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.”

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8-1987, 8/4/1987 National Council on the Handicapped Forum on Native Americans with Disabilities. Shot of Actress Nanette Fabray MacDougall, from Pacific Palisades, Calif. She is on the board of the National Council on the Handicapped. Credit: The Denver Post (Denver Post via Getty Images)
STUDIO CITY, CA - MAY 20: Actress Nanette Fabray attends the Pacific Pioneer Broadcasters Luncheon Honoring actress Joanne Worley at the Sportsmen's Lodge on May 20, 2005 in Studio City, California. (Photo by Frederick M. Brown/Getty Images)
NANETTE FABRAY -- Pictured: Actress Nanette Fabray -- (Photo by: NBC/NBCU Photo Bank via Getty Images)
LOS ANGELES, CA - JUNE 16: Actress Nanette Fabray attends a press conference for SAG and AFTRA members announcing 'I Am Voting YES' for union consolidation June 12, 2003 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Frazer Harrison/Getty Images)
NANETTE FABRAY-- Pictured: Actress Nanette Fabray in 1957 -- (Photo by: Jack Zwillinger/NBC/NBCU Photo Bank via Getty Images)
HOLLYWOOD SQUARES -- Aired 10/21/73 -- Pictured: (top, l-r) Vincent Price, Karen Valentine, Demond Wilson, (middle) Norman Fell, Paul Lynde, Lily Tomlin, (Bottom) Cliff Arquette as Charlie Wilson, Nanette Fabray, Tony Randall (Photo by NBC/NBCU Photo Bank via Getty Images)
THE NANETTE FABRAY SHOW -- Pictured: Nanette Fabray -- Photo by: Herb Ball/NBCU Photo Bank
Ismail Merchant (R) producer of the new comedy film "Le Divorce" poses with screenwriter Fay Kanin (L) and actress Nanette Fabray at a party following the film's premiere in Los Angeles July 29, 2003. The film stars Kate Hudson and Naomi Watts who portray American sisters who come face to face with the complicated social nature of French society when one is jilted by her husband and the other decides to become a mistress. The film opens in select United States cities August 8. REUTERS/Fred Prouser REUTERS FP/WS
THE NANETTE FABRAY SHOW -- Pictured: Nanette Fabray -- Photo by: Herb Ball/NBCU Photo Bank
Legendary comedian Sid Caesar poses with actress Nanette Fabray as he celebrates his belated 80th birthday at the Friars Club in Beverly Hills, California October 6, 2002. [Caesar, who turned 80 last month, celebrated with a group of friends including Fabray, Carl Reiner, Red Buttons, Phyllis Diller, Drew Carey and Richard Lewis.]
Ed Asner, Elaine Hendrix, Fred Willard, Attorney Vicki Roberts, Monty Hall, Shelley Fabares, Gary Owens, Carole Connor, Mike Farrell, Tom Sullivan, Tom Sullivan and his dog Edison, Betty White, Alex Trebe, Loretta Swit, Lee Meriwether, Cloris Leachman, Gavin MacLeod, Nanette Fabray, Suzanne Pleshette, Tom Poston and Earl Holliman (Photo by John Heller/WireImage)
Nanette Fabray during Museum of TV and Radio Annual Gala Honoring Sid Caeser at Waldorf Astoria Hotel in New York City, New York, United States. (Photo by Ron Galella, Ltd./WireImage)
(left to right) Film star Nanette Fabray and Kathryn Barr enjoy some conversation at the Arthritis Foundation of Orange County Destination Paradise Benefit , held at the Hilton Hotel in Costa Mesa. Nanette was the guest of honor and Kathryn was wearing a hat that was an opportunity prize worth $1,000. (Photo by Glenn Koenig/Los Angeles Times via Getty Images)
UNITED STATES - FEBRUARY 10: Nanette Fabray and Sid Caesar at the Museum of Television & Radio's honoring of Caesar at the Waldorf-Astoria hotel. The event took place on the 50th anniversary of his TV classic, 'Your Show of Shows.' (Photo by Richard Corkery/NY Daily News Archive via Getty Images)
THE DINAH SHORE SHOW -- Pictured: (l-r) Nanette Fabray, Fred MacMurray, Dinah Shore (Photo by NBC/NBCU Photo Bank via Getty Images)
Nanette Fabray, US actress, wearing an orange silk outfit, resting her chin on her white gloved hands, smiling in a studio portrait, against a pink background, circa 1945. (Photo by Silver Screen Collection/Getty Images)
THE DINAH SHORE SHOW -- Pictured: (l-r) Nanette Fabray, Dinah Shore (Photo by NBC/NBCU Photo Bank via Getty Images)
THE JERRY LEWIS SHOW -- Air Date 01/28/1969 -- Pictured: Actress Nanette Fabray -- Photo by: Gary Null/NBCU Photo Bank
THE NANETTE FABRAY SHOW -- Pictured: Nanette Fabray -- Photo by: Herb Ball/NBCU Photo Bank
Nanette Fabray during Red Buttons 'A Celebration of Life and Laughter' at The Century Club in Century City, California, United States. (Photo by John Shearer/WireImage)
Sylvia Sims, Nanette Fabray and Mabel Mercer during Kaye Ballard Opening - February 19, 1973 at St. Regis Mansionette in New York City, New York, United States. (Photo by Ron Galella/WireImage)
NANETTE FABRAY -- Pictured: Actress Nanette Fabray with son Jamie MacDougal in 1959 -- (Photo by: Herb Ball/NBC/NBCU Photo Bank via Getty Images)
1955: American actor Nanette Fabray smiles while tugging at the earlobe of American comedian Sid Caesar in a promotional portrait for the television series, 'Caesar's Hour'. The actors played a married couple in a recurring segment of the series. (Photo by Hulton Archive/Getty Images)
Nanette Fabray during The 45th Annual Golden Apple Awards at Beverly Wilshire Hotel in Beverly Hills, California, United States. (Photo by Ron Galella, Ltd./WireImage)
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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.”

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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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