Tony and Emmy Nominee Charlotte Rae Dies at 92
Tony and Emmy nominated actress, comedienne and singer, Charlotte Rae passed away in her Los Angeles home, surrounded by family, on August 5th, 2018. Charlotte began her career on the radio and at the Wauwatosa Children's Theatre at the age of 16.
For nearly a decade, she was the wise housemother of four girls at a boarding school, and to millions more watching their televisions, on the hit series, The Facts of Life. She shared advice on the challenges of growing up while she struggled privately with a developmentally disabled son. This and her other personal struggles-as well as triumphs and a deep humanity-found their way into the episodes of the sitcom as she pushed the show's writers to keep things real and tell stories that might inspire teenagers and their parents.
Charlotte was the middle daughter of Esther Ottenstein and Meyer Lubotsky, Russian Jewish immigrants who settled in Milwaukee. Charlotte came of age during the Great Depression and the Second World War. Her older sister, Beverly had a brief career as an opera singer and her younger sister, Miriam co-wrote several musicals and for many years has performed as a singer and pianist at various venues in and around Dallas. Charlotte was a part of the Northwestern University's renaissance of theater and music and comedy along with many great creators and performers of her generation; she spent many crazy days-and nights-in Evanston and New York cavorting with roommate, Cloris Leachman, comedy partner, Paul Lynde, and other rising stars of the late 40's and early 50's.
Her career spanned more than sixty years, beginning in the New York Cabaret scene of the early 50's. She performed standup and special material at the Village Vanguard, Blue Angel, and other legendary night clubs and then appeared live on the Ed Sullivan Show, Playhouse 90, and other classics of the small screen. She played "the Twitch" and other iconic comic television roles on the Phil Silver's Show and created the role of Sylvia Schnauzer on TV's classic, Car 54 Where Are You?
Her career in the theater included numerous roles on Broadway stage as well as Shakespeare in the Park and Summer Stock. She earned the respect of peers, admiration of fans, multiple Tony Award nominations, and had a rich array of experiences with some of the great actors of her generation. Her work on the small screen included a year with the Muppets on Sesame Street, as well as seasons on the ground-breaking Hot L Baltimore, Rich Little's variety show and then a season on Different Strokes on which she created Mrs. Garrett who spun off into the iconic house mother on The Facts of Life-a hit show that earned her an Emmy nomination and launched the careers of writer/director Paul Haggis and international star George Clooney.
Off-stage and off-screen, Charlotte's life was a rich mixture of joy and heartbreak that included a 25 year marriage to and creative partnership with legendary composer and music editor and supervisor, John Strausswith whom she had two sons, Andy Strauss (who died in 1999) and Larry Strauss with whom she wrote her memoir, The Facts of My Life, in 2015.
She not only battled pancreatic cancer for years, she also became an important advocate for the Pancreatic Cancer Action Network (PanCAN), using her voice to educate the public about pancreatic cancer symptoms and risk factors.
Charlotte - who lost her mother, uncle and sister to the disease - partnered with PanCAN, the largest nonprofit dedicated to attacking pancreatic cancer in the U.S. She fought to raise awareness for pancreatic cancer by both fundraising for PanCAN and by attending the organization's Advocacy Day, where she urged lawmakers in Washington, D.C. to increase funding for cancer research.
Charlotte is survived by her sister, Miriam Guten as well as son, Larry, his wife, Eleanor Strauss, grandchildren, Sean Strauss, Carly Fox and her husband Ethan Fox, and Nora Sidoti Magdol and her wife Katrina Sidoti Magdol and their daughter Louisa Sidoti Magdol. Private and public services are yet to be announced. In lieu of flowers, the family is asking that donations be made to the, The Actors Fund, Pancreatic Cancer Action Network (Pan-Can) or the Clare Foundation.