BOOKS… Betty White: 100 Remarkable Moments in an Extraordinary Life by Ray Richmond

#2020s

 

Celebrating nearly a century for a Hollywood Golden Girl…

 

Betty White’s biography tells how this sassy lady has always entertained us in a career from her 20s to her 90s (so far).

 
 

Betty White Tribute – Happy 94th Birthday!, Natalie Schmidt
 

In the days before the internet told us everything and anything, one thing I couldn’t get my head around as a kid was that actors and actresses get older like we mere mortals do. So it may sound silly, but it was kind of a shock when I researched for one of my first blog articles to discover that some of those much-loved entertainers were now aged in their 80s. These included those I loved as a kid including Lee Grant, Angie Dickinson, Gene Hackman and Jack Nicholson. I had always imagined them as young as the last time I saw them in film or on telly.

My biggest surprise was learning that another actress was then in her 90s and that she is approaching the big 100 early next year. This was an actress that I remember watching on telly as a wee girl in the golden days of the 1980s.

Every Friday at 10pm my family regularly tuned in to watch four old ladies – as I thought back then – who shared a house in an American comedy series. Back then, I little realised that in the first episode that the three younger ladies were supposed to be between 47 and 55 and the oldest, a character’s mother was 79 as revealed HERE.

This series was The Golden Girls (1985-1992), and the “old” ladies were Dorothy, the practical and divorced one, her wee sarcastic widowed mother Sophia, the man-eater widowed one, Blanche and the dippy widowed one, Rose. It told of their lives and loves and clashes as housemates.

And it’s Betty White who played Rose who is celebrating 100 years, early next year. Or until the day of publishing this article, 7th December 2021…  Betty has been on this Earth for 36,485 days and 99 years, 10 months, 21 days exactly.

I signed up to review her biography, Betty White: 100 Remarkable Moments in an Extraordinary Life by Ray Richmond after reading Extraordinary Life. As to be honest I’d only seen her in The Golden Girls and a feature film Lake Placid (1999). I then knew nothing about her hugely impressive career.

Lake Placid was a killer crocodile comedy with a fantastic cast and where Betty played a wee old lady who may or may not have fed her husband to the crocodiles. Roger Ebert added about her role in this creature feature film HERE;

“Betty White uses language that would turn the Golden Girls green”

But that post for another day, now onto the book review.

This thorough and well-researched biography gives a snapshot of a “representative selection” of Betty White’s life and career. Richmond says her full story would easily fill enough for twelve encyclopedias. It begins with a foreword from the late actor, Gavin McLeod. Richmond then gallantly takes over with his always affectionate answer on where to start and elaborate on when writing about an actress who is in her 99th year – telling a bit about her life in every decade since her birth – and what to include from her over 70 years in show business.

Gavin McLeod wrote a sterling and touching foreword on his two-time co-star, as a person, an actress and an animal lover in his words and anecdotes. He tells how she;

“blends great talent and great humanity in so perfect a fashion”

If like me, you are a newbie to Ms White’s career and a kid of the 1970s, on reading this actor’s name, you will possibly remember his Aaron Spelling series where he played Captain Stubing in The Love Boat (1977-86). Then you may believe this was foreword was written as she appeared as one of his all-star list of passengers (and yes she did appear in this show with her husband, Alan Ludden).

But it also seems McLeod and Betty starred together in The Mary Tyler Moore Show (1970-77) just before this series. McLeod recalled Ms White’s role was initially as a guest role after Valerie Harper – who played Rhoda – left the show. Betty was then made a permanent fixture to fill that void. He says she filled this “vacancy” perfectly as Sue Ann Nivens, where Betty White was “the antithesis of Rhoda”. Richmond when he discusses this show adds for this role “Betty satirised her own image”.

Now, this show is the tip of the iceberg of many of her films and TV that I discovered as I read this book and then mentally added to my to-watch list. He also describes her as a “natural performer”  and “TV Royalty” and writes of her long term love for both animals and hotdogs.

In his short introduction, Richmond tells that Betty White was born on 17th January 1922 in Oak Park Illinois and is the only child of Tess and Horace White. Betty’s parents shared a love for animals, and they passed this trait on to their daughter. After moving to Los Angeles as a toddler, Betty at first was keen to be a forest ranger but she was thwarted in this career as then it was only a job for a man. Since then she has been given the role of a forest ranger in an honorary status.

After she had stage fright reading a poem in third grade, she then directed, produced and wrote a school play and then took a lead role in a school production of Pride and Prejudice. She took part in one of the first successful live television transmissions as she sang and danced with a classmate. After World War II – where she was part of the American Women’s Voluntary Services she worked on the radio and in the theatre.

Then after joining an acting union, she got her first television break. This career is then outlined from her early pioneering days in colour, throughout her appearances in over 80 different games shows and her prolific performances in film and TV. In her career, for my generation, she is primarily known as a comedy actress but her first successful role was on the live show, Hollywood on Television (1949-50) where she impressed with a

“blend of interviews, entertainers, sketches, viewer mail, general repartee and commercials”.

She has also starred in drama productions – to much acclaim and worked as a long term television presenter for the Rose Parade and Macy’s Thanksgiving Parade celebrations.  Her early on-screen roles included the movie The Daring Miss Jones (1951). In her early career, she was one of the first Emmy winners, and she has won and been nominated for many awards since. She has always been liberal about race and gender, and in the 1950s controversially included a black performer in The Betty White Show, despite then protests from Southern station managers.

Betty married twice which she delightfully sees as “rehearsals”, then she met the love of her life Alan Ludden. He was a games show host who she met as she guested on his Password games show. Ludden although a new widower – with three kids – fell immediately for her, wooed her, but she rebuffed his proposals. Then she accepted after he sent her a stuffed bunny adorned with diamonds. She states;

“It was the goddamned bunny. I still have it.”

They married in Vegas in 1963 and remained married until her husband passed away in 1981. She hasn’t married since saying;

“if you’ve had the best, who needs the rest?”.

Her only regret in her 99 years is she didn’t marry him sooner.

After Richmond’s short introduction about this actress, Richmond divides Ms White’s life and career into chapters for each decade and these form the chapter title along with a natty subtitle description informing the chapter’s content. Richmond then discusses briefly a number of Betty White-themed events during this time period. He then looks at these events in much greater detail, in a separate subchapter and these are added in linear order.

The content in these chapters includes the then pertinent Hollywood history and more about Betty’s life. Richmond also examines and vividly analyses a great number of her television and film appearances and roles in these subchapters such as individual episodes of The Odd Couple (1972), Mary Tyler Moore Show (1973-77), The Golden Girls and as a regular panellist in the games show Password (1961-2008). These chapters and subchapters are backed up with quotes and anecdotes from Betty’s biographies and other valid sources.

Richmond completes this book as he lists her extensive filmography with both films and TV and her extensive appearances in game shows. Richmond outlines the written resources used in writing this book including magazine articles, Ms White’s biographies and many relevant web pages. Then he credits the photographs included.

A large selection of black and white and colour photographs adorn this life story. These photographs are often in full pages and represent both her personal life and on-screen appearances. There are stills from her career including a short-lived comedy series with Marie Osmond, Maybe This Time (1995-96) where Betty reportedly “stole the show”. Her on-screen photographs show her extensive show business career and her many co-stars in captivating shots with enticing captions.

This book includes a photograph of Betty with her parents and a series of pictures that chronicle her relationship with the love of her life, her third husband Allen Ludden. Her love for her husband radiates from each photograph and in every written description of her on-screen appearances with her husband. These photos are from their first meeting, and this is a lovely heartwarming touch to their love story.

The book also includes exclusive interviews from those who have worked with her including actress Carol Burnett and the director of The Golden Girls, Lex Passaris. The book is embellished and the writing is supported with past to present loving quotes, critics thoughts and affectionate anecdotes from Betty White’s biographies and past interviews and other entertainment professionals she’s known throughout her career.

Richmond writes of her love of animals as an “Auntie Dolittle” and illustrates this love seen as this actress has always owned a dog. Betty has had a strong role as a fundraiser and support at the Los Angeles Zoo for much of her life. She made good friends with Gita, an elephant, after reading that these animals like their tongue being slapped and doing that. After she communicated with a gorilla, Koko who used and understood sign language Betty gained a strong rapport with this animal.

This talented lady also performed for the late Queen Mother in The Royal Variety Performance in the 1980s and since then her career has gone from strength to strength. Betty calls her career before this moment a “warm-up act”. And finally, let’s go back to this biography’s foreword, where Gavin McLeod warmly adds then advocates for many of us saying that;

“As far as I’m concerned, she belongs on Mount Rushmore right next to the Presidents”.

This sentiment is echoed throughout the world by every one of us, who may have listened or watched Betty White’s career, from her pioneering days to the present day. She has carved a name for herself as a “multigenerational” talent and as Richmond succinctly puts it Betty has been and is…

“the nation’s mother, then grandmother, then great grandmother, then naughty senior pal”.

 

A disclaimer and personal thank you to NetGalley and for Quarto Publishing Group – Becker & Mayer! for inviting me to write this post and review this book. Financial compensation was not received for this post. I received a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review. All opinions expressed here are my own. If you are involved in the entertainment industry and would like to be featured or promoted here, please drop a line to me via my Contact Me Page.

 

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