Monday, February 14, 2011

Big Screen in the Sky

Saturday marked the final curtain for one of the most beloved stars of stage, film and television.  Betty Garrett began her career hoofing, singing and telling jokes  on the Borscht Belt before joining Orson Welles’s Mercury Theater as an understudy and dancing with Martha Graham’s company at Carnegie Hall.  Securing a small role in Cole Porter’s Something for the Boys on Broadway, she filled in for the show’s star, Ethel Merman, when Merman fell ill for a week.  The exposure led to more roles on Broadway and, eventually, a contract with MGM where she played comic sidekicks in some of the studio’s splashiest musicals of the late 1940s, most notably as the wise-cracking taxi driver in On the Town.  Film roles dried up for Garrett and her husband Larry Parks during the McCarthy era, and for the next two decades they concentrated on summer stock and their cabaret act.  In the 1970s, Garrett’s career rebounded first with the role of an outspoken neighbor on All in the Family and then as the much-married landlady Edna Babish on Laverne & Shirley.  In the following decades, Garrett made frequent guest appearances on television while continuing her busy career on stage.  Rarely a leading lady, but always an electric presence, Garrett’s tough gal persona melted at the chance for love without ever losing her wits. 

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