Correction to This Article
Earlier versions of this article incorrectly reported that Betty Garrett's husband, Larry Parks, won an Oscar in 1946 for his role in "The Jolson Story." He was nominated but did not win. The article also incorrectly reported Sen. Joseph McCarthy's middle initial. It was R., not T. This version has been corrrected.

Comedienne Betty Garrett, '40s co-star of Frank Sinatra, dies at 91

Betty Garrett with her husband, actor Larry Parks. Both suffered career setbacks after he testified that he had once been a communist.
Betty Garrett with her husband, actor Larry Parks. Both suffered career setbacks after he testified that he had once been a communist. (Associated Press)
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Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, February 14, 2011; 7:13 PM

Betty Garrett, a comic actress who played the man-hungry love interest of Frank Sinatra and Red Skelton in movie musicals of the late 1940s and decades later had recurring roles in the TV sitcoms "All in the Family" and "Laverne & Shirley," died Feb. 12 of an aortic aneurysm at a Los Angeles hospital. She was 91.

In a seven-decade career, Ms. Garrett was known for her exuberant performances in stage and screen musicals. A supporting player in movies, her persona became the vivacious wisecracker who was often in pursuit of reluctant men.

Ms. Garrett played a lusty and aggressive cabdriver named Brunhilde Esterhazy in "On the Town" (1949), a musical directed by Stanley Donen and Gene Kelly, with music by Leonard Bernstein and with a witty script by Adolph Green and Betty Comden.

In one memorable duet, "Come Up to My Place," Ms. Garrett's character tries to seduce a sailor played by Sinatra, who would rather see the sights of New York than her boudoir.

"Take Me Out to the Ball Game," also from 1949, cast Ms. Garrett as a besotted fan of baseball player Sinatra.

That year, Ms. Garrett appeared in the musical "Neptune's Daughter," receiving praise for her performance of "Baby, It's Cold Outside."

The Oscar-winning Frank Loesser tune, which became a jazz and pop standard, is often rendered by a wolfish male and demure woman. But the situation was reversed in the script, which had Ms. Garrett making advances on the rubber-faced Skelton. New York Times film critic Bosley Crowther praised Ms. Garrett for her "well-polished comic style."

Collectively, the films represented Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer studios at a peak of musical filmmaking and established Ms. Garrett as a dynamic screen presence. But her career was sidetracked when her husband, actor Larry Parks, testified before the House Un-American Activities Committee that he had once been a communist.

Parks's career vanished overnight, just a few years after he had received an Oscar nomination for his performance as entertainer Al Jolson in "The Jolson Story" (1946). Ms. Garrett, who did not testify before the HUAC hearings, was nevertheless dropped from her MGM contract.

"It was a dark period," Ms. Garrett later said of the blacklisting. "A foolish, foolish period."

Over the next several years, the couple found work in vaudeville and summer stock theater in England and in nightclubs in Las Vegas. Parks died in 1975.

Later in her career, Ms. Garrett was best known for her TV roles, notably as Edith Bunker's chatty neighbor Irene in the 1970s series "All in the Family" and, from 1976 to 1981, as landlady Edna Babish in "Laverne & Shirley."

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