The world recently lost one of the greatest entertainers in our history. ATVN’s own Artie Freeman was not only one of Betty White’s biggest fans but knew more about this legendary entertainer than any other person I know. Artie wanted to share his insights and opinions on this eight-decade star, in memoriam to her, with this week’s edition of The Showplace blog!
January 17th is a special day, as one hundred years ago the “First Lady of Television”, Betty White was born. Sadly, she passed away just seventeen days before her 100th birthday. Betty White was a fascinating pioneer whose career has spanned over ninety years; she remained relevant for as long as anyone can remember. Betty worked in the television industry longer than anyone else in history, earning her a Guinness World Record in 2018. In 1930, when she was only eight years old, she appeared on a radio show entitled Empire Builders. In 1949, she co-hosted variety show Hollywood on Television, first with Al Jarvis and then Eddie Albert. In 1951, she was nominated for her first Emmy Award as “Best Actress” on television. Neither man stayed onboard for the show’s duration. In 1952 she began hosting the show alone, making her the first female television talk show host.
That same year White co-founded Bandy Productions with George Tibbles and Don Fedderson. They created new shows using existing characters from sketches shown on Hollywood on Television. They also created the television sitcom, Life with Elizabeth, starring Betty, for which she won her first Emmy Award in 1952. Life with Elizabeth is an important show in television history because it’s the first sitcom to be produced by a woman.
In 1954, Betty hosted and produced her own daily talk/variety show, The Betty White Show. As was the case with her sitcom, she had creative control which allowed her to hire a female director. The show faced criticism from southern stations for the inclusion of Arthur Duncan, a black tap dancer, who was hired as a regular cast member. The stations threatened to boycott unless Duncan was removed from the series. Betty’s response was, “He stays; live with it”. Not only did she keep Duncan, she gave him more airtime. NBC repeatedly changed the show’s time slot which led to the show being cancelled after one season.
Following the end of Life with Elizabeth, she starred as Vicki Angel on the sitcom Date with the Angels from 1957 to 1958. Betty met Lucille Ball while working on this show, which was filmed on the same studio lot where “I Love Lucy” was filmed. The two became friends based on their successful commonalities in a male-dominated industry.
From the mid 1950s to early 1980s Betty was a constant presence on network game shows and talk shows. These shows included: The Tonight Show, all four versions of Password, What’s My Line?, I’ve Got a Secret, Match Game, To Tell the Truth, and Pyramid. She married Password’s host, Allen Ludden, in 1963. Betty made so many game show appearances she was the nicknamed “First Lady of Game Shows“. Let’s flash forward for a moment to 1983, Betty became the first woman to receive the Daytime Emmy Award for Outstanding Game Show Host for the show, Just Men! With her extensive game show experience, it seemed natural for her to become a host.
In 1973, Betty joined the cast of The Mary Tyler Moore Show and won her second and third Emmy Awards back-to-back. The year 2021 was a melancholy year for this show. We lost Cloris Leachman, Gavin MacLeod, Ed Asner, and Betty White, who was the last surviving cast member, even though she was the oldest.
From 1983 to 1984, Betty had a recurring role on the series Mama’s Family, with future Golden Girls co-star Rue McClanahan. In 1985, Betty starred as Rose Nylund, the funniest “dumb blonde” of all time in The Golden Girls. She won another Emmy Award for Outstanding Actress in a Comedy Series in the first season of the show and was nominated in that category every year of the show’s run. Betty White was the oldest, and last surviving, cast member.
After Playing Rose Nylund, Betty spent the next ten years making guest appearances on television shows. In 2010, White starred as Elka Ostrovsky in the comedy, Hot in Cleveland, she was originally only meant to be in the pilot but was asked to stay on for the entire series. She also launched her own clothing line in 2010, that featured shirts with her face on them. All of the proceeds went to various animal charities she supported.
Betty was the only woman to receive an Emmy Award in all performing comedic categories and she holds the record for longest span between Emmy nominations for performances. She received her first nomination in 1951 and her last was in 2014. In 2015, she received the Lifetime Achievement Daytime Emmy which if fitting, because her entire life was filled with incredible achievements.
In the near future, we will have a Betty White Night hosted by me, celebrating her life and airing a few episodes from two of her sitcoms, Life with Elizabeth and Date with the Angels.
You can see Betty White in featured and guest starring roles on ATVN, including her first ever show, Life With Elizabeth. To view the complete rundown of classic programming on ATVN, check out the weekly listings here on our website.
Be on the lookout for more contributions and insights from Artie Freeman in future blog posts. Artie provides great introductions to many of the classic movies airing weekly on ATVN and also hosts our “Take 5” interviews featuring unique people in our viewing area.
The views expressed in this blog are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of Astound Broadband or any other agency, organization, employer or company.