UPDATED with SAG-AFTRA statement: Nanette Fabray, a Tony Award winner at 28 and the TV moms of The Mary Tyler Moore Show and One Day at a Time in the 1970s, died Thursday at her Palos Verdes, CA home. She was 97, and her death was confirmed by her son, Dr. Jamie MacDougall.
Fabray’s stage successes were many and spanned decades. She won the Tony at 28 for the Alan Jay Lerner/Kurt Weill show Love Life, followed by Jule Styne/Sammy Cahn’s High Button Shoes. Other stage credits in the 1940s and ’50s included By Jupiter, My Dear Public, Jackpot, Bloomer Girl, Arms and the Girl and Make a Wish (1951).
By the 1950s, though, she was well known to TV audiences for her big-grinning performances on Caesar’s Hour, for which she won two Emmy Awards. She starred in her own 1961 sitcom The Nanette Fabray Show (aka Yes, Yes Nanette).
Although she’d appeared in film as early as 1939 (in a bit part opposite Bette Davis in The Private Lives of Elizabeth and Essex), her sole feature film hit was 1953’s The Band Wagon.
But perhaps even more than her ’50s comic counterpart Imogene Coca, Fabray remained a familiar TV presence well into the next several decades. In addition to The Mary Tyler Moore Show (Moore repeatedly credited Fabray for her comic, hiccuping crying style, and shared just such a scene in an episode), she appeared on One Day at a Time, The Carol Burnett Show and numerous other variety shows of the era. In a memorable episode of Maude, she played an old friend of the title character who’d suffered a stroke. She shared screen time with her real-life niece, Shelley Fabares (singer of “Johnny Angel”) on Coach.
Fabray, who joined SAG in 1937, was the 1986 recipient of the SAG Life Achievement Award, the union’s highest honor.
“A true performer and star of Hollywood’s Golden Age, Nanette Fabray had limitless exuberance and an expert sense of comic timing,” SAG-AFTRA president Gabrielle Carteris said in a statement today. “Her dedication to her art was equaled only by her generosity and willingness to help others.”
Fabray’s second husband, screenwriter Ranald MacDougall, died in 1973. She is survived by her son and two grandchildren.