Tribute to Betty Garrett

Posted: Mar 5, 2012
Description

Blacklist Despite a career in show business that spanned over a half century that included songs with Frank Sinatra and arguments with Archie Bunker, Betty Garrett was blacklisted along with her husband, actor Larry Parks. Listen to her first-hand description of what the blacklist was really like and what it did to her and her husband. Betty Garrett (May 23, 1919 -- February 12, 2011) was an American actress, comedienne, singer and dancer who originally performed on Broadway before being signed to a film contract with Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer. While there, she appeared in several musical films before returning to Broadway and making guest appearances on several television series.
Later, she 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, Garrett appeared in television series such as Grey's Anatomy, Boston Public and Becker as well as in several Broadway plays and revivals.
Broadway
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.[10] It closed after only eight performances, but producer Mike Todd saw it and signed her to understudy Ethel Merman [11] and play a small role in the 1943 Cole Porter musical Something for the Boys.[12] 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.[13] The show closed quickly, and Garrett began touring the country with her nightclub act.[14][15]
[edit]MGM Garrett (left) with Ann Miller and Vera-Ellen in On the Town (1949)
After Laffing Room Only another production Garrett appeared in on broadway closed there she traveled with the show as it played extended runs in Detroit and Chicago, after which 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.[16] 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.[17] 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.[18]
The Jolson Story had been a huge hit in the United Kingdom, and Garrett and husband Larry Parks decided to capitalize on its popularity by appearing in at the London Palladium and then touring the UK 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.[19] Then Garrett was cast opposite Janet Leigh and Jack Lemmon in My Sister Eileen, a 1955 musical remake of a 1942 film starring Rosalind Russell, when Judy Holliday dropped out of the project due to a contract dispute.[20] The following year, she and Parks replaced Holliday and Sydney Chaplin 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.
In the fall of 1973, All in the Family added two new neighbors 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 days 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, unhappy after filming one episode, Thompson asked to be released from her commitment, freeing the role for Garrett. Irene was Catholic 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. Garrett remained with the series from 1973 through 1975.

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