Betty White shines in coffee table book
A photo of the late Betty White, with dimpled smile and guileless gaze, filled the cover of a coffee table book that was published a month before her 100th birthday, just days before her death on Dec. 31, 2021.
The image on the cover of Betty White: 100 Remarkable Moments in an Extraordinary Life (becker&mayer! Books) evokes the genuine White, according to the book’s author, Ray Richmond. After digging into her life and career, he concluded that she was as warm and appealing as appearances would have it.
“You could make a convincing case that Betty White was the most versatile and beloved entertainer in American history,” said Richmond.
White, who would have reached centenarian status on Jan. 17, 2022, didn’t participate in the making of the book. Richmond, a veteran entertainment reporter and critic, instead relied on research and interviews with her friends and colleagues, including Carol Burnett, Candice Bergen and Gavin MacLeod (Murray on “The Mary Tyler Moore Show”).
MacLeod, who died last May at age 90, wrote the book’s forward. Saluting White as a great performer and “national treasure,” he deemed her “one of the most caring and loving human beings I’ve ever known.”
Played against type
She was also a pro, said Bill D’Elia, producer with David E. Kelley of TV’s “Boston Legal,” in which White appeared. Kelley, who had also worked with White on his film “Lake Placid,” delighted in giving her salty language and bad behavior to play, D’Elia says in the book.
“David loved the contrast of her image versus what the character was saying,” he said. “She would happily say anything and do anything the story and script called for.”
The book briefly sketches the Illinois native’s early years before moving to a breezily detailed account of White’s success in Hollywood.
The great loves of her life — husband Allen Ludden, who was a game show host, and animals of all breeds — also get attention. Among the book’s photos is one of the couple on the day of their Las Vegas wedding in 1963 (Ludden died in 1981).
There are also studio and publicity shots of White alone and with her co-stars. One was taken the night she, Bea Arthur, Rue McClanahan and Estelle Getty re-enacted scenes from “The Golden Girls” at a royal variety show in London attended by Britain’s Queen Mother, who is said to have requested their performance.
Did you know?
Among the moments and milestones recounted in Betty White: 100 Remarkable Moments in an Extraordinary Life:
— After singing at her 1939 high school graduation, White and another student were asked to join an experimental TV test in Los Angeles. As the pair danced and sang on the sixth floor of a building owned by auto dealer and broadcast pioneer Earle C. Anthony, the performance was transmitted to the lobby. The audience: the teens’ parents and a few others.
— When the United States entered World War II in December 1941, White, then just shy of 20, joined a women’s volunteer organization that provided home-front support. She drove trucks carrying supplies for soldiers housed at Los Angeles-area camps during the day. At night, she joined dances for troops set to be deployed overseas.
— “The Betty White Show,” with White hosting a half-hour of songs and interviews, debuted in 1954 on NBC. It included 21-year-old Black tap dancer Arthur Duncan at a time when people of color were rarely seen on TV. Station managers citing viewer complaints threatened to pull the show. A defiant White began booking Duncan more frequently, with the network’s backing. Duncan, who became a longtime regular on “The Lawrence Welk Show” starting in the 1960s and is now 88, is quoted in the book saluting White for defending him and “opening a lot of doors for me in performing.”
— White moved in glamorous circles, and created them. Burnett recalls joining “game nights” at the White-Ludden house. Charades, board games and such were the entertainment, and “they would have people there like Fred Astaire just hanging around. And Burt Reynolds. My gosh, there were just so many,” Burnett said.