(Reuters) - Nanette Fabray, a child performer in the 1920s who went on to star in Broadway musicals, dance with Fred Astaire on the big screen and win three Emmy Awards working with Sid Caesar during television’s Golden Age, has died at the age of 97, media reports said.
Fabray, who also had her own short-lived TV show in the 1960s as well as a recurring role on the sitcom “One Day at a Time” in the 1970s and 1980s, died on Thursday of natural causes, her son, Jamie MacDougall, told the Los Angeles Times.
Born on Oct. 27, 1920, Fabray was a child singer in vaudeville, billed as “Baby Nanette,” and performed with silent movie comedian Ben Turpin. She debuted as an adult actress in a secondary role in director Michael Curtiz’s lavish film “The Private Lives of Elizabeth and Essex” (1939) starring Bette Davis and Errol Flynn.
Fabray’s singing and comedy talents were put to good use in the 1940s in Broadway musicals such as the hit “High Button Shoes” opposite comedian Phil Silvers. She won a Tony Award in 1949 for “Love Life” and was nominated in 1963 for “Mister President.”
In the 1950s, Fabray starred with Caesar, one of the shining stars of television’s Golden Age of the 1950s, in his “Caesar’s Hour” sketch comedy program. Having taken the place of comedian Imogene Coca opposite Caesar, she won two Emmy Awards in 1956 and another one in 1957.
Fabray’s best role on film was with Astaire, one of the great Hollywood dancers, in director Vincente Minnelli’s 1953 musical “The Band Wagon,” which earned three Oscar nominations.
“Sid Caesar was the high point of my life,” Fabray told the San Francisco Chronicle in 2000. “Fred Astaire was wonderful. It was magical to work with him. But I had a rapport with Sid Caesar that comes once in a lifetime.”
Her most memorable moment in the film “The Band Wagon” came in the song “Triplets” in which she, Astaire and co-star Jack Buchanan were clad in baby clothes, including big white bonnets, and sat in three high chairs in front of a cartoonish backdrop.
In unison, they cheerfully sang, “We look alike, we dress alike, we walk alike, we talk alike. And what is more, we hate each other very much.”
“Astaire was a tremendous taskmaster,” Fabray told the Chronicle. “He rehearsed us until I was so sick of everything we were supposed to do. But he was right.”
Fabray was given her own TV show in 1961 but it was not a success. She later landed numerous recurring and guest starring roles on TV series.
She joined the cast of the CBS show “One Day at a Time” in 1979, playing the mother of the sitcom’s star Bonnie Franklin, and appeared in 40 episodes. Fabray’s niece, Shelley Fabares, also had a regular role on that show.
Fabray appeared in a handful of episodes in the 1990s in the sitcom “Coach” alongside her niece, who had a starring role.
Fabray was married twice and MacDougall was her only child. Fabray, who was hearing impaired, also was known for her advocacy on issues involving people with hearing impairments.
Reporting and writing by Will Dunham; Editing by Bill Trott
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