Betty Garrett, Blacklisted Musical Actress, Dead at 91

Star of "On the Town" and "Laverne & Shirley" died yesterday in Los Angeles.

ByKevin Dolak
February 13, 2011, 12:04 PM

Feb. 13, 2011— -- Betty Garrett, a star of stage and screen throughout the second half of the 20th century, died in Los Angeles Saturday at the age of 91, according to her son Garrett Parks.

The actress was in good health until Friday, having taught her musical comedy class at Los Angeles' Theater West on Wednesday, but was taken to Los Angeles' Ronald Reagan UCLA Medical Center with heart trouble on Friday. She died the following morning with her family at her side.

Garrett rose to fame in MGM musicals, starring alongside Frank Sinatra in Busby Berkeley's "Take Me Out to the Ballgame" and later in "On the Town," in which she sang the memorably racy tune "Come Up to My Place."

Garrett also appeared in the star-studded musical "Words and Music," a fictionalized account of the partnership of songwriters Richard Rodgers and Lorenz Hart, and in the musical comedy "Neptune's Daughter," in which she sang the Oscar-winning classic "Baby, It's Cold Outside," opposite Red Skelton.

The brakes were hit on Garrett's career when MGM dropped her after her husband, actor Larry Park, was forced by Congress to testify about earlier involvement with the Communist Party.

Park, who had earned an Oscar nod for his portrayal of singer Al Jolson in the 1946 biopic "The Jolson Story," was called before the House Un-American Activities Committee in 1951, where he admitted to joining the Communist Party in 1941 and leaving a few years later.

Parks asked the committee not to force him "to crawl through the mud as an informer," but he later agreed to testify fully in executive session, effectively killing his Hollywood career.

"It was a dark period, a foolish, foolish period. It destroyed a lot of lives and ruined my husband's career," Garrett said in a 1998 interview.

Garrett did not have to testify about her brief brush with the party "because I was nine months pregnant with my second son, and they didn't think I would be a good witness," according to The Associated Press.

The blacklisted Garrett decided to hit the road with her husband as a musical act, where they found success in Las Vegas and London. When asked about her feelings on being blacklisted during the McCarthy era, Garrett expressed more sadness than anger.

"It's not my nature to be bitter. What I feel is deep sorrow. We both, I think, were just on the verge of becoming really big stars, particularly Larry. And it just went crashing down," she said, according to the AP.

Eventually the stage bookings dried up for the duo, and Parks found work as a home builder until his death in 1975 at the age of 60.

Meanwhile, Garrett's acting career had rebounded on the small screen, with roles on the decade-defining sitcom "All in the Family" as Irene Lorenzo, the bubbly friend of Edith Bunker, and as landlady Edna Babish on the single-gals-in-the-city sitcom "Laverne & Shirley."

In her later life Garrett balanced screen work with her Broadway career, appearing in classics like "Meet Me in St. Louis" in 1989 and a revival of Stephen Sondheim's "Follies" in 2001, while also teaching at Workshop West, the theater she helped found in the late 1950s.

A major milestone of her later career came in 2003 when she earned an Emmy nod for best Outstanding Guest Actress in a Comedy Series in the medical sitcom "Becker."

Garrett is survived by sons Garrett and Andrew Parks.

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