Nanette Bernadette Nanette Fabray is a legendary American actress, comedienne, singer and dancer, best known for her performances in classics like ‘The Band Wagon’ and in the 1950s series, ‘Caesar's Hour’. Fabray is loved for her award-winning performances on stage and in television. She starred in the show, ‘One Day at a Time’ for which she won a Tony Award. Her performance in the series‘Love Life’earned her three Emmy Awards. Some of her most memorable comedy sketches include the shows, ‘Shadow Waltz’ and ‘The Commuters’. She has also been a successful Broadway actress, as she has received two Donaldson Awards for her Broadways musical, ‘High Button Shoes’. She was selected as one of the American Women of the Year by Radio and TV Editor’s Guild. Fabray was handicapped for most of her adult life due to hearing impairment and had advocated the rights of disabled people. As an international leader for the handicapped, she was honored with the President’s Distinguished Service Award and the Eleanor Roosevelt Award for Human Rights.
Childhood & Early Life
Fabray was born Ruby Bernadette Nanette Fabares on October 27, 1920 in San Diego, California. Her father, Raul Bernard, was a train conductor and her mother, Lily Agnes McGovern, was a housewife.
Nanette’s interest towards performing arts developed at a tender age. After winning a scholarship, she enrolled herself at Max Reinhardt School of the Theatre, Los Angeles and subsequently graduated from Hollywood High School. She then attended Los Angeles City College, California but opted to drop out.
In 1923, she made her first professional appearance in vaudeville, a form of theatrical entertainment, as a singer in the musical, ‘Baby Nanette’. By the age of six, she was performing acts with the likes of Ben Turpin. The following year, she made her film debut in the comedy short, ‘Our Gang’.
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Overcoming Hearing Impairment
Fabray had a difficult academic period as she was a slow learner. Initially, she was thought to be dyslexic. But the real reason for her academic struggles was identified later and she was diagnosed with a hearing impairment. By the time she reached her 20s, she was completely deaf until four surgeries which restored her hearing.
She then fought for the rights of disabled people. Her official, private and governmental memberships with variousphilanthropic organizations havemade her an international leader for the handicapped.
Fabray and Helen Keller are the only women to receive the Public Service Award from the American Academy of Otolaryngology.
For many years now, she has been working towardsintroducing sign language to television. Over the years, she has given over 100 radio, newspaper and TV interviews concerning the needs of the disabled.
Recently, she was a part of the team that came up with an award named ‘The Annual MacDougall Creative University Writing Award’ to encourage deaf people to explore careers in writing.
During the 1930s, Fabray was singing for radio and was appearing in the fast declining vaudeville circuit. In 1939, Warner Bros, the famous production company,brought her back into films for her first major role in ‘The Private Lives of Elizabeth and Essex’. Incidentally, she shared her surname with her character, Margaret Fabares.
After starring in the 1939 film, ‘A Child Is Born’, Fabray went ahead to make a career in Broadway, and eventually became the most celebrated theater artist during the 40s.
Fabray made her Broadway debut in 1940 with the musical, ‘Meet the People’. In 1941, she was featured in ‘Let's Face It!’ She then went on to become a true Broadway star by performing opposite Phil Silvers in the 1947 musical, ‘High Button Shoes’.
She made her TV debut with NBC's ‘The Chevrolet Tele-Theatre’ in 1949. Fabray then starred in Vincente Minnelli's feature, ‘The Band Wagon’ in 1953.
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Around this time, the musicals began to lose their charm. Fabray returned to New York and was seen in a handful of films, including ‘Harper Valley PTA’ in 1978, in which she played the role of a hairdresser.
In 1960,Fabray turned down the chance to lend her voice to the character, Wilma Flintstone in the animated series, ‘The Flintstones’as she was working with Irving Berlin on his show, ‘Mr. President’. It was Berlin’s last completed show and the only real flop which opened to negative reviews.
Fabray turned towards the small screen and became a regular in the NBC show, ‘Caesar's Hour’ in 1954. In 1961, she had her own star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. Continuing her association with NBC, Fabray next starred in her first sitcom, ‘The Westinghouse Playhouse’ also known as ‘The Nanette Fabray Show’.
This short-lived series was loosely based on Fabray’s real life. Her character, Nan McGovern, even shared her mother's maiden surname. After the sitcom went off air, Fabray guest starred in many comedy and variety shows.
She then played the memorable character of Mary Tyler Moore's mother in a few episodes of ‘The Mary Tyler Moore Show’ in 1972 and made frequent appearances on ‘The Carol Burnett Show’. She then once again appeared on stage with the play, ‘The Secret Affairs of Mildred Wild’ in 1977.
In 1979, she joined the cast of the CBS sitcom, ‘One Day at a Time’, playing the character ofGrandma Katherine Romano. In the 90s, Fabray made appearances on the ABC sitcom, ‘Coach’. She played the mother of the character played by her real-life niece, Shelley Fabares.
Love Life – This musical is a 1948 Broadway production which gave Fabray, who played the role of Susan Cooper, her first Tony Award. The show opened on October 7, 1948 and continued till May 14, 1949, delivering 252 shows.
Caesar's Hour – This is a series of short comedy scenes and is among the notable works of Fabray. She replaced Imogene Coca in the series and continued playing the character from 1954 to 1957.
One Day at a Time – This is a situational comedy, in which Fabray played the mother of the protagonist. The show ran from December 16, 1975 to May 28, 1984. The series went on to become one of the most successful TV shows of the period.
Awards & Achievements
Primetime Emmy Award (1957) –Fabray won the Best Continuing Performance by a Comedienne in a Series for ‘Caesar's Hour’.
Golden Apple Award (1960) – She received the Most Cooperative Actress award.
Tony Award (1949) – She won the Best Actress in a Musical for ‘Love Life’.
Fabray married David Tebet, an entertainment industry executive and former Vice President of NBC, on October 26, 1947. Unfortunately, the marriage didn’t last long as they got divorced in 1951.
She later married Ranald MacDougall, famed screenwriter and director, in 1957. She has a son, Jamie, born in 1957.
Fabray was seriously injured by a runaway elephant during the filming of ‘Harper Valley PTA’ in 1978.
She has appeared in the show,‘The Hollywood Squares’ on several occasions.At the beginning of the show, she would greet everyone with a hello in sign language.
During one of her guest appearances in the ‘Carol Burnett Show’, Fabray performed the song, ‘The rainbow’using sign language.