Feature

Betty Garrett, 1919–2011

The musical-comedy star scarred by the Hollywood blacklist

Just as Betty Garrett appeared to be hitting her professional stride, her career skidded to a halt. Garrett enjoyed a triumphant 1949, with three well-reviewed roles in MGM musicals. She played a baseball fan with a crush on Frank Sinatra in Take Me Out to the Ballgame, an amorous cabdriver who again pursues Sinatra in On the Town, and a man-hungry scatterbrain who pants after Red Skelton in Neptune’s Daughter. But in 1951, her husband, actor Larry Parks, appeared before the House Un-American Activities Committee, where he admitted having been a member of the Communist Party in the 1940s. Parks and Garrett landed on Hollywood’s unofficial blacklist, and parts dried up. “It was a dark period,” she said years later. “It destroyed a lot of lives.” Once blacklisted, Garrett and Parks made the best of their exile, touring for two decades in “summer stock and other theaters where they could perform together,” said The New York Times.

Born in St. Joseph, Mo., Garrett showed a talent for singing and dancing from an early age. After her father’s death, Garrett moved with her mother to New York City. She landed her first Broadway role in Orson Welles’s production of Danton’s Death.

In 1973, producer Norman Lear revived Garrett’s career by casting her as Irene Lorenzo, Archie Bunker’s liberal neighbor in All in the Family, said the Associated Press. She also played a landlady in Laverne and Shirley, and appeared on Broadway from time to time. Until her death, Garrett insisted she wasn’t bitter about the blacklist. “What I feel,” she said in 1998, “is deep sorrow.”

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