Tuesday, April 22, 2014

And Now, a Word From Our Sponsor

Featuring birthday girl Miss Charlotte Rae!

La Rae may be familiar to most these days primarily from her long sitcom stints in the '80s, but she's been running around in show biz since the glory days of Manhattan nightlife, sharing bills back then at places like the Blue Angel with the likes of Nichols and May and that slip of a girl from Brooklyn with the big nose.  Cabaret took her into theatre, usually of an eccentric sort, and television gave her a place in the movies (I'm particularly fond of her too-brief appearance in Hair).

James Gavin, in his Intimate Nights: The Golden Age of New York Cabaret (as close a thing as there is to an authoritative tome on the subject), admires Rae's professionalism, saying "she could handle a wider variety of material than any other comedienne" of the era.  At the same time, he doesn't soft-soap the fact that, personally, she was a far cry from the plump maternal figure she later played on TV.  He quotes a producer who told him "She was hard as nails.  She told me once, 'I don't have any friends, and I don't want any.' She hated other women performers, and they hated her."

Watching her here, those other ladies must have hoped this commercial would go all Janet Leigh on her all of a sudden.  There they'd be disappointed, but to those of us with a less jaundiced view, she seems pretty delightful, here and any other place she pops up - even if there isn't gold enough in the world to induce me to watch The Facts of Life.


  1. I remember reading in 'Center Square" a biography of Paul Lynde that the two of them got some early comedy troupe training together.

  2. I've run into Charlotte a number of times over the last two decades. Had a great time chatting with her (and her tiny Texan sister) after seeing her as Berthe in Pippin at the Paper Mill Playhouse in NJ in 2000. Over the next few years, our paths crossed at Joe Allen, the Irish Rep Theater (where she introduced me to her good friend Lynn, Burton Lane's widow), and outside more than one Broadway show. She was a sparkplug on each meeting. Tiny, so tiny. Lively. Twinkling eyes. Quick with a smile. An answer to every question and comment.

    Cannot get past her resemblance to early career Shirley MacLaine in this clip.

    1. I'm glad to hear that success sweetened her disposition - Intimate Nights (not on the whole a meanspirited book) has other tales that back up the possibility that on the way up, she wasn't a treat to be around.

      And yes, she does look a lot like MacLaine here. It's too bad that she wasn't able to be as daffy on TV later on as she started out - also that she didn't have as big an audience as she could have for her singing (her "serious" trademark, early on, was what was apparently an immensely affecting go at "Why Can't I," one of my favorite numbers...