Charlotte Rae

By: Brian Berger
April 22, 2014


Actor, comedian, singer, dancer: Milwaukee-native CHARLOTTE RAE (born 1926) everywhere astounds. The second of her Russian-Jewish parents’ three daughters, Rae graduated Milwaukee’s Shorewood High School and Northwestern University before moving to New York in 1948. Three Wishes For Jamie (1952) was Rae’s first Broadway musical and, despite a flawed book, the cast recording of Ralph Blane’s score has many merits. Opening in May 1954, Marc Blitzstein’s adaptation of The Threepenny Opera, with Rae as Mrs. Peachum, was a sensation, leading to Rae’s album, Songs I Taught My Mother, accompanied by her husband, composer John Strauss, “and his Baroque Bearcats.” In December 1955, Rae lectured on Beethoven in the greatest classical music comedy this side of Unfaithfully Yours: “The Twitch” episode of The Phil Silvers Show. Opening in May 1956, Rae’s The Littlest Revue performances were a triumph, likewise her Mammy Yoakum later that year in L’il Abner, where Michael Kidd’s choreography and Johnny Mercer’s lyrics notably achieved the spirit of Dogpatch. Car 54, Where Are You?, the cultural apex of Camelot, can’t be summarized save to celebrate that Rae was fully equal to Nat Hiken’s manifold genius. Even her negative reviews amused: “Rae wraps a leg around post, tosses feathers from a pillow and chases Pickwick like a famished vixen,” sniffed Howard Taubman in 1965. Innumerable hosannas would follow, however, and wondrous oddities: playing Woody Allen’s mother in Bananas (1971); playing Ron Liebman’s mother in The Hot Rock (1972); clapping Treat Williams’s ass in Hair (1979), before a too brief pas-de-deux.

Car 54, Where Are You?, “A Star Is Born In The Bronx” (1962)

Charlotte Rae topless for oil heat, c. early 1960s?




On his or her birthday, HiLobrow irregularly pays tribute to one of our high-, low-, no-, or hilobrow heroes. Also born this date: Charles Mingus, Aaron Spelling, Giorgio Agamben, John Waters, Glen Campbell, Vladimir Nabokov.

READ MORE about members of the Postmodernist Generation (1924-33).


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