Screen Reviews
Betty White in Black and White

Betty White in Black and White

starring Betty White

Johnny Legend Presents

Betty White in Black and White

Looking back at network television, the last 60 years have seen magnificent changes – the introduction of color, High Def and 52-inch plasma screens, visible pregnancy, the F-word, and the sound of a toilet flushing have all enhanced our viewing experience. But one thing has stayed the same – the vapid content and the fundamental business of flogging products. You’ll feel these early echoes of commercialism in these seven kinescopes from the 1950s. Betty White began in radio and she created the first TV production company run by a woman. Her shows stick to the standards of early television with a mix of homey stories, G-rated comedy, and hard sell advertising. Betty’s cute as a bug, and if your experience is limited to The Golden Girls and The Mary Tyler Moore Show, you’ve missed one of the industry’s clean-cut hotties. She’s having genuine fun on these shows, and the comedy isn’t completely corny even if it’s often overplayed.

There are samples of four series, beginning with Life With Elizabeth. This features Del Moore as her “TV hubby” and has the best video quality of the disc. The show feels like sketch comedy toned down to the level of vague innuendo that the networks felt the American public could tolerate. The two make a nice couple with solid chemistry and each was a master of the “slow burn” style of humor. The Betty White Show is less entertaining – it’s really a variety show focused on her singing and reading jokes sent in from the audience. The ads hold your attention – Geritol, RDX (the weight loss syrup, not the high explosive), and the tailfin-armed 1957 Pontiac pound the hard sell. Betty tones down the Geritol pitch with her innocent look and guilt-inducing style. Lurking here you’ll find an early charity plug from Martin and Lewis at the height of their career together.

A Date with the Angels returns to the domestic sitcom formula with Bill Williams as the new and improved “TV hubby.” The guests are much better – Sheila James (Zelda on Dobie Gillis), Nancy Culp (Jane on Beverly Hillbillies), and Richard Deacon (Mel Cooly on Dick Van Dyke Show) all are excellent performers and make the simple stories better than they might be. Finally, a remade The Betty White Show returns, featuring extended comic sets. It’s not exactly the sitcom as we know it today, but relates closer to the short stage play format with a mix of guests and stock supporting actors. Time is compressed though action and dialog and the rare closeup reaction shot. The standard “three camera sitcom” lies somewhere in the future, and since the studio cameras of the day were as maneuverable as refrigerators, these shows feel very static. The final segment “Jealousy” features Gloria Talbott with the same metal-tipped bras that Marilyn Monroe made famous. She later became one of the early “Scream Queens” when her divorce forced her back into the business. It’s clearly the best segment here, but you’ll have to dig deep to get to it. At 180 minutes, this might be more Betty White than you can take in a single sitting, but it’s worth skipping around and sampling. Compare it to any random show today, and you’ll be impressed with what’s remained constant. Some things never really change, even when the data rate is turned up to 2010.

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