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Betty Garrett (born May 23, 1919) is an Americanmarker actress, comedienne, singer, and dancer who began her career in the golden age of movie musicals. She is 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 and Shirley.

Early life

Garrett was born in Saint Joseph, Missouri. Shortly after her birth, her parents relocated to Seattlemarker, where her mother Octavia managed the sheet music department in Sherman Clay while her father Curtis worked as a travelling 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, Saskatchewanmarker, where stepfather Sam 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 in Tacomamarker, 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 York Citymarker.

Garrett and her mother arrived in Manhattanmarker 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 Shakespearian 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.

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. 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 Hallmarker and the Alvin Theatremarker, sang at the Village Vanguard, and appeared in satirical and political revues staged by the Brooklynmarker-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 causes.

Garrett made her Broadwaymarker 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 1943 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.

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 Chicagomarker. Eventually Parks joined her and introduced her to his mother, who lived in nearby Jolietmarker. Parks returned to Los Angeles to begin filming 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, spent a month honeymooning in Malibu Beach, and then lived apart for the next two years while pursuing their respective careers.

closing on Broadway, Laffing Room Only played extended runs in Detroitmarker and Chicago. Garrett 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 also 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. Mayer renewed her contract and she appeared in Words and Music, On the Town, Take Me Out To The Ball Game, and Neptune's Daughter in quick succession.

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. While he willingly admitted he had been a member of the party, he refused to name others, but it was widely thought he had, and 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 Vegasmarker showrooms, summer stock productions, and touring companies of Broadway shows.

The Jolson Story had been a huge hit in Great Britain, and Garrett and Parks decided to capitalize on its popularity by appearing at the London Palladiummarker 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. 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. 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.

Later career

All in the Family was an established hit when producer Norman Lear created the spin-off series The Jeffersons, in which Archie and Edith Bunker's African American neighbors relocated to Manhattan, and he decided to replace them with Italian American Frank Lorenzo and his feisty Irish American wife Irene, who worked with Archie. 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 she appeared to be a front runner for the role of Irene. It went instead to Sada Thompson, but the theatrically trained actress couldn't adjust to the rigors of television production, and after filming one episode she asked to be released from her commitment, thus freeing the role for Garrett. (Frank Lorenzo was portrayed by Vincent Gardenia, but he too had come from a theatrical background and he left the show after one season, although his character's sudden disappearance never was explained.) Irene was Archie's nemesis, beating him at pool and annoying him simply because she was a liberal and a Catholic. Garret remained with the series from 1973 through 1975.

The following year, Garrett was performing her one-woman show Betty Garrett and Other Songs in Westwoodmarker when she was offered the role of landlady Edna Babish in Laverne and Shirley. The character was an eight-time divorcée who eventually married Laverne's father Frank. Although Garrett felt she never was given enough to do on the show, she appreciated the fact her musical talents occasionally were incorporated into the plot, and she won the Golden Globe Award for Best Supporting Actress – Series, Miniseries or Television Film for her performance. 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 and Shirley was not an option, since the writers had explained Edna's disappearance by having her divorce Frank.

In the ensuing years, Garret 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; on stage in Plaza Suite (with Parks), And Miss Reardon Drinks A Little, and the 2001 Broadway revival of Follies; and on screen in Trail of the Screaming Forehead and Dark and Stormy Night. At Theatre Westmarker, which she co-founded, she directed Arthur Miller's The Price and appeared in the play Waiting in the Wings. She has won the Los Angeles Drama Critics Circle Award twice, for Spoon River Anthology and Betty Garrett and Other Songs.

Garrett received a star on the Hollywood Walk Of Famemarker in 2003. On the occasion of her ninetieth birthday in 2009, she was honored at a celebration sponsored by Theatre West at the Music Box Theatre in Hollywood.

Garrett and Parks remained married until his death in 1975. She has two sons, composer Garrett and actor Andrew.


  1. Garrett, Betty with Rapoport, Ron, Betty Garrett and Other Songs: A Life on Stage and Screen. Lanham, Maryland: Madison Books 1998. ISBN 1-568-33098-7, pp. 3-8
  2. Garrett, pp. 6, 16-17
  3. Garrett, pp. 22-25
  4. Garrett, pp. 29-33
  5. Garrett, pp. 34-39
  6. Garrett, pp. 41-45
  7. Garrett, pp. 47-57
  8. Garrett, pp. 59-67
  9. Garrett, pp. 68-73
  10. Garrett, pp. 76-79
  11. Garrett, pp. 92-115
  12. Garrett, pp. 125-152, 169-171
  13. Garrett, pp. 155-165
  14. Garrett, p. 203
  15. Garrett, pp. 231-237
  16. Garrett, pp. 237-241
  17. Los Angeles Times, May 27, 2009
  19. LA Weekly, June 1, 2009

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