October 27, 1920
San Diego, California, United States
February 22, 2018
Palos Verdes, California, United States
Actor, Singer, Vaudevillian
A performer since age three, the effervescent Nanette Fabray managed to keep her career moving not only because of her ample talent, but also due to her ability to move easily from screen to stage with ease. She went from adorable performing child to lightly boiled dames to the kind of girls guys like to talk to as friends to a sweet "everyone's aunt" kind of woman to caring, though slightly overbearing mothers. Amazingly, Fabray also managed to continue singing as well as acting, although for at least half her life she was hearing-impaired and wore hearing aids. Nanette Fabray began singing in vaudeville as a toddler, billed as 'Baby Nanette'. By age six, she was performing an act with comedy star Ben Turpin. At age seven, she began her film career by appearing in numerous "Our Gang" comedy shorts. In the 1930s, Fabray was singing on radio and appearing in the declining vaudeville circuit. Warner Bros. put her back in films in her first adult role in "Elizabeth and Essex" (1939). Ironically, she shared the same real surname as her character, Margaret Fabares. After "A Child Is Born" (1940), Fabray realized a film career was not going to materialize, so she headed to Broadway, becoming one of the toasts of the theater during the 40s. Fabray made her debut in "Meet the People" (1940) and was featured in "Let's Face It" (1941), but she became a true Broadway star in 1947 playing opposite Phil Silvers in "High Button Shoes." In 1949, she won a Tony Award for her work in the play "Love Life." Finally, after she appeared in "Make a Wish" (1951-52), Hollywood beckoned again. Fabray co-starred in Vincente Minnelli's "The Band Wagon" (1953), in which she is probably best recalled for the "Triplets" production number with Fred Astaire and Jack Buchanan. But musicals were starting to fade, and Fabray returned to New York. She would only make a handful of films in the decades to come, including playing Barbara Eden's hairdresser friend in "Harper Valley PTA" (1978). Instead, Fabray turned to the small screen where she became a regular mainstay on "Caesar's Hour" (NBC, 1954-56), Sid Caesar's follow-up to "Your Show of Shows" for which she won three Emmy Awards. In 1957, Fabray, divorced from entertainment industry executive David Tebet, married famed screenwriter-director Ranald MacDougall who created the "Westinghouse Playhouse Starring Nanette Fabray and Wendell Corey" (NBC, 1961). The short-lived series followed closely the outlines of its star's life--a Broadway star married to a Hollywood writer with two children. (Her character, Nan McGovern, even used Fabray's mother's maiden surname.) After the sitcom's demise, Fabray became a frequent guest star on comedy and variety programs, as well as occasionally playing a dramatic role. She was memorable as Mary Tyler Moore's mother in a few episodes of "The Mary Tyler Moore Show" (CBS, 1972) and made frequent appearances on "The Carol Burnett Show" and "Love American Style." In 1979, she joined the cast of the CBS sitcom "One Day At a Time" as Bonnie Franklin's meddlesome mother. Still active in the 90s, Fabray made appearances on the ABC sitcom "Coach" as the mother of the character played by her real life niece, Shelley Fabares. Fabray retired following a final stage role in the play "The Bermuda Avenue Triangle" in 1997. Nanette Fabray died on February 22, 2018 at the age of 97.