Saturday, February 12, 2011

Betty Garrett Dies at 91

This news was particularly sad for me: the one and only Betty Garrett, a joyous presence in a handful of classic musicals, has passed on at the age of 91.

Garrett's vivacious personality and good humor made a lasting impression in MGM's WORDS AND MUSIC (1948), TAKE ME OUT TO THE BALL GAME (1949), NEPTUNE'S DAUGHTER (1949), and ON THE TOWN (1949). She also did a marvelous job as Ruth in a musical version of MY SISTER EILEEN (1955).

I had the privilege of seeing Garrett in her one-woman show on two occasions in the 1970s, which I described in a 90th birthday tribute to the actress in 2009. As Steven Leigh Morris writes at L.A. Weekly, Garrett was "a revered figure in the Los Angeles theater community." She was a founding member of Theatre West in 1962.

Her best-known TV roles included recurring parts on ALL IN THE FAMILY and LAVERNE AND SHIRLEY. As recently as 2006 she appeared in a memorable episode of GREY'S ANATOMY along with fellow MGM veteran June Lockhart.

Garrett's husband, actor Larry Parks, died in 1975. She is survived by two sons and their families, including daughter-in-law Karen Culliver.

Garrett's godson was actor Jeff Bridges; this blog has a lovely photo of the two of them together.

Please visit my 2009 post for links to Garrett's autobiography and a wonderful archival interview on YouTube.

I loved MGM musicals from a young age, and Betty Garrett will always have a very special place in my heart. She was a unique and memorable talent.

Update: In the Los Angeles Times obituary, theater historian Miles Kreuger used a version of one of the adjectives I chose to start this post, saying of Garrett that "On the screen and on television there was just a wonderful sense of joy."

I was glad to hear that Miss Garrett was in good health until the end; she taught a class just a few days ago.

A friend remembers Betty here.

Sunday Update: More obituaries have been published by the London Daily Telegraph, Playbill, and the Associated Press.

This thread at the Turner Classic Movies Message Boards has some wonderful photos, including Garrett's appearance with Esther Williams at the screening of NEPTUNE'S DAUGHTER at last year's TCM Festival, as well as surrounded by Jeff and Beau Bridges at her Walk of Fame ceremony on Hollywood Boulevard.

February 14th Update: TCM will honor Betty Garrett with a seven-film tribute on her birthday on May 23rd. Titles will include ON THE TOWN (1949) and MY SISTER EILEEN (1955).

ON THE TOWN was previously scheduled to air this coming Friday, February 18th.


Blogger Vienna said...

Loved Betty in all her films but nice to see her in a starring role in MY SISTER EILEEN. "Give me a Band and my Baby" is just wonderful.
I was lucky enough to see her on Broadway in MEET ME IN ST LOUIS and to be invited to her dressing room where a photo of Larry Parks was prominently displayed. Such a thrill.

6:37 AM  

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