Stage & TV Star Nanette Fabray Dies @ 97

Vivacious musical and comedy star Nanette Fabray died Thursday, February 22, at her Palos Verdes, California, home. She was 97.

The New York Times cites her son, Dr. Jamie MacDougall, as confirming her passing.

Fabray was born October 27, 1920, moving from San Diego to L.A. as a kid, where she began a vaudeville career.

Her academic pursuits were hampered by a hearing abnormality that was later corrected, but that led to a lifelong post as an advocate on behalf of the hearing-impaired.


Fabray had appeared on Broadway numerous times before turning 30, including in her 1941 debut, Let's Face It, and in High Button Shoes (1947), by Jule Style (1905-1994), Sammy Cahn (1913-1993), George Abbott (1887-1995) and Stephen Longstreet (1907-2002).

The multi-talented actor won the Tony for the ahead-of-its-time Kurt Weill (1900-1950)/Alan Jay Lerner (1918-1986) concept musical Love Life (1948), about a married couple who never age from 1791 to 1948.

She worked on Broadway until her final show closed after opening night in 1973, but did live theater until 2007.

She actually started her professional career in the movies, debuting in the 1939 classic The Private Lives of Elizabeth and Essex. Her biggest film success was The Band Wagon (1953), featuring this unforgettable sequence:

She appeared rarely on the big screen ever after, but did pop up in the mid-life crisis flick The Happy Ending (1969) starring Jean Simmons (1929-2010), John Forsythe (1918-2010) and Shirley Jones (b. 1934), and as Alice Finely in Harper Valley P.T.A. (1978).

With Barbara Eden (b. 1931) in Harper Valley P.T.A. (Image via April Fools Productions)

Fabray worked in demos for the new medium of television, with credits reaching back to 1949.

Appearing frequently on TV, Fabray won two Emmys in 1956 for her work on Caesar's Hour (1954-1957):

She was fired for asking for too much money, only to win a third Emmy nearly a year after her unceremonious departure.

Her own show, The Nanette Fabray Show (1961), was a bust, but she became a staple of TV, making especially memorable appearances as Mary's mom on Mary Tyler Moore in 1972, as Grandma Romano on One Day at a Time from 1979-1984 and on three episodes of Coach (1990, 1992, 1994), which became her final credits.

Fabray, who was married twice (one ending in divorce, the other in her husband's 1973 death), is survived by her son and two grandchildren.

1 Response

  1. Jay

    It should be mentioned that her niece is actress Shelley Fabares. Last name is spelled differently, however. They both were regulars on the hit television program One Day at a Time in the 70’s.

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