I was living in L.A. in the early 1970s & was fortunate enough to be an acquaintance of actress/singer Betty Garrett. We had met through a mutual friend, a Jesuit priest, who had taught her 2 sons. Her boys were actually my age, but I preferred to hang with the adults. I traveled in this circle for a couple of years, & although we never had a date, just the 2 of us, we saw each other with some frequency at dinners & parties.
We knew each other by name & I found her to be friendly, engaging, warm, & she could spin a delicious tale.
Garrett told me about her husband- Larry Park’s political history, & that because of their past affiliations with the Communist Party, thanks to Parks' involvement with people from the Group Theatre, Garrett & Parks became embroiled with the House Un-American Activities Committee, although only Parks was forced to testify. While Parks willingly admitted he had been a member of the party, he had refused to name others, although it was widely assumed that he had, & he found himself on the Hollywood blacklist.
Garrett also had trouble finding work, although as the mother of 2 young sons, she did not mind being unemployed as much as her husband did. Betty related to me that the only person that would see them socially in Hollywood was Frank Sinatra ( she played a woman in love with him in 2 films), who defied Hollywood convention & was open in his support of the couple with friendship & money.
The occasion was being received back stage by Betty Garrett, after her one-woman show- Betty Garrett & Other Songs at the Westwood Playhouse in Spring 1976. Betty Garrett had been my acquaintance for a while, but we had recently been at a very informal outdoor dinner thrown by mutual friends. Betty & I had a very special conversation that evening that ended with Betty offering house seats to her show the next evening. I took her up on the offer, & the show was terrific, after her last number, but before the curtain call, Betty looked into the house with her hands shielding her eyes & announced while pointing : “Celeste & Stephen… I want to see you both in my dressing room in a few minutes.” I turned to the person next to me & nudged & whispered- “That’s me… I'm that Stephen… I’m not Celeste.”
So, Oscar winner & consummate character actor Celeste Home, & a very young Stephen hung out in the dressing room. While Betty Garrett got out of costume & make up, Celeste Holm & our hero made small talk & loudly praised Ms. Garrett’s show. I declined an offer from the 2 amazing stars of Hollywood’s golden era to move on to the next party. Instead, I would opt for Studio One in West Hollywood, hoping that some hot man would shove that little brown bottle under my nose, the one that makes me feel so sexy & really connect with music… & I will meet a beefy redhead that will take me home, use me for my considerable talents & then make me breakfast.
I came to the fork in the road, & I made the wrong decision. I could have partied away the evening with the fabulous Betty Garrett & with the woman who introduced the world to the showstopper- I Can't Say No (by coincidence, the title of a chapter in my memoir), but I took the fork that got me forked later that evening.
I always glow a bit when I when catch Betty Garrett in an old film or a TV show. She had a 70+ year career in Radio, TV, Film & Stage. Her last public appearance was in summer 2010. Garrett appeared alongside former 2-time co-star- Esther Williams during Turner Classic Movies' first annual Classic Film Festival. Their film Neptune's Daughter was screened at the pool of the Roosevelt Hotel in Hollywood, while a Williams-inspired synchronized swimming troop, The Aqualilies, performed.
Betty Garrett left this life at 91 years old in February 2011. She was surrounded by her family. Thanks for the outstanding performances, the stories, the kindness, & the pleasure of your company, lovely Betty Garrett. You will not be forgotten.