The old adage in Hollywood is that to be a success you either have to ‘fight like Hell’ and claw your way to the top and/or sleep your way up. Betty White did neither of these things: she made it with the force of her personality.
This book by Ray Richmond (an entertainment columnist) is not a full-scale biography or a picture book, but rather a snapshot of 100 moments in her life. This month, if she had made it, Betty White would have been 100 years old.
Betty White (that is her original name), was one of the most beloved actresses, one who endured for more than seven decades, and by doing so garnered fans in multiple generations. Betty was often referred to as a national gem with no hidden agendas, no buried issues and no skeletons in the closet. Her temper tantrums were non-existent. No wonder we all miss her so much.
Betty takes on the personification of the ‘second coming.’ Images of Doris Day and Shirley Temple come to mind, but Betty wasn’t a ‘goody two-shoes.’ She was not above getting a laugh from “what the Hell”, or playing a role of sauciness when she thought that was appropriate. She could hold her own in language with anyone.
The amazing thing is despite these outlandish and salty roles, her image always reverted back to basic sweetness – she enjoyed crossing the line.
Betty’s career began in radio, and then extended with her being a pioneer of television talk, variety and situation comedy. Richmond’s book very briefly mentions her early childhood and touches on her high school days at Beverly Hills High. The strength of the book is that the author goes into great detail on numerous episodes of her role in the TV shows Life with Elizabeth, The Mary Tyler Moore Show, The Golden Girls, and Hot in Cleveland. It is a great wealth of knowledge for those either unfamiliar with these shows or a trek down memory lane for those old enough to remember the original broadcast.
The author also delves into the numerous game shows, with emphasis on Password, where she met her third husband, Allen Ludden.
Her legacy grew ever greater with later generations when she was the oldest host (88) on Saturday Night Live, and when she made the Super Bowl commercial for Snickers.
The main drawback to the book is that he tends to gloss over a multitude of years without explanation. Betty’s first two marriages merit exactly one line. Her parents lived well into the days of her marriage to Allen, but very little background is given, with no mention at all of any relatives.
The book is an excellent resource for the many games and shows of Betty’s career (they are all listed in tables at the end), but if you are also interested in how her family and friends and early life experiences affected Betty, one would have to seek another source.
Betty White, the book, is $31.50 by Becker & Mayer publisher.
Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons