- Associated Press - Monday, February 14, 2011

LOS ANGELES (AP) — Betty Garrett, the vivacious Broadway star who played Frank Sinatra’s sweetheart in two MGM musicals before her career was hampered by the Hollywood blacklist, has died in Los Angeles, her son said Sunday. She was 91.

Miss Garrett died Saturday at Ronald Reagan UCLA Medical Center, most likely from an aortic aneurysm, said her son, Garrett Parks. Miss Garrett had been in good health and taught her usual musical comedy class at Theater West, the nonprofit organization she helped found, on Wednesday night but on Friday checked into the hospital with heart trouble. She died with her family at her side the following morning.

Miss Garrett was best known as the flirtatious girl in love with the shy Sinatra in “Take Me Out to the Ballgame” and “On the Town,” both in 1949, and later in life she became well-known to TV audiences with recurring roles in the 1970s sitcoms “All in the Family” and “Laverne and Shirley.”

Her movie career was brief, largely because of the “Red Hunt” led by congressmen who forced her husband, actor Larry Parks, to testify about his earlier membership in the Communist Party.


Parks won stardom and an Academy Award nomination as best actor for his dynamic portrayal of singer Al Jolson in the 1946 film “The Jolson Story.” But in 1951, he was called before the House Un-American Activities Committee, and he admitted that he had joined the Communist Party in 1941 and left in 1944 or 1945.

Pressed to name his fellow members of the party, Mr. Parks pleaded not to be forced “to crawl through the mud as an informer.” He agreed to testify fully in executive session.

He made one more film, “Love Is Better Than Ever” with Elizabeth Taylor, but then his film career was over.

“It was a dark period, a foolish, foolish period,” Miss Garrett said in 1998. “It destroyed a lot of lives and ruined my husband’s career.”

Miss Garrett also had a brief dalliance with the party but wasn’t called to testify, perhaps, she said, “because I was nine months pregnant with my second son and they didn’t think I would be a good witness.”

Miss Garrett‘s stage career began to click when she sang the show-stopping “South America, Take It Away” in “Call Me Mister” on Broadway in 1946. That brought Hollywood offers, and at 27 she signed a contract with MGM, then the king of musical movies. Her son said that, aside from her family, she considered the work she did for MGM her life’s highest point.

“She was very proud of the MGM musicals,” Mr. Parks said.

Particularly memorable was “On the Town,” the musical by Betty Comden, Adolph Green and Leonard Bernstein about three sailors on leave in New York. She played the comically aggressive cab driver who pursues Sinatra (singing the racy “Come Up to My Place”) while his pals, Gene Kelly and Jules Munshin, team up with Vera-Ellen and Ann Miller, respectively.

Besides the two pictures with Sinatra, she appeared in “Words and Music” and “Neptune’s Daughter,” in which she and Red Skelton sang the Oscar-winning song “Baby, It’s Cold Outside.”

MGM dropped her after her husband’s testimony, and she received no film offers until she co-starred with Jack Lemmon and Janet Leigh in the 1955 musical version of “My Sister Eileen,” playing Eileen’s (Leigh’s) sister, Ruth.

Unable to find much work in Hollywood, she and Parks hit the road with a musical act. It proved a hit in Las Vegas, London and other cities. When the bookings thinned out, Parks became a home builder. He died in 1975.

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