Betty White: A Celebration

Today, January 17th, would have been the 100th birthday of US National Treasure Betty White. A celebration was planned to be marked with a documentary to be screened in cinema across the US. Sadly it was not quite the ending we all hoped for.

On New Year’s Eve came the unexpected news that Betty had passed away just six days after a stroke, dampening many people’s New year celebrations and making it more of a fond remembering of , and gratitude for, all the times that she had entertained us, both on TV, (where she started her career in 1939, holding the record for the longest career in TV, spanning nine decades) and in very occasional films.

One of the earliest TV pioneers, Betty was greatly in-demand on television, and loved appearing before the cameras, but her behind the scenes career was even more impressive, being one of the first women to wield power behind the camera as well as in front. In this respect, it was natural that one of her closest friends was fellow TV pioneer Lucille Ball who grew her career into being one of the most important executives in TV, her company Desilu responsible for creating such timeless shows as I LOVE LUCY and its many spinoffs, THE UNTOUCHABLES, STAR TREK and MISSION:IMPOSSIBLE, to name just a few of her studio’s biggest hits.

Betty was a supporter of women breaking to the heavily male-dominated world of TV production, forming her own production company in 1952 and selecting a female director for her first projects. Further, she was also supportive of African-American talent. When affiliate stations in the Southern US complained about the regular appearance of African-American tap dancer Arthur Duncan on her show, she told them to “Live with it”. And she made sure she gave him a longer spot on her next programme.

It has been widely noted that Betty had an astonishing TV career, with armfuls of awards across the decades. But what is not so remembered is that Betty was a much-loved stage star too. “When did she have time?”, you might say.

Well, the TV “season” would last for 40 weeks of the year. During the summer break, Betty and third husband Allen Ludden, also a beloved TV face from TV’s popular PASSWORD game show, would travel the US doing one-week dates in summer stock. Details are hard to piece together from this distance in miles and time, but I’ve given it my best shot, with material drawn from several sources. People surprised at her musical appearances may not know that Betty sang on TV from the start in 1939, and Allen had his own record album released in 1963.

Their most often-reprised audience favourite summer stock vehicle together was the comedy play CRITIC’S CHOICE, whose plot concerns a theatre critic who feels obligated to give his own wife’s play a bad review to avoid charges of favouritism. JANUS was another favourite play, the one which had brought them together, in 1962.

Betty and Allen were married on June 14, 1963, and remained together until Allen’s death in 1981 from stomach cancer. Lucille Ball helped Betty through this difficult time, for which Betty stated she was forever grateful for Lucy’s friendship at the time when she needed it most. Betty never remarried in the remaining 40 years of her life, remarking “when you’ve had the best, you don’t need the rest”.

Rest In Peace, Betty, Thank You for being a strong, independent, vibrant and caring woman – a humanitarian and animal activist with a huge range of talents, a unique twinkle in your eye and someone who made the world a better place. You will be sorely missed but not forgotten.

I am donating to an animal charity to mark Betty White’s 100th birthday. Will you join me?


BETTY WHITE STAGE APPEARANCES

(Summer 1959) She acted in Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein’s musical, “The King and I,” in a Kenley Players production at the Packard Music Hall Theatre in Warren, Ohio. John Kenley was artistic director.

(Summer 1961) She acted in Bob Merrill’s musical, “Take Me Along,” in a Kenley Players production at the Veterans Memorial Theatre in Columbus and Packard Music Hall Theatre in Warren, Ohio with Jack Carson in the cast. John Kenley was artistic director.

(1962) She acted in Ira Levin’s play, “Critic’s Choice,” at the Cape Playhouse in Dennis, Massachusetts with Allen Ludden in the cast.

Summer 1963 She starred in BRIGADOON in Paterson, New Jersey, with Allen Ludden in the cast (their first stage work together after being recently married)

Summer 1963 She starred in THE KING AND I in St Louis, Missouri.

(1963) She acted in Carolyn Green’s play, “Janus,” at the Cape Playhouse in Dennis, Massachusetts with Allen Ludden in the cast. Show also played Skowhegan, Maine (TBC)

(Summer 1964) She acted in Ira Levin’s play, “Critic’s Choice,” in a Kenley Players production at the Veterans Memorial Theatre in Columbus (one week from June 16th) and the Packard Music Hall Theatre in Warren, Ohio (one week from June 9th) with Allen Ludden in the cast. John Kenley was artistic director.

(1964) In the ifrst week of August she played in MR PRESIDENT at the Starlight Theatre in Kansas City, Kansas with Allen Ludden in the cast.

Summer 1965 She starred in SOUTH PACIFIC, opened June 22nd at the Melody Top in Milwaukee (from on-air announcement)

(Summer 1965) She acted in John Van Druten’s musical, “Bell, Book and Candle”, in a Kenley Players production at the Veterans Memorial Theatre in Columbus and the Packard Music Hall Theatre in Warren, Ohio with Allen Ludden in the cast. John Kenley was artistic director. Playing the first two weeks in August (from on-air announcement).

(1965) She acted in John Van Druten’s play, “Bell, Book, and Candle,” at the Paper Mill Playhouse in Millburn, New Jersey with Allen Ludden and James Coco in the cast. Christopher Hewett was director.

Around 1966 they definitely did GUYS AND DOLLS together, with Allen Ludden as Sky Masterson. details TBC

(1967) She acted in Muriel Resnik’s play, “Any Wednesday,” at the Cape Playhouse in Dennis, Massachusetts with April Shawhan in the cast.

(1967) Allen Ludden played Sky Masterson in GUYS AND DOLLS in Atlanta, Georgia (from on-air announcement)

(1968) She acted in Harry Kurnitz’s play, “Once More, With Feeling,” at the Cape Playhouse in Dennis, Massachusetts with Allen Ludden in the cast.

(June 24 to 29, 1968) She acted in Harry Kurnitz’s play, “Once More, With Feeling,” at the Oguquit Playhouse in a John Lane presentation with Allen Ludden in the cast. Porter Van Zandt was director.

(Summer 1979) She played Dolly Gallagher Levi in Jerry Herman and Michael Stewart’s musical, “Hello, Dolly!,” in a Kenley Players production at the Memorial Hall in Dayton; the Veterans Memorial Theatre in Columbus and in Akron, Ohio. John Kenley was artistic director.


TROUBLE IN MIND cast talking on Instagram this Friday

This Friday 21st January at 1.00pm GMT you can catch an Instagram Live talk by two of the stars of the National Theatre’s production of TROUBLE IN MIND, the incomparable Tanya Moodie and Rory Keenan.

They will be talking about the show, their roles, and giving insights into the actor’s life, as well as taking some of your questions.

This talk is, like many others from the National, a free to attend event but they do ask that those who are financially bale make a contribution which they feel is affordable. This helps towards funding future events.

You can find the donation page here

You can find the National’s Instagram page here


Kenneth Williams – Becoming A Cult

Here’s another interesting free (donations requested) event happening on Wednesday 19th January at 6.30pm GMT from Kensington and Chelsea Libraries and presented by Adam Endacott.

As one of Britain’s best loved and recognised personalities, Kenneth Williams declared himself a “cult in his own lifetime” but what made him so? This talk will look at the multifaceted talents of the iconic comedy genius who has continued to keep us all entertained through his legacy of work from his 40 year career in the world of entertainment. From early dramatic parts through to revue, the Carry On films, radio comedy and finally to the legendary chat show appearances, what was it that made Kenneth so unique?

Using footage, sound and images, this presentation will chart his success; showcasing the many faces of Kenneth whilst acting as a study of the talent which has made him a timeless national treasure.

Adam Endacott is a Kenneth Williams aficionado and dedicated fan since early childhood. He has spent his life documenting and collecting everything Kenneth. A Communications Director who lives in London, he is the author of The Kenneth Williams Companion which was published in 2018 and The Kenneth Williams Scrapbook published in 2021.

Please note this will be a Zoom webinar.

All those who book will receive the LINK TO JOIN 48hrs before the event, and on the day of the event in an email from the library.

Book tickets here


Time Travel Theatre: Let’s go to the Little Angel Theatre in 1964!

The fantastic Little Angel Marionette Theatre in London’s Islington has been operating since 1960, delighting children for over six decades with their lovingly crafted puppets and imaginatively staged shows for younger audiences.

In 1964, British Pathe saw the value in filming a short tribute to the Theatre’s amazing contribution to children’s appreciation of theatre, as well as to the skills of the puppeteers themselves, in this brief visit to the theatre. Enjoy a trip back in time!


Sondheim triple bill on BBC iPlayer- only till 26th January 2022

UK TV Licence fee payers are in for a treat this New Year as the BBC presents its own triple-barrelled Sondheim tribute. The uniquely talented Sondheim, a giant of musical theatre who enjoyed a career spanning seven decades, died in November 2021. All thre programmes are available via the BBCiPlayer until January 26th. (You need an account to view BBCiPlayer).

SUNDAY IN THE PARK WITH STEPHEN is a 50-minute OMNIBUS film shot in 1991 as Sondheim’s time as inaugural Professor at Cambridge was coming to an end and overlapping with rehearsals for the London opening of SUNDAY IN THE PARK WITH GEORGE.

Find SUNDAY IN THE PARK WITH STEPHEN here

BBC PROMS: SONDHEIM’S 80th BIRTHDAY CELEBRATION is a delightful two-hour party from 2010, the first all-Sondheim Prom. The concert includes excerpts from his hit shows A LITTLE NIGHT MUSIC, SWEENEY TODD and INTO THE WOODS performed by a starry cast of leading figures of the opera and theatre worlds with Bryn Terfel, Maria Friedman, Simon Russell Beale, Daniel Evans and special guests.

Find BBC PROMS: SONDHEIM’S 80th BIRTHDAY CELEBRATION here

SONDHEIM AT THE BBC is a 90-minute compilation of his songs in great performances by a galaxy of stars, broadcast on the BBC over a period of 60 years, with performances from a cast of his friends and fans that features some of the biggest names of stage and screen, including Shirley Bassey, Sammy Davis Jr, Michael Ball and Liza Minnelli and many more.

Find SONDHEIM AT THE BBC here