There are some people you just think will be around forever. Betty White was one of them. I cannot claim to have watched her first television program, the self-produced “Life with Elizabeth.” I was only one year old when it premiered in 1952. And coming in the days before television programming could be recorded, or prerecorded, there is no record for me to review, or add to my insanely enormous collection of television programming.
But as to the rest of it, the game shows including Password, Match Game, Tattletales, To Tell the Truth, The Hollywood Squares, and the $25,000 Pyramid. Or the soaps and dramas, The Bold and the Beautiful, Boston Legal, and the comedies/variety programs including The Carol Burnett Show. Her biggest roles include Sue Ann Nivens on the CBS sitcom The Mary Tyler Moore Show (1973–1977), Rose Nylund on the NBC sitcom The Golden Girls (1985–1992), and Elka Ostrovsky on the TV Land sitcom Hot in Cleveland (2010–2015). She gained renewed popularity after her appearance in the 2009 romantic comedy film The Proposal (2009) and was subsequently the subject of a successful Facebook-based campaign to host Saturday Night Live in 2010, garnering her a Primetime Emmy Award for Outstanding Guest Actress in a Comedy Series.
In 1954, as The Betty White Show became national across the United States, White was criticized by many in the Southern states for having Arthur Duncan, a Black tap dancer, on the program. In the 2018 documentary Betty White: First Lady of Television, White recalled threats to take the show off-air “if we didn’t get rid of Arthur, because he was Black.” She refused, saying “he stays, live with it”.
She received eight Emmy Awards in various categories, three American Comedy Awards, three Screen Actors Guild Awards, and a Grammy Award. She has a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame and was a 1995 Television Hall of Fame inductee.
And she was nice. Her characters were salty enough to be interesting, but underneath she appeared to be the person you wanted for your grandmother. She married television host and personality Allen Ludden, whom she had met on his game show Password as a celebrity guest in 1961. The couple appeared together in an episode of The Odd Couple featuring Felix’s and Oscar’s appearance on Password.
Allen Ludden died from stomach cancer on June 9, 1981, in Los Angeles. White never remarried. When asked the reason for this in an interview with Larry King, White responded, “Once you’ve had the best, who needs the rest?”. When asked by James Lipton on Inside the Actor’s Studio that should Heaven exist, what would she like God to say to her when she walked through the Pearly gates, White replied “Come on in Betty. Here’s Allen.”
Better White died in her sleep at her home in Los Angeles on New Year’s Eve, 2021. Just a few days short of her 100th birthday. A party had been planned in her honor and a special edition of People magazine was already on the newsstands. A lifelong supporter of animal welfare programs, she asked that contributions to those organizations be made in her remembrance of her work.
The picture on the left above shows White with the rest of the cast of The Mary Tyler Moore Show. They are all gone now.
On the right is a picture of Sidney Poitier receiving the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the highest civilian honor in the United States, from President Barack Obama, in recognition of his lifelong career as actor, film director, and diplomat.
In 1963, he was the first Black actor to win the Academy Award for Best Actor. He received two competitive Golden Globe Awards, a competitive British Academy of Film and Television Arts (BAFTA), and a Grammy Award for Best Spoken Word Album. Poitier was one of the last major stars from the Golden Age of Hollywood cinema.
He was also one of the first Hollywood stars to register with me, beginning his long string of successful and groundbreaking films right at the time grade school me began my lifelong love of film.
Poitier’s was in the film Blackboard Jungle in1955. In 1958, he starred with Tony Curtis as chained-together escaped convicts in The Defiant Ones, which received nine Academy Award nominations; both actors received nominations for Best Actor, with Poitier’s being the first for a Black actor. They both also had Best Actor nominations for the BAFTAs, with Poitier winning. In 1963, he won the Academy Award and the Golden Globe for Best Actor for Lilies of the Field playing a handyman helping a group of German-speaking nuns build a chapel.
Poitier played in Porgy and Bess in 1959, A Raisin in the Sun in1961, and A Patch of Blue in 1965. He continued to break ground in three successful 1967 films which dealt with issues of race: To Sir, with Love; Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner, and In the Heat of the Night. Heat won the Academy Award for Best Picture that year. He received Golden Globe and BAFTA nominations for his performance in Heat and in a poll the next year was voted the America’s top box-office star.
Beginning in the 1970s, Poitier directed a string of comedy films, including Stir Crazy in 1980, starring Richard Pryor and Gene Wilder. A decade later he returned to television and film starring in Shoot to Kill in1988 and Sneakers in 1992.
To all that he added from 1995 to 2003, service as a member of the board of directors of The Walt Disney Company from 1995 to 2003. And in 1997, Poitier was appointed ambassador from the Bahamas to Japan, a position he held until 2007. From 2002 to 2007, he was concurrently the ambassador of the Bahamas to UNESCO.
Poitier died just six days in 2022 at his home in Beverly Hills, California. He was ninety-four. President Joe Biden, wrote “With unflinching grandeur and poise – his singular warmth, depth, and stature on-screen – Sidney helped open the hearts of millions and changed the way America saw itself.” Former president Barack Obama paid tribute to Poitier, calling him “a singular talent who epitomized dignity and grace”. Martin Scorsese, director, producer and writer wrote, “For years, the spotlight was on Sidney Poitier. He had a vocal precision and physical power and grace that at moments seemed almost supernatural.”
Betty White and Sidney Poitier. We are better for their having passed by our way.