the series' final season. [24]

In the ensuing years, Garrett appeared on television in Murder, She Wrote , The Golden Girls , Harts of the West , Union Square , Boston Public , Becker (for which she was nominated for the Emmy Award for Outstanding Guest Actress in a Comedy Series), and Grey's Anatomy , among others, and on stage in Plaza Suite (with Parks), And Miss Reardon Drinks A Little , Meet Me in St. Louis as Katie, the feisty Irish maid, and the 2001 Broadway revival of Follies , receiving excellent notices for singing "Broadway Baby." At Theatre West, which she co-founded, she directed Arthur Miller's The Price and appeared in the play Waiting in the Wings . She won the Los Angeles Drama Critics Circle Award twice, for Spoon River Anthology and Betty Garrett and Other Songs. [ citation needed ]

Garrett received a star on the Hollywood Walk Of Fame in 2003. On the occasion of her 90th birthday in 2009, she was honored at a celebration sponsored by Theatre West at the Music Box Theatre in Hollywood. [25] [26] [27]

In 2010, Garrett appeared alongside former two-time co-star Esther Williams during Turner Classic Movies' first annual Classic Film Festival. [28] Their film Neptune's Daughter was screened at the pool of the Roosevelt Hotel in Hollywood, California, while a Williams-inspired synchronised swimming troupe, The Aqualilies, performed. [29]

Awards and nominations

Golden Globes

Primetime Emmy Awards

Ovation Awards

Personal life

While appearing in Los Angeles, Garrett was invited to perform a comedy sketch at the Actor's Lab in Hollywood. It was there where she met Larry Parks, who was producing the show. He invited her to join him for a drink, then drove her to the top of Mulholland Drive and told her, "You're the girl I'm going to marry." During the next two weeks, the two were inseparable. Garrett departed for a nightclub engagement in Chicago. Eventually Parks joined her and introduced her to his mother, who lived in nearby Joliet. Parks returned to Los Angeles to begin filming Counter-Attack and Garrett traveled to New York to prepare for Laffing Room Only with Olsen and Johnson, but before rehearsals began she called Parks and proposed marriage. The two were wed on September 8, 1944, [32] four months after their initial meeting. Actor Lloyd Bridges served as best man. [32] Garrett and Parks spent a month honeymooning in Malibu Beach, and they then lived apart for the next two years while pursuing their careers. [33]

A Democrat, she supported Adlai Stevenson's campaign in the 1952 presidential election [34] .

Garrett and Parks remained married until his death in 1975. They had two sons, composer Garrett Parks and actor Andrew Parks. Betty Garrett has one granddaughter, Madison Claire Parks, by her son Garrett Parks, and daughter-in-law, Broadway actress Karen Culliver. [35]


Because of their past affiliations with the Communist Party, Garrett and Parks became embroiled with the House Un-American Activities Committee, although only Parks was forced to testify. He willingly admitted that he had been a member of the party and initially refused to name others, but he later did so. Despite this he found himself on the Hollywood blacklist. Garrett also had trouble finding work, although as the mother of two young sons she did not mind being unemployed as much as her husband did. Parks formed a highly successful construction business, and eventually the couple owned many apartment buildings which were scattered throughout the Los Angeles metropolitan area. Rather than sell them upon completion, Parks decided to retain ownership and collect rents as a landlord, a decision that proved to be extremely profitable. During this period, the couple occasionally performed in Las Vegas showrooms, summer stock productions, and touring companies of Broadway shows. [36] [37]


Garrett died of an aortic aneurysm in Los Angeles on February 12, 2011, at the age of 91. Her body was cremated. [38] [39]


Television work

Stage work


  1. Betty Garrett Biography (1919-)
  2. Garrett, pp. 3–8.
  3. Garrett, p. 6.
  4. Garrett, pp. 16–17.
  5. Garrett, pp. 22–25.
  6. Garrett, pp. 29–33.
  7. Garrett, pp. 34–39.
  8. Garrett, pp. 41–45.
  9. "Mercury Theatre Reopens with Orson Welles's Production of Danton's Death". The New York Times. Nov 3, 1938. p. 26.
  10. Garrett, pp. 47–57.
  11. "News of the Stage". The New York Times. Sep 22, 1942. p. 25.
  12. Desmond, John (Jan 2, 1944). "Pity the Poor Understudy". The New York Times. p. SM16.
  13. "In Broadway Debut". The New York Times. November 2, 1942. p. 26.
  14. Zolotow, Sam (January 13, 1944). "'Jackpot' Arrives at Alvin Tonight". The New York Times. p. 15.
  15. Zolotow, Sam (March 7, 1944). "Freedly Musical to Close Saturday". The New York Times. p. 14.
  16. Garrett, pp. 59–67.
  17. Garrett, pp. 76–79.
  18. Scheuer, Phillip K. (November 30, 1947). "This Commedienne 'Sings All Over'". Los Angeles Times. p. 46.
  19. "MGM Officials List 27 Films Ready or On Way". Los Angeles Times. March 9, 1948. p. 16.
  20. Garrett, pp. 155–165.
  21. Garrett, p. 203.
  22. Garrett, pp. 131–137.
  23. 1 2 "Betty Garrett". Golden Globe Awards. Archived from the original on January 15, 2015. Retrieved October 29, 2015.
  24. Garrett, pp. 237–241.
  25. Los Angeles Times, May 27, 2009
  26. "". Archived from the original on 2009-04-15. Retrieved 2009-08-20.
  27. LA Weekly, June 1, 2009
  28. TCM News Release
  29. Review of the TCM Classic Film Festival Archived 2012-07-19 at the Wayback Machine
  30. "Emmy Nominees". 20 October 2009.
  31. "Ovation Nominees". 20 October 2009.
  32. 1 2 "Betty Garrett, Singer, Married". The New York Times. September 9, 1944. p. 46.
  33. Garrett, pp. 68–73.
  34. Motion Picture and Television Magazine, November 1952, page 33, Ideal Publishers
  35. Bergan, Ronald (February 13, 2011). "Betty Garrett obituary". The Guardian. London.
  36. Garrett, pp. 125–152.
  37. Garrett, pp. 169–171.
  38. Dalton, Andrew (n.d.). "Death of Betty Garrett". Associated Press. Archived from the original on September 8, 2015. Retrieved December 13, 2018 via Tributes, Inc.
  39. "Betty Garrett". Find a Grave. Retrieved December 13, 2018.

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