The pretty actresses get the hero; the smart, funny ones steal the show. For more than 70 years, Betty Garrett, who died Feb. 12 at 91, was a singing, dancing, comedic bolt of energy. Lending a lilt to sarcastic dames, she turned the battle of the sexes into a multimedia art form.
Born in St. Joseph, Mo., Garrett hit Broadway as a teen and in the war years belted out Cole Porter and Vernon Duke songs before signing with MGM. In 1949 alone, she was Frank Sinatra's romantic pursuer in Take Me Out to the Ball Game and the seminal On the Town, and all but assaulted Red Skelton while singing "Baby, It's Cold Outside" in Neptune's Daughter. On TV in the '70s she was Archie Bunker's lippy liberal neighbor on All in the Family and the wise, skeptical landlady on Laverne & Shirley. In 2003 she earned an Emmy nomination as Ted Danson's senior stalker on Becker.
Offscreen, Garrett was a one-guy gal, the wife of Jolson Story star Larry Parks from 1944 until his death in 1975. For having joined the Communist Party, he was blacklisted; she was briefly graylisted. But no one could long suppress Garrett's sunny verve, the saucy spin she gave to a line or a lyric.
In the 1955 film My Sister Eileen, she lands her dreamboat, Jack Lemmon, who tells her, "I think you're funny ... wonderful ... beautiful." Generations of Betty Garrett fans would second that tribute.