Betty Garrett, perhaps most remembered as the Frank Sinatra’s wise-cracking taxi-driver sweetheart in MGM’s “On The Town” died yeaterday after a short illness.
Garrett, who had a great comic talent, as well as being able to sing and dance, was part of the MGM family during the golden years of musicals. She made “On The Town”, “Words and Music”, “Take Me Out to the Ballgame” and “My Sister Eileen” during the late forties and fifties. She was at the top of her game when the Communist scare in the 1950s brought her career to a screeching, ugly halt. She and her husband the actor Larry Parks (“The Jolson Story”) were summoned by the House UnAmerican Activities Committee and questioned about their involvement.
The very pregnant Garrett was never called to testify, but her husband was. With his admission of Communist Party membership from 1941-1945 and refusal to name names, he made it to Hollywood Blacklist. After the incident, Garrett and Parks worked up nightclub singing/comedy acts along with appearing in legit plays.
She was a founding member of the 49-year-old Theatre West, a non-profit theatre in North Hollywood, and appeared in many of their productions, including “Nunsense, Waiting in the Wings, and a revue, Betty Garrett, Closet Songwriter. Just last Wednesday, Garrett taught a weekly musical comedy class at Theatre West.
She also appeared in many benefits for S.T.A.G.E. Garrett received the Career Achievement Awards from the Los Angeles Drama Critics’ Circle and the Ovation Awards, among other honours.
In a 2009 interview with The LA Times, Garrett reflected on her long career. “People say, how come you’ve lasted this long?” she said. “I say I think it’s because all of my life I have gotten to do what I love to do.”
Born on 23 May 1919, Garrett had a flair for performance that was apparent at an early age. In 1936, a family friend arranged for her to meet famed dancer Martha Graham. Graham recommended Garrett for a scholarship at the Neighborhood Playhouse in New York. “I graduated from high school at 16 and came right to New York,” Garrett recalled.
Soon she was landing roles on Broadway. She started to be noticed in “Call Me Mister”, a sketch comedy revue in which she sang the hit song “South America, Take It Away”. Then Hollywood came calling. A Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer contract took her to the west coast in 1947, and she spent the next several years making musicals.
I was in on the end of what they called the golden years. I met Gable and Tracy and, of course, Gene Kelly and Sinatra. To grow up with Frank being your idol and then suddenly being his leading lady is an extraordinary fantasy lived out.”
In her later years she was regular on the television series “All in the Family” and “Laverne & Shirley” and made many cameo appearances including “Grey’s Anatomy” in 2006.
Graham Spicer is a writer, director and photographer in Milan, blogging (under the name ‘Gramilano’) about dance, opera, music and photography for people “who are a bit like me and like some of the things I like”. He was a regular columnist for Opera Now magazine and wrote for the BBC until transferring to Italy.
His scribblings have appeared in various publications from Woman’s Weekly to Gay Times, and he wrote the ‘Danza in Italia’ column for Dancing Times magazine.