Virtual Event: Trailblazer Betty White: Archival Rarities

Thu 1/26 • 4PM PST

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Guest speaker: Video intro by Al Martin, Associate Professor of Cinematic Arts, University of Miami.

Throughout a remarkable, universally celebrated seven-decades-plus career, beloved actor, broadcaster and comedian Betty White accomplished just about all that was possible in the world of television. A trailblazer in the truest sense of the word, White appeared as a child on an experimental television broadcast in Los Angeles before World War II and, over half a century later, delivered an Emmy ward-winning turn guest-hosting Saturday Night Live (2010). In the years in between, White became one of the first women producers in television, had her own daytime show and sitcom, emceed parades for NBC, guested on game shows (where she met her soulmate, Allen Ludden), and most memorably, co-starred in several of the most acclaimed and popular TV series of all time (The Mary Tyler Moore Show, The Golden Girls).

On the 101st anniversary of her birth, the Archive is honored to present two rare television productions in tribute to Betty White, the irreplaceable and unforgettable first lady of television. Screening first is the live United States Steel Hour episode "Scene of the Crime" (1962), starring White in a rare dramatic role. The grim, noirish anthology drama will be followed by an original promotional reel for the daytime program The Betty White Show (1954), which demonstrates the range of the effervescent star, from host to songbird, to producer and commercial pitchwoman. In tandem, these archival rarities illuminate White's timeless appeal and multi-dimensional talents in the medium of television.

Screening introduced by Al Martin, Associate Professor of Cinematic Arts, University of Miami, and author of The Generic Closet: Black Gayness and the Black-Cast Sitcom. Martin is currently working on his second book, On the Black Hand Side: Black Fandoms and Cultural Politics, which partly explores Black fandom of The Golden Girls.

Program notes by Mark Quigley, John H. Mitchell Television Curator.

U.S. Steel Hour: “Scene of the Crime”
U.S., 6/27/1962

When a mysterious stranger (Harry Townes) arrives at her seemingly serene boarding house, a young school teacher (Betty White) finds herself at the center of a horrific, decades-old murder. This claustrophobic live production from New York offers chills and noir twists, representing an unexpected showcase for television icon Betty White's mostly untapped dramatic range. A rare, forgotten footnote in White’s Television Academy Hall of Fame career, directed by golden age of TV veteran Tom Donovan, who had previously helmed eighteen episodes of CBS' esteemed anthology, Studio One. Presented with original commercials.

B&w, 60 min. CBS. Production: A Theatre Guild Production. Executive Producer: George Kondolf. Director: Tom Donovan. Writer: Sidney Carroll. From the British television play by Brian Clemens. With: Betty White, Harry Townes, Patricia Collinge, Lester Rawlins.

Preservation funded by the John H. Mitchell Television Preservation Endowment. Preserved by the UCLA Film & Television Archive from an original 2 in. videotape. Video transfer at DC Video. Engineering services by David Crosthwait.

The Betty White Show promotional film
U.S., 1955

This not-for-broadcast television industry promo film, hosted by Betty White, showcases highlights from the star’s eponymous daytime program. Intended to shop the series to sponsors, syndication, or perhaps another network, the reel showcases White’s charm and range as a singer, performer, producer and commercial pitchwoman. Directly addressing the camera with a stack of kinescopes at the ready, White presents clips from her comedy/variety program featuring glimpses of series regulars such as Arthur Duncan and special guests including comedian Danny Thomas, actor Cesar Romero, dancer Gilda Grey, and fellow icon, Lassie.

B&w, 42 min.

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