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Laverne & Shirley: Betty Garrett Dies at 91; Goodbye Mrs. Babish

Betty GarrettWe’ve just learned that veteran character actress Betty Garrett passed away early this morning at the age of 91. The movie musical legend died at UCLA Medical Center in Westwood, California with her family by her side.

Born in 1919, Garret was encouraged to pursue a career on stage after high school by her bishop. A friend of her mother’s also arranged for an interview with Martha Graham who then in turn recommended Garrett for a scholarship at the Neighborhood Playhouse in New York City.

During the summer months, she performed in the Borscht Belt where she had the chance to work with legendary talents like Jerome Robbins, Imogene Coca, and Danny Kaye. Garrett made her Broadway debut in 1942 in a revue. Not long after, she was signed to understudy Ethel Merman for a lead role in a Cole Porter musical. She went on to other musicals which led to her being signed to a contract with MGM by Louis B. Meyer. She co-starred in movies like Words and Music, On the Town, Take Me Out To The Ball Game, and Neptune’s Daughter.

In the early 1970s, Garrett had a regular role on Norman Lear’s All in the Family as Edith’s friend and neighbor, Irene Lorenzo. She was Irish Catholic and liberal and frequently battled verbally with Archie. When Irene began working at Archie’s plant, she spoke out about being paid less than the man she replaced. Irene also provided comfort to Edith when she found a lump in her breast and confided that she was a breast cancer survivor. Garrett appeared on the series from 1973 until 1975.

Shortly afterward, Garrett was offered a role on Laverne & Shirley as the girls’ landlady, Edna Babish. The character was a five time divorcee who went on to marry Laverne’s father, Frank. The actress felt that she was underutilized on the series but her musical theatre talents were sometimes worked into the plots.

When it looked like the series was going to end, she committed to The Supporting Cast on Broadway. When Laverne & Shirley was extended for another season, Garrett had to be written out and her character was said to have divorced Frank. Unfortunately, the Broadway show closed after just eight performances.

In her later years, Garrett continued to be active in the theatre world and made guest appearances on TV shows like The Golden Girls, Boston Public, Grey’s Anatomy, and Murder, She Wrote. Garrett was nominated for an Guest Actress Emmy for her work on Becker. She received a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame in 2003.

Garrett met her future husband, actor Larry Parks, in the mid-forties and after a short courtship the two were married. They remained together until his death in 1975. She is survived by their two sons — actor Andrew Parks and composer Garrett Parks — the sons’ wives, and a granddaughter.

What do you think? How will you best remember Betty Garrett? All in the Family, Laverne & Shirley, her musicals, or other performances?

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{ 11 comments… read them below or add one }

Bruce Holt March 2, 2011 at 1:31 am

I have an old musical she was in called ” WORDS and MUSIC ” !! She starred with Perry Como, Tom Drake, Mickey Rooney to name a few. She sang the song ” A Small Hotel ” ! I have the movie and watch it from time-to-time….. It is a wonderful movie……

Auburn, Al


Paul Bowen February 14, 2011 at 10:23 am

For me, she will always be remembered as Irene, who had a heart of Gold for her neighbor Edith. Irene tried to speak her mind, and spoke for equality for all/


ruby lee February 13, 2011 at 7:37 am

look her up on the internet love to learn about stars from the l140’s I remember he
from Archie and Laverne and shirley I could relate to L&S because my parents worked inthe auto industry in Bay City ,Mich ine the 1959


Scott February 12, 2011 at 10:11 pm

“My Sister Eileen,” playing the older sister to Janet Leigh. Their performance as sisters had so much chemistry – the subtle rivalries, but underlying support and affection.


jtbwriter February 12, 2011 at 8:41 pm

She was a funny, witty actress who played off Frank Sinatra in the 40’s and Carroll O’Connor and Phil Foster in the 70’s without missing a beat. God bless her and her family-she leaves very few comrades from the golden age of movie musicals and we won’t see her like again.


Kate February 12, 2011 at 8:37 pm

On the Town! Pushing a very young and very skinny Frank Sinatra around New York. The best!


Laine February 12, 2011 at 6:36 pm

I loved her in “On The Town” with Frank Sinatra, Ann Miller, Gene Kelly, Jules Munshin, and Vera Ellen.


Bernie February 12, 2011 at 6:01 pm

I’ll always remember her as Brunhilde Esterhazy, in the 1949 musical “On the Town” with Gene Kelly, Frank Sinatra, Ann Miller, Vera Ellen and Jules Munshin.


Roger K February 12, 2011 at 5:39 pm

Um, how can you refer to “her future husband” and name her sons, but omit the fact that her husband was Larry Parks, who starred in “The Jolson Story” and was later blacklisted?!


admin February 12, 2011 at 7:30 pm

@Roger K: It was unintentionally edited out. Thanks for noticing!


John Weaver February 12, 2011 at 5:30 pm

I remember Betty as Irene Lorenzo on All in the Family. She kept Archie in his place. She was a beautiful, talented and under rated actress.


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