While her big break in film came with "On the Town" (1949) opposite Frank Sinatra, stage and screen actress Betty Garrett was more widely known to a younger generation as the landlady with a heart of gold on the comedy series "Lavern & Shirley" (ABC, 1975-1983). After gaining acclaim on Broadway in musical comedies such as "Call Me Mister" (1946), she was soon under contract with MGM, hoofing it alongside the likes of Mickey Rooney and Gene Kelly. Sadly, the "Red Scare" and subsequent Hollywood Blacklisting of the 1950s largely derailed the careers of Garrett and husband Larry Parks. After years in relative obscurity, she returned with the recurring role of Irene Lorenzo on "All in the Family" (CBS, 1970-79), followed by a six year stint on "Laverne & Shirley." Garrett continued to make infrequent television and stage appearances over the next three decades before passing away in February of 2011 at the age of 91.
Born May 23, 1919 in St. Joseph, MO, she made her stage debut in 1938 with the Mercury Theatre's production of "Danton's Death." She also danced with Martha Graham and performed at the 1939 World's Fair. On Broadway, she appeared in "All in Fun" (1941), "Let Freedom Sing" (1942), "Call Me Mister" (1946) and other musicals before an MGM contract lured her to Hollywood. Garrett's first film was the non-musical "The Big City" (1948), in which three men race to be the first to marry in order to adopt a young girl (Margaret O'Brien). In the film, she played the prospective bride of George Murphy. From there, she was tapped for "Words and Music" (1948), the sanitized biography of Rodgers and Hart, in which she sang "Manhattan" with Mickey Rooney.
Arguably her most memorable film was the classic musical, "On the Town" (1949), in which she portrayed the female taxi driver romanced by Frank Sinatra. Her greatest musical success, however, was in "My Sister Eileen" for Columbia (1955), in which she played the plain-Jane sister often overshadowed by the tempting Eileen (Janet Leigh). It was around this time period, however, that her husband, Larry Parks, had been the first actor called before the Communist-hunting House Committee on un-American Activities as an unfriendly witness, and although he eventually named names, Parks' career took a tumble.
In deference to him and the poisonous atmosphere in Hollywood at that time, Garrett stopped acting in films after "Shadow on the Window" (1957). Although she made her television debut in a 1955 episode of "The Ford Television Theatre" (NBC/ABC, 1951-57), with the exception of a repeat appearance on the show two years later and guest turns on "The Dinah Shore Chevy Show" (NBC, 1956-1963) and "The Lloyd Bridges Show" (CBS, 1962-63), she was hardly seen on screens large or small for several years. Instead, Garrett and Parks tended to raising two sons - one of whom would become actor Andrew Parks - and running a real estate business. Garrett also made periodic returns to Broadway in productions like "Bells Are Ringing" (1958), "Beg, Borrow or Steal" (1960), and "A Girl Could Get Lucky" (1964).
Garrett took on her first recurring role in 1973, when Norman Lear added her to the cast of "All in the Family" (CBS, 1970-79). As the feisty feminist neighbor Irene Lorenzo, she frequently sparred with Carroll O'Connor's Archie Bunker. She also performed a one-woman show in Los Angeles called "Betty Garrett and Other Songs." When Parks died in 1975, Garrett left the cast of "All in the Family," but the following year, joined the cast of "Laverne & Shirley" (ABC, 1975-1983). As Edna Babish, the title duo's (Cindy Williams and Penny Marshall) landlady who would eventually marry Laverne's father (Phil Foster), Garrett remained with the series until 1981, when she was lured away to co-star in the short-lived Broadway musical, "The Supporting Cast."
Having earned a comfortable living through her television work and various real estate holdings, Garrett was less active in the 1980s and 1990s. She reappeared sporadically on programs such as "The Love Boat" (ABC, 1977-1986) and "Murder She Wrote" (CBS, 1984-1996), in addition to being interviewed for Broadway-themed entries of the program "Biography" (A&E, 1987- ). Later appearances included spots on "Becker" (CBS, 1998-2004) and "Grey's Anatomy" (ABC, 2004- ), in addition to small roles in the independent horror spoofs "Trail of the Screaming Forehead" (2007) and "Dark and Stormy Night" (2009). The actress died at age 91 of an aortic aneurysm in Los Angeles.