Betty Garrett Exits

Betty Garrett in Call Me Mister, 1946

Yesterday’s news included an obituary for Betty Garrett, who entered the movie musical patheon as Brunhilde Esterhaszy–the cabbie who woos and wins Frank Sinatra in On the Town. In a small way, Garrett’s career illuminates some of the developments important to our course. A talented kid from small-town Missouri, Garrett came to New York and found opportunity with some of the important institutions of New York’s mid-century theater renaissance. She was trained on scholarship at the storied Neighborhood Playhouse, one of the ensemble institutions–like the American Theater Laboratory (where John Garfield got his break), the Group Theater (where Garfield and Kazan became prominent), and later the Actor’s Studio–which were created by actors and directors looking to broaden American theater by importing some of the methods of the European, particularly Russian, avant-garde. In the early part of her career, she prospered in the left-wing theatrical world that flourished in New York during the 30s and early 40s, working among others with Orson Welles’s Mercury Theater–also important to the career of Canada Lee. But, like Arthur Miller and the people associated with Body and Soul she became a victim of the Red Scare of the later ’40s and ’50s. She paid the price in a damaged career for remaining loyal to her husband, an actor and former Communist Party member, only returning to seriuos work in TV many years later.

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