LYNN ELBER AP TV Writer
LOS ANGELES — A photo of Betty White, with a dimpled smile and a candid look, fills the cover of a coffee table book arriving the month before her 100th birthday.
The image conjures up the true White, according to the book’s author, Ray Richmond. After digging into her life and career, he concluded that she was as warm and attractive as appearances would have it.
But her willingness to play against type, whether as scheming Sue Ann on “The Mary Tyler Moore Show” or naive Rose from “The Golden Girls,” proves just how playful and talented White is, Richmond said. .
That, coupled with an impressive work ethic, has taken her from a television appearance in her early 1930s to the darling of “Saturday Night Live” in the 21st century, with myriad gigs in show business. along the way.
“You could make a compelling case that Betty White is the most versatile and beloved entertainer in American history,” said Richmond, whose “Betty White: 100 Remarkable Moments in an Extraordinary Life” (becker & mayer! Books) was released on Tuesday.
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Along with starring in sitcoms and making guest appearances on dozens of others, she was a dependable and witty game show host and guest; parade emcee (California’s Rose Parade and New York’s Thanksgiving Day Parade) and soap opera actor (“The Bold and the Beautiful”). She dabbled in drama on the big screen (including as a U.S. senator in “Advise & Consent” in 1962) and on television (“Bones,” “Boston Legal”).
Hosting “Saturday Night Live” in 2010 – at age 88 – earned him a fifth Emmy Award and a new generation of admirers.
White, who will reach centennial status on January 17, 2022, did not participate in the book. Richmond, a veteran entertainment journalist and critic, instead relied on research and interviews with her friends and colleagues, including Carol Burnett, Candice Bergen and Gavin MacLeod (Murray on “The Mary Tyler Moore Show”).
MacLeod, who died last May at the age of 90, wrote the foreword to the book. Hailing White as a great performer and a “national treasure”, he considered her “one of the most caring and loving human beings I have ever known”.
She’s also a pro, said Bill D’Elia, producer with David E. Kelley of “Boston Legal.” Kelley, who had worked with White on his film “Lake Placid,” was happy to give him salty language and bad behavior to play, D’Elia says in the book.
“David loved the contrast between his image and what the character was saying,” he said. “She would be happy to say anything and do whatever the story and script calls for.”
The book briefly describes the Illinois native’s early years before moving on to a detailed account of White’s success in Hollywood. The great loves of her life – her husband Allen Ludden, who was a game show host, and animals of all breeds – also attract attention. Among the photos in the book is that of the couple on their wedding day in Las Vegas in 1963 (Ludden died in 1981).
There are also studio and publicity shots of White alone and with her co-stars. One was taken the night she, Bea Arthur, Rue McClanahan and Estelle Getty re-enacted scenes from ‘The Golden Girls’ at a royal variety show in London attended by Britain’s Queen Mother , who would have asked for their representation.
Among the moments and milestones chronicled in “Betty White: 100 Remarkable Moments in an Extraordinary Life”:
– After singing while graduating from high school in 1939, White and another student were invited to participate in an experimental television test in Los Angeles. As the pair danced and sang on the sixth floor of a building owned by car dealership and broadcast pioneer Earle C. Anthony, the performance was transmitted to the lobby. The public: the parents of the teenagers and a few others.
– When the United States entered World War II in December 1941, White, then just under 20, joined a women’s volunteer organization that provided support on the home front. She drove trucks carrying supplies for soldiers housed in Los Angeles-area camps during the day; at night, she joined dances for troops who were to be deployed overseas.
— “The Betty White Show,” with White hosting a half-hour of songs and interviews, debuted in 1954 on NBC. It included Arthur Duncan, a 21-year-old black tap dancer from a time when people of color were rarely seen on television. Station managers citing complaints from viewers threatened to pull the show. A defiant White began booking Duncan more frequently, with support from the network. Duncan, who became a longtime regular on “The Lawrence Welk Show” from the 1960s and is now 88, is quoted in the book hailing White for standing up for him and “opening many doors for me in the performance”.
— White moved in glamorous circles and created them. Burnett remembers going to “game nights” at the White-Ludden house. Charades, board games and the like were the entertainment, and “they would have people like Fred Astaire hanging around. And Burt Reynolds. My God, there were so many,” Burnett said.