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Nanette Fabray, TV Star of the ’50s and ’60s, Dies at 97

The exuberant, indefatigable actress-singer Nanette Fabray, a Tony and Emmy winner, a star of Vincente Minnelli’s golden-age musical “The Band Wagon” and a longtime presence on television, most notably on “The Hollywood Squares,” died Thursday at her Palos Verdes, Calif., home, according to the New York Times. She was 97.

In MGM’s “The Band Wagon” (1953), also starring Fred Astaire, Cyd Charisse and Oscar Levant, Fabray appeared in that classic film’s two most famous numbers, “That’s Entertainment” and, as one of the bratty (and bizarre) babies in high chairs, “Triplets.”

Fabray also appeared on TV comedies and drama, starring on “Westinghouse Playhouse,” created by then-husband Ranald MacDougall, and recurring as Grandma Katherine Romano on hit 1970s sitcom “One Day at a Time.” She guested on “Burke’s Law,” “The Girl From U.N.C.L.E.,” “The Mary Tyler Moore Show,” on which she played Mary’s mother; “Love American Style,” “Maude,” “Murder, She Wrote” and “Coach.”

“A true performer and star of Hollywood’s Golden Age, Nanette Fabray had limitless exuberance and an expert sense of comic timing,” said SAG-AFTRA President Gabrielle Carteris. “Her dedication to her art was equaled only by her generosity and willingness to help others.”

Fabray was a musical comedy star on Broadway in the 1940s, making her debut in “Let’s Face It!,” starring Danny Kaye and Eve Arden, and subsequently appearing in “By Jupiter,” “My Dear Public,” “Jackpot” and “Bloomer Girl.” She had star billing in “High Button Shoes,” “Love Life” — for which she won the Tony for best actress in a musical — and 1951’s “Make a Wish.” She later returned to the Rialto in 1962 to star with Robert Ryan in “Mr. President,” from Lindsay Crouse and Irving Berlin, and drew another nomination for best actress in a musical.

The actress appeared regularly on Sid Caesar’s “Caesar’s Hour” in the mid-’50s, winning three Emmys. She also guested on a seemingly innumerable number of variety shows, talkshows and gameshows starting in 1950 with “Your Show of Shows.” Fabray appeared on “The Ed Sullivan Show” five times and “The Carol Burnett Show” 13 times, and she showed up on programs fronted by Perry Como, Steve Allen, Jack Benny, Dinah Shore, Andy Williams, Merv Griffin, Dean Martin, Jerry Lewis, the Smothers Brothers and Bob Hope, as well as on “Rowan & Martin’s Laugh-In.”

Fabray appeared on 184 episodes of gameshow “The Hollywood Squares” from 1967-78. Other gameshow credits included “What’s My Line,” “Password All-Stars” and “Match Game.”

Born in San Diego, Nanette Ruby Bernadette Fabares was a singer and tap dancer in vaudeville as a child.

As an ingenue, she appeared in the 1939 films “Essex and Elizabeth,” “The Monroe Doctrine”and “A Child Is Born,” credited as Nanette Fabares, but she never developed a substantial movie career.

Much later, she appeared in “The Happy Ending” (1969) and was among the stars of the 1970 comedy Western “Cockeyed Cowboys of Calico County” and of the comedy “Harper Valley P.T.A.” (1978). She appeared in the 1981 indie “Amy,” starred as an IRS investigator in the 1987 film “Personal Exemptions” and made her last bigscreen appearance in 1994’s “Teresa’s Tattoo.”

Fabray was an interviewee in the 2009 “American Masters” episode “Jerome Robbins: Something to Dance About.”

She won the SAG Life Achievement Award in 1987.

Fabray was married to NBC executive David Tebet from 1947-1951 and to screenwriter Ranald MacDougall from 1957 until his death in 1973.

Survivors include a son, Jamie, from her second marriage and a niece, actress Shelley Fabares, and her husband, actor Mike Farrell.

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