Elizabeth "Betty" Garrett (May 23, 1919 – February 12, 2011) was an
American actress, comedian, singer and dancer who originally performed
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
Boston Public and Becker as well as in several
1 Early life
2 Early career
3 Later career
4 Awards and nominations
5 Personal life
9 Television work
10 Stage work
13 External links
Garrett was born in Saint Joseph, Missouri, the daughter of Elizabeth
Octavia (née Stone) and Curtis Garrett. 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 inability to handle finances
eventually led to their divorce, and Garrett and her mother lived in a
series of residential hotels in order to curtail expenses.
When Garrett was eight years old, her mother married the fiancé she
had jilted in order to marry Curtis. They settled in Regina,
Saskatchewan, where her new stepfather worked in the meat packing
industry. A year later her mother discovered her new husband was
involved in a sexual relationship with his male assistant, and she and
Betty returned to Seattle.  After graduating from public grammar
school, Garrett enrolled at the
Annie Wright School
Annie Wright School in Tacoma, which
she attended on a full scholarship. There was no drama department
there, and 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
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
Margaret Webster for the Shakespearean classics, and fellow
Daniel Mann and Richard Conte. She felt she was
destined to be a dramatic actress and shied away from playing comedic
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.  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.  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. It was during this period she joined the
Communist Party and began performing at fundraisers for progressive
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. It closed
after only eight performances, but producer
Mike Todd saw it and
signed her to understudy Ethel Merman and play a small role in the
Cole Porter musical Something for the Boys. 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. The show closed quickly, and Garrett began
touring the country with her nightclub act.
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. It led to her being signed to a one-year contract
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
George Murphy and Robert Preston. 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
The Jolson Story
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 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. Garrett
was then cast opposite
Janet Leigh and
Jack Lemmon in My Sister
Eileen, a 1955 musical remake of a 1942 film starring Rosalind
Judy Holliday dropped out of the project due to a
contract dispute. The following year she and Parks replaced
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
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
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 -- 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. She won the 1974
Golden Globe for her performance on the series.
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. 
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
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
Spoon River Anthology and
Betty Garrett and
Other Songs.
Garrett received a star on the
Hollywood Walk Of Fame
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
In 2010, Garrett appeared alongside former two-time co-star Esther
Williams during Turner Classic Movies' first annual Classic Film
Festival. 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,
Awards and nominations
1974: Won for Best Supporting Actress for the role of Irene Lorenzo in
the television series All in the Family.
2009: Nominated for Lead Actress in a Play for the role of Sarita
Myrtle in the
Theatre West production of "Waiting in the Wings"
While appearing in Los Angeles, Garrett was invited to perform a
comedy sketch at the Actor's Lab in Hollywood. It was there 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
Counter-Attack and Garrett continued 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, four months after their initial meeting.
Lloyd Bridges served as best man. Garrett and Parks spent a
month honeymooning in Malibu Beach, and then lived apart for the next
two years while pursuing their careers.
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, and
Broadway actress Karen Culliver.
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 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
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
Broadway shows. 
Garrett died of an aortic aneurysm in Los Angeles on February 12,
2011, at the age of 91. She was cremated.
Big City (1948)
Words and Music (1948)
Neptune's Daughter (1949)
Some of the Best (1949) (short subject)
Take Me Out to the Ball Game (1949)
On the Town (1949) as Brunhilde "Hildy" Esterhazy
My Sister Eileen (1955)
The Shadow on the Window
The Shadow on the Window (1957)
Broadway: The Golden Age, by the Legends Who Were There (2003)
Trail of the Screaming Forehead (2007)
Dark and Stormy Night (2009)
Troupers (2011) (documentary)
Carol Channing: Larger Than Life (2012) (documentary)
The Best of Anything (1960)
All in the Family
All in the Family (cast member from 1973-1975)
Who's Happy Now? (1975)
Laverne & Shirley (cast member from 1976-1981)
All the Way Home (1981)
Somerset Gardens (1989) (unsold pilot)
The Golden Girls
The Golden Girls (1992)
The Long Way Home (1998)
Danton's Death (1938)
Railroads on Parade (1939)
You Can't Sleep Here (1940)
A Piece of Our Mind (1940)
All in Fun (1941)
Meet the People
Meet the People (1941)
Of V We Sing (1942)
Let Freedom Sing (1942)
Something for the Boys (1943)
Laffing Room Only (1944)
Call Me Mister (1946)
The Anonymous Lover (1952)
Bells Are Ringing (1958) (two-week replacement for Judy Holliday)
Beg, Borrow or Steal (1960)
Spoon River Anthology
Spoon River Anthology (1963)
A Girl Could Get Lucky (1964)
The Tiger/The Typists (1965)
Plaza Suite (1968)
Who's Happy Now? (1968)
Call Me Mister (1969)
Something for the Boys (1969)
And Miss Reardon Drinks A Little (1972)
Betty Garrett and Other Songs (1974)
The Supporting Cast (1981)
Breaking Up the Act (1982)
Meet Me in St. Louis
Meet Me in St. Louis (1989)
A High-Time Salute to Martin and Blane (1991)
Tom-Tom on a Rooftop (1997)
Arsenic and Old Lace (1998)
Happy Lot! (1998)
Tallulah & Tennessee (1999)
My One and Only (2006)
Morning's at Seven (2007)
Betty Garrett Biography (1919-)
^ Garrett, pp. 3–8.
^ Garrett, p. 6.
^ Garrett, pp. 16–17.
^ Garrett, pp. 22–25.
^ Garrett, pp. 29–33.
^ Garrett, pp. 34–39.
^ Garrett, pp. 41–45.
Mercury Theatre Reopens with Orson Welles's Production of Danton's
Death". New York Times. Nov 3, 1938. p. 26.
^ Garrett, pp. 47–57.
^ "News of the Stage". New York Times. Sep 22, 1942. p. 25.
^ Desmond, John (Jan 2, 1944). "Pity the Poor Understudy". New York
Times. p. SM16.
Broadway Debut". New York Times. November 2, 1942.
^ Zolotow, Sam (January 13, 1944). "'Jackpot' Arrives at Alvin
Tonight". New York Times. p. 15.
^ Zolotow, Sam (March 7, 1944). "Freedly Musical to Close Saturday".
New York Times. p. 14.
^ Garrett, pp. 59–67.
^ Garrett, pp. 76–79.
^ Scheuer, Phillip K. (November 30, 1947). "This Commedienne 'Sings
All Over'". Los Angeles Times. p. 46.
^ "MGM Officials List 27 Films Ready or On Way". Los Angeles Times.
March 9, 1948. p. 16.
^ Garrett, pp. 155–165.
^ Garrett, p. 203.
^ Garrett, pp. 131–137.
^ a b "Betty Garrett". Golden Globe Awards. Retrieved October 29,
^ Garrett, pp. 237–241.
^ Los Angeles Times, May 27, 2009
^ LA Weekly, June 1, 2009
^ TCM News Release
^ Review of the TCM Classic Film Festival Archived 2012-07-19 at the
^ "Ovation Nominees". 20 October 2009.
^ a b "Betty Garrett, Singer, Married". New York Times. September 9,
1944. p. 46.
^ Garrett, pp. 68–73.
^ Bergan, Ronald (February 13, 2011). "
Betty Garrett obituary". The
^ Garrett, pp. 125–152.
^ Garrett, pp. 169–171.
^ Betty Garrett, versatile comedic actress, dies at 91
Garrett, Betty; Ron Rapoport (1998).
Betty Garrett and Other Songs: A
Life on Stage and Screen. Lanham, Maryland: Madison Books.
Wikimedia Commons has media related to Betty Garrett.
Betty Garrett on IMDb
Betty Garrett at the Internet
Betty Garrett at TVGuide.com
Betty Garrett at the TCM Movie Database
Betty Garrett at Find a Grave
Betty Garrett interview video at the Archive of American Television
Golden Globe Award for Best Supporting Actress – Series, Miniseries
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