Monday, February 14, 2011

Broadway Baby

Broadway Baby,
Learning how to sing and dance,
Waiting for that one big chance
To be in a show...


BETTY GARRETT
1919 - 2011

In her best-known movie role, the man-hungry lady taxi driver in On the Town (1949), Betty Garrett very nearly manages to steal the film right out from under her formidable, dynamic co-stars, Frank Sinatra (the meek, bookish object of her affections), Gene Kelly, and Ann Miller.

It was a star-making performance which should have been the first of many cinematic triumphs for Garrett; but then her career was severely curtailed by the 1950's blacklist. She and her husband, Larry Parks, were run out of Hollywood after he admitted to a brief flirtation with the Communist party, and then refused to name names -- yet Betty Garrett still managed to leave an indelible impression with a limited Hollywood resume. Garrett worked more steadily on the stage, and we finally got to see her in the 2001 Broadway revival of Follies. She chirped "Broadway Baby," and looked a million bucks, displaying both the gritty determination and winsome sunniness which were her dual-sided trademarks.

We will miss her. We will be wistful at what Might Have Been, had her career been allowed to flourish the way it should have, if not for that dark, unsavory period in recent American history. But mostly, we'll think of Betty Garrett and smile. Primarily, we know her from only three things -- On the Town, her recurring role on Laverne & Shirley (a childhood favorite), and seeing her in Follies -- yet we not only feel as if we must have seen her in dozens of things (we haven't: she only made 6 films and a relatively paltry 23 television guest spots, by iMDb.com's tally), but also a great deal of happiness and affection when we reflect on the work we have seen. That's the mark of a remarkable performer, to leave such a legacy of joy, no matter the length and breadth of their credits. R.I.P., Betty, and thank you for the joy.

12 comments:

  1. Love her! Loved her in 'All in the Family'! She really put Archie in his place! RIP, Betty...

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  2. Bizarre, I just watched her in an Esther Williams movie this weekend. Her best comedy number was cut out of it, but at least they saved it as a bonus on the DVD.

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  3. It's so weird to think she was 91. She'll always be young to me. RIP dear woman.

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  4. Oh, yes - she was WONDERFUL in All in the Family as the free spirited neighbor Irene! And the episode where her charecter took Edith Bunker to a "guitar mass" was so memorable! A real classic!

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  5. What I remember about her on All in the Family was that she had such a loving relationship with her husband and it seemed so sweet in contrast to the Bunker's more cantankerous give and take.

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  6. yes, i was an "all in the family" person, didn't watch "laverne & shirley."

    betty & vincent were a wonderful antidote to archie.

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  7. She was one who did it all...theatre, film, television, nightclubs - a great, without question. Peace, dear lady, you will be missed.

    (Note: I understand that TCM has a tribute in the works honoring Miss Garrett on May 23, which would have been her 92nd birthday.)

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  8. Apart from ON THE TOWN I know her best from the delighful 1955 musical MY SISTER EILEEN where she and Janet Leigh are the two Sherwood sisters arriving in new york - Betty is teamed with young Jack Lemmon - while Janet has Bob Fosse and Tommy Rall (the boys both dance up a storm) fighting over her! RIP indeed - great that she got to her 90s. That is the best revenge.

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  9. But as she once sung : "It's fate, baby it's fate".
    Very touching post. Thank you.

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  10. She was great! There is an excellent compilation of her recordings from 1947-1953 released on Sepia Records.

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  11. I met her once, in the late '80s in NYC. She was doing the Marjorie Main role in the musical stage version of Meet Me In St. Louis. She had a small apple shaped face and lots of energy. She radiated a spunky energy.

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