Already have an account?
Get back to the

‘The Facts of Life’ and ‘Diff’rent Strokes’ Star Charlotte Rae Was the TV Matriarch We All Loved — Here’s Why

Best known for her character of Mrs. Garrett, here facts about her life


Charlotte Rae is one of the few actresses whose character was so memorable and popular that she played it on two separate hit shows. Charlotte Rae (born Lubotsky) had a career that spanned nearly 70 years, nine of which she played Edna Garrett (a.k.a Mrs. Garrett) on the series Diff’rent Strokes and its spinoff The Facts of Life, about a fictional girl’s boarding school in New York’s Hudson Valley.  

MUST-READ: ‘The Facts of Life’ Cast Then and Now: Catch Up With The Ladies of Eastland Academy

Not only was the raven-haired actress’s character a beloved mentor and confidant to the other characters on The Facts of Life, but Rae became just that to cast members and fans alike.

If you grew up in the 1980s, you can likely recite the sitcom’s catchy theme song by heart and fondly remember its lighthearted yet serious approach to coming of age — centered around none other than its matriarch, Mrs. G, played by Charlotte Rae. 

Here’s a look at Rae’s remarkable life and career. 

Charlotte Rae early years 

Charlotte Rae
Charlotte Rae in the musical ‘Funny Girl’ (1967) Ray Fisher / Contributor / Getty

Charlotte Rae was born in 1926 to Russian Jewish immigrants in Milwaukee, Wisconsin — the middle child of three girls. Rae reportedly always wanted to become an actress and gave college a go, only to drop out in 1948 to move to New York City and pursue a career in theater. Much to her father’s chagrin, Rae also dropped her given last name, Lubotsky, that same year. 

She met and befriended fellow actress Cloris Leachman, and the two would become lifelong friends. It turns out the move was the right decision; Rae starred in several successful Broadway plays, including Pickwick and Morning, Noon, and Night, both of which she received Tony nods for Best Actress.

Rae was widely lauded as a triple threat of her time: a talented actress, comedian, and singer. 

MUST-READ: 1970s TV Sitcoms: 106 Classic (and Not So Classic) Shows, and Where to Stream Them

In 1974, she and her husband, composer John Strauss, picked up and moved cross-country to Los Angeles, where she was destined for TV stardom.

Soon, Rae was guest-starring in several shows, such as All in the Family and Good Times, a brief stint on Sesame Street, and a made-for-TV movie (for which she received an Emmy nod).

Diffrent strokes
Cast of ‘Diff’rent Strokes’ (1978)

Two years later, she divorced Strauss after 25 years of marriage. They had two sons. In her 2015 memoir The Facts of My Life, co-written by her son Larry, Rae reveals the reason for the split was that her husband had come out as bisexual. She never remarried. 

In 1978, a now single Rae was hired to play housekeeper Edna Garrett on Diff’rent Strokes, which would become her breakout role. 

The facts about The Facts of Life 

The Facts of Life
Cast of ‘The Facts of Life’ (1979)

It only took a year for Diff’rent Strokes producer Norman Lear to realize Rae could carry her own show. She was so well-received by viewers that he immediately planned a spinoff, The Facts of Life, which NBC quickly greenlighted.

Rae even had a hand in the show’s casting, first approaching Mindy Cohn to play the role of Natalie, whom Rae had named after a childhood friend. The show also featured soap actress Nancy Mckeon and newcomers Kim Fields and Lisa Whelchel. A 12-year-old Molly Ringwald was also a cast member when the show debuted in 1979 but was later fired. 

MUST-READ: Kim Fields — From ‘The Facts of Life’ to ‘Blessed Life,’ Catch Up With the Actress

As Eastland School’s trusted housemother, “Mrs. G” calmly but firmly guided the teens through crisis and angst with humor, heart, and a hefty dose of tough love. 

Woman on the phone
Cloris Leachman in ‘The Facts of Life’ (1988)

While it ultimately lasted nine seasons, Rae left in season eight, citing health reasons. She reportedly created the character Beverly for her friend, Cloris Leachman, to replace her.

In an interview, Rae shared that she felt it was time to go back to “do stage, travel and enjoy [her] self.” 

The show wasn’t without its fair share of controversy. When it failed to break the top 30 in its first season, writers and several cast members were reportedly canned.

The revamp turned out to be the best for the show. It was pegged as NBC’s #1 comedy in its third season, beating out its predecessor, Diff’rent Strokes. Facts went on to air more than 200 episodes and garnered three Emmy nominations. 

MUST-READ: Mindy Cohn Has Made a Comeback — Learn What She’s Been Up to Since ‘The Facts of Life’

cast of 'the facts of life'
Cast of ‘The Facts of Life’ (1979)

The sitcom also tackled tough topics TV of its time normally didn’t, such as a character losing her virginity, eating disorders, and drug use. “We really presented issues that were wonderful for opening up dialogue between parents and their kids,” said Rae. 

Charlotte Rae after The Facts of Life 

After a several-year hiatus from acting, the icon returned to the craft she loved. In 1992, she was a voice actor in Tom and Jerry: The Movie and went back to her musical theater roots, appearing in stage productions such as The Vagina Monologues, Pippin, and a Cabaret show in San Francisco. Fans would continue to enjoy her portrayal of Mrs. Garrett for years to come through re-runs.

Advocating for her son

Woman and son
Charlotte Rae and son, Larry Strauss (2015) Bobby Bank / Contributor / Getty

In her later years, Rae used her fame and large platform to advocate for autism. Her eldest son, Andy, suffered from severe cognitive disabilities, and Rae was told he may have to be institutionalized. The actress didn’t want that and fought hard to get him the proper treatment. In a 2019 op-ed in USA Today, Rae’s younger son Larry shares that his mother “never gave up on [his] brother.” Sadly, Andy died in 1999 at the age of 44. 

“I saw my mother’s relentless optimism,” shares Larry. “She never stopped believing that somehow Andy could get better. Until the day my brother died at the age of 44, she never surrendered hope.” 

Charlotte Rae: The later years 

Charlotte Rae
Charlotte Rae (2017)Leon Bennett / Contributor

Rae’s career continued well into the early aughts. She guest-starred on hit shows like King of Queens and ER and reprised her role as Mrs. Garrett in a 2001 Facts of Life reunion special. In 2009, she revealed she was battling pancreatic cancer. 

In her 2015 memoir, she wrote that she had struggled with substance abuse for many years and attended Alcoholics Anonymous.

In 2017, she was diagnosed with bone cancer, which she succumbed to a year later. She was 92. At the time of her diagnosis, Rae told People, “I’m grateful for the life I’ve already had,” she said. And there you have it. The good, the bad, and all the facts of Charlotte Rae’s amazing life. 

The Facts of Life is available for free on streaming service Tubi. 

Use left and right arrow keys to navigate between menu items. Use right arrow key to move into submenus. Use escape to exit the menu. Use up and down arrow keys to explore. Use left arrow key to move back to the parent list.