The year ended with a thud. 2021 went out as it came in with bad news and produced huge sighs of disappointment. Yesterday, as we prepared to welcome in 2022, the news broke that Betty White passed away. White was 99 years old, just seventeen days from celebrating her 100th birthday.
Many of us hoped she would reach her 100th birthday because it would be in character with how she lived her life. It was assumed she would always be with us. The amazing part is that she continued to stay active, alert, and productive until the end. What a fortunate woman. Her entertainment career is legendary. White was a pioneer in television, making the transition from the days of radio. She was the first woman to produce a sitcom – Life with Elizabeth. In 1955, Betty White was named honorary Mayor of Hollywood. She was given the title of First Lady of Television in a 2018 documentary.
It’s impossible to think of Betty White without smiling. She was a regular panelist on game shows for years besides her work in television and movies. One reason she was so well-loved by all is that she steered away from politics. When the trend in Hollywood began with entertainers and show business executives freely opining in political discussions and later on social media, White notably remained silent. She said she didn’t want to alienate any of her audience. Smart woman.
In 2012, White made an exception to her rule. She came out in favor of supporting Barack Obama in that year’s presidential race. There was an Associated Press report as White prepared to visit the Smithsonian Institution and National Zoo in Washington, D.C. She was asked about the race and said she supported Obama.
The 90-year-old actress said Friday she is very bi-partisan and has stayed away from politics all of her life. She usually never says who she is for or against because she doesn’t want to turn off any of her adoring fans.
White says in this year’s election, she likes what Obama has done and “how he represents us.”
Her comments come after Hollywood turned out at George Clooney’s home to raise $15 million for Obama’s re-election, a record for a single fundraiser.
We know a lot of voters fell for Obama’s carefully manufactured personal story, including some Republicans. And, frankly, there was a lot of white guilt that surfaced and led people to vote for the biracial candidate for president that year. The thought was that it was time for a black president. Obama was an accomplished campaigner and self-promoter.
The story of White publicly speaking of her preference for Obama brings us back to a story from 1954. White was in her early 30s and the star of her own nationally televised show, The Betty White Show. She sang, interviewed guests, performed skits, and read the commercials live, as was typical in those days. She also did segments with children. She came under fire for employing a black dancer, a 21-year-old young man who was looking for his first big break. When pressured to fire him because of his race, she refused. Her response to critics was to say, “Get over it.”
This was in 1954. As in, the year the Supreme Court handed down the Brown vs. Board of Education decision banning segregated schools. As in, before the Montgomery Bus Boycott, the Little Rock Nine and the Greensboro lunch-counter sit-ins.
Television was still a new medium, but White was already a veteran performer of stage and radio, had acted on a sitcom and co-hosted a Los Angeles daytime talk show.
So on her nationally televised “The Betty White Show,” she sang, interviewed guests, performed in skits and read the commercials live. There was even a regular kids’ segment.
And there was Duncan. At 21, the California native had been performing in a dance quartet for years and was looking for his big break.
White gave it to him, he recounted in the 2018 documentary “Betty White: First Lady of Television.”
“The first TV show I had ever been on, and I credit Betty White for really getting me started in show business, in television,” he said.
“And all through the South, there was this whole ruckus,” White remembered in the doc. “They were going to take our show off the air if we didn’t get rid of Arthur, because he was Black.”
“People in the South resented me being on the show, and they wanted me thrown out,” Duncan agreed. “But there was never a question at all.”
“I said, ‘I’m sorry, but, you know, he stays,’ ” she said. “‘Live with it.’ ”
After supporting Obama in 2015, White went back to avoiding questions about politics. During an interview with Katie Couric in recognition of White’s 95th birthday, Couric tried to coax White into saying something ugly about Trump and the divisions in the country. Instead, White turned the conversation around and spoke about keeping a positive attitude instead of sinking into negativity. She called herself a cockeyed optimist.
“The world is in a very interesting place right now,” Couric said. “What do you think about the state of our country and how divided it seems to be?”
White responded: “It’s very divided, and we’re not in the best place we’ve ever been. I think that’s the time to buckle down and really work positively as much as you can instead of just saying, ‘This is terrible. He’s terrible.'”
She continued, “Just think, ‘Alright, there’s nothing I can do about that right now but I can do the best in my little circle.’ So if I do that, maybe you’ll do your best and we’ll get through this.”
“So many people think negatively it’s like, ‘oh, you know what I hate?’ Instead of ‘alright, I’ll get through this,'” the 95-year-old said. “Then all of a sudden you start lifting up a little bit, but if you start with ‘you know what I hate,’ you’re gonna go right down the tubes.”
She was a remarkable woman. Her love for animals was well-known. In World War II she served in American Women’s Voluntary Services.
We are saddened by the passing of Betty White.
Not only was she an amazing actress, she also served during WWII as a member of the American Women's Voluntary Services.
A true legend on and off the screen. pic.twitter.com/1HRDYCeV7w
— U.S. Army (@USArmy) December 31, 2021
People Magazine ran a cover story of Betty White’s upcoming 100th birthday. She was thrilled.
My 100th birthday… I cannot believe it is coming up, and People Magazine is celebrating with me! The new issue of @people is available on newsstands nationwide tomorrow. https://t.co/kTQnsbMDGK
— Betty White (@BettyMWhite) December 28, 2021
Social media users weighed in after White’s death by pointing a finger at People Magazine and blaming their cover story coming out before her birthday as tempting fate.
One writer, John Leavitt, summed it up best: ‘You gotta admit, having an entire magazine devoted to your 100th birthday hit the racks and then dying before that birthday is excellent comic timing.’
Journalist Ben Dreyfuss captured the mood of people seeing the story, writing: ‘Happy New Year to everyone but People Magazine who killed Betty White by tempting fate.’
Another, Shauna, wrote: ‘Thanks for killing Betty White, @people.’
Rest in peace, Betty. Thanks for all the laughs.