For an entire generation of viewers, The Facts of Life‘s Mrs. Garrett was a surrogate mother. Always there with a friendly ear and some practical advice, she was able to not only help Blair, Jo, Natalie, and Tootie with their problems, but the audience as well. The main reason that the character struck such a chord with audiences was because of the funny and deeply human performance of Charlotte Rae.
Beginning her career in the 1950s, Rae tasted early success with a supporting role on Car 54, Where Are You? She was an accomplished singer, and worked steadily in theater, motion pictures, and on television until debuting her signature role when Diff’rent Strokes premiered in 1978. Her character of loving housekeeper Edna Garrett was an immediate success. Soon, Edna was on her way to Peekskill, NY to work at the Eastland School for Girls when the spin-off The Facts of Life premiered in 1979. Although the first season suffered from having too many young characters (including a pre-fame Molly Ringwald), it was retooled in its second year to focus on just four students — wealthy Blair (Lisa Whelchel), tough girl Jo (Nancy McKeon), charming Natalie (Mindy Cohn), and precocious Tootie (Kim Fields).
The show was a smash hit, with Rae staying on board for seven of the series’ 9 seasons. After leaving the series in 1986, she remained an in-demand actress and voice-over artist who appeared in everything from ER to the 2001 telefilm The Facts of Life Reunion. In 2015, Rae wrote her candid autobiography The Facts of My Life, it was well-received by critics and fans alike.
Charlotte Rae reminded close with “Edna’s girls” over the years, and her former co-stars have been speaking about their warm memories of her on social media since word of her death spread last night. Rae is survived by a son, and countless fans across the globe who will continue to cherish Mrs. Garrett’s life lessons. She was 92.