Charlotte Rae of 'Facts of Life' Shares Surprising Heartbreaks and Triumphs In New Memoir

Pam WrightLife

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Charlotte Rae is best known as the stern Facts of Life girls' school housemother, Edna Garrett, who helped guide the girls through the highs and lows of being a teen.

Throughout it all, Rae's character, Mrs. Garrett, was cool as a cucumber. In a new memoir, the 89-year-old actress says she begged the TV show's producers to let her character "lose her temper, yell at the kids. Let her be a human being." It didn't happen.

Rae shared that the show did not imitate life and she bore little resemblance to Edna Garrett. Instead, the challenges she faced in life, including an autistic son, Andy, and the late-in-life disclosure by her husband that he was bisexual and wanted an open marriage, left her a little lost and down a path of alcoholism and heart trouble.

In an interview with the Los Angeles Times, Charlotte Rae said she wanted to write her memoir to others who are tackling their own difficulties and dreams and because her other son, Larry Strauss, a writer and teacher, told her she should.

"He said, 'Ma, I think it's time we did your memoir. You talk to me and I'll do it,'" she said. "He was very sensitive to what I was talking about and wonderful (writing about) his brother, very sensitive and beautiful."

The book titled The Facts of My Life will be released by BearManor Media on Nov. 1 and begins with the memory of her then 16-year-old son, Andy Strauss, being locked up in the juvenile ward at New York's Bellevue Hospital because he'd been deemed dangerous. Andy eventually died of a heart attack in his mid-40s and Rae saw his illness as the "most devastating thing" in her life.

Battling alcoholism and heart problems, Rae soon learned that her husband of 25 years was bisexual.

"I felt there was something wrong with me and took it personally," Rae said. "But I gradually realized what he was going through. My God, the poor guy, hiding it and being ashamed."

The pair divorced, and John Strauss died in 2011. Her had found "a nice Jewish man of his dreams," but she has remained single.

"Between the children and my career, I just didn't have time. It didn't happen," Rae said. "There were people I had little flings with that were lovely, but nobody I wanted to marry."

Life is now calmer for Rae these days. Son Larry, his family and others keep her busy and content, she said.

"I have wonderful friends. I'm not just a lonely old lady," said Charlotte Rae.

Pam Wright