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January 17, 2023

20 Stunning Black and White Photos of a Young Betty White in the 1950s

Betty Marion White (January 17, 1922 – December 31, 2021) was an American actress and comedian. A pioneer of early television with a career spanning almost seven decades, she was noted for her vast body of work in entertainment and for being one of the first women to work both in front of and behind the camera. She produced and starred in the sitcom Life with Elizabeth (1953–1955), making her the first woman to produce a sitcom.

In 1949, Betty White began appearing as co-host with Al Jarvis on his daily live television variety show Hollywood on Television, originally called Make Believe Ballroom. White began hosting the show by herself in 1952 after Jarvis’s departure, spanning five and a half hours of live ad lib television six days per week, over a continuous four-year span. In all of her various variety series over the years, White would sing at least a couple of songs during each broadcast. In 1951, she was nominated for her first Emmy Award as “Best Actress” on television, competing with Judith Anderson, Helen Hayes, and Imogene Coca; the award went to Gertrude Berg. At this point, the award was for body of work, with no shows named in nominations.

In 1952, White, George Tibbles and Don Fedderson created the television comedy Life with Elizabeth, with White portraying the title character. The show was originally a live production on KLAC-TV in 1951, and won White a Los Angeles Emmy Award in 1952. Life with Elizabeth was nationally syndicated from 1953 to 1955, allowing White to become one of the few women in television with full creative control in front of and behind the camera.

From 1952 to 1954, White hosted and produced her own daily talk/variety show, The Betty White Show, first on KLAC-TV and then on NBC. Like her sitcom, she had creative control over the series, and was able to hire a female director. In a first for American network variety television, her show featured an African-American performer, but the show faced criticism for the inclusion of tap dancer Arthur Duncan as a regular cast member. The criticism followed when NBC expanded the show nationally. Local Southern stations in the Jim Crow era threatened to boycott unless Duncan was removed from the series. In response, White said “I’m sorry. Live with it,” and gave Duncan more airtime. Initially a ratings success, the show repeatedly changed time slots and suffered lower viewership. By the end of the year, NBC quietly cancelled the series.

Following the end of Life with Elizabeth, she appeared as Vicki Angel on the ABC sitcom Date With the Angels from 1957 to 1958. As originally intended, the show, loosely based on the Elmer Rice play Dream Girl, would focus on Vicki’s daydreaming tendencies. However, the sponsor was not pleased with the fantasy elements and was pressured to have them eliminated. “I can honestly say that was the only time I have ever wanted to get out of a show,” White later said. The sitcom was a critical and rating disaster, but ABC wouldn’t allow White out of her contractual agreement and required her to fill the remaining thirteen weeks in their deal. Instead of a retooled version of the sitcom, White rebooted her old talk/variety show, The Betty White Show, which aired until her contract was fulfilled.”

The sitcom did give White some positive experiences: she first met Lucille Ball while working on it, as both Date With the Angels and I Love Lucy were filmed on the same Culver Studios lot. The two quickly struck up a friendship over their accomplishments in taking on the male-dominated television business of the 1950s. They relied on one another through divorce, illness, personal loss, and even competed against one another on various game shows.

In July 1959, White made her professional stage debut in a week-long production of the play, Third Best Sport, at the Ephrata Legion Star Playhouse in Ephrata, Pennsylvania.

Here, below is a selection of 20 stunning photographs of Betty White during the 1950s:


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