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Life With Betty
May 8, 2010 1:48 AM   Subscribe

Most people don't realize that Betty White was awesome nearly 60 years ago. In 1952, she was already TV's first female talk show host, and she became the first woman on TV to star AND co-produce her own sitcom (without being married to one of the other producers), "Life With Elizabeth", and the show is (IMO) a Lost Classic. (less lost now, with the help of YouTube; MLYT follows...)

The show had a unique format, with three short stories in each half hour, that the show called "incidents" (back when that word was not a synonym for "crime"). Partly because the show was syndicated to individual stations and had to be even more inoffensive than a network show, the 'incidents' were generally quite trivial in nature. In essence, this was "a show about nothing" 40 years before "Seinfeld". It also featured a narrator who routinely broke the "fourth wall" talking to Betty/Elizabeth while unable to be heard by her TV husband; but at the end of each episode he tells everyone to say "Goodbye"; a surreal touch. And Elizabeth at times seems like the most confident TV wife of the '50s; whenever she's asked "aren't you ashamed of yourself?" her answer is "no".

Incident #1: A Relaxing Sunday
Incident #2: The Drapes
Incident #3: The Old Army Buddy

Incident #1: The Paper Boy
Incident #2: The Chemistry Set

Incident #1: Planting a Tree
Incident #2: Fixing the TV, part one
Incident #2, part two and Incident #3: At the Drive-In, part one
Incident #3, part two

Incident #1: Distracting Alvin and Incident #2: Confused Social Schedule, part one
Incident #2, part two and Incident #3: The Piano Tuner (played by Frank DuVol), part one
Incident #3, part two

Incident #1: Alvin the Photographer and Incident #2: The Honeymoon's Over, part one
Incident #2, part two and Incident #3: Altered Senses, part one
Incident #3, part two

Incident #1: Learning to Drive (Not) and Incident #2: Elizabeth's Scared, part one
Incident #2, part two and Incident #3: The Boss's Toupee, part one
Incident #3, part two
posted by oneswellfoop (24 comments total) 36 users marked this as a favorite

 
I uncovered this gem while researching my Betty White article for todayshow/msnbc.com (self-plug with unwieldy url). My editor didn't want the really old Betty White stuff, but I thought this was great!
posted by oneswellfoop at 1:53 AM on May 8, 2010


Fantastic post! Can't wait to see hollywood's baddest bitch kickin it with Jay Z on SNL tomorrow night.
posted by moons in june at 1:57 AM on May 8, 2010


Excellent post!
posted by JHarris at 2:10 AM on May 8, 2010


Betty White won the Superbowl.
posted by twoleftfeet at 2:30 AM on May 8, 2010


There was, in the Baltimore/DC area, a little UHF station (I think it was 56), that was playing this and other old shows like Dobie Gillis in the middle of a transition period, and I watched it for quite a while, thinking "why does she look familiar?" before realizing it was Betty White. Neat.
posted by sonascope at 3:54 AM on May 8, 2010


Did Betty White just hire a new press agent or something? She's ubiquitous lately.
posted by box at 5:45 AM on May 8, 2010


It was that superbowl ad that really kicked it up a notch, but yeah her and Chatroulette share the same agent. I keep making this bad joke, please stop me, can't help myself
posted by dabitch at 6:10 AM on May 8, 2010


Betty White never really went away, she's a hard working actor. But she's getting a lot of exposure now. I first caught her current naughty/naive grandma role at the celebrity roast of William Shatner as discussed here on MeFi. She absolutely killed there, great material well delivered. (The Sulu joke at the end is bleeped; the gag is "cock ring".)

I'd never heard of Life with Elizabeth. I watched the Army Buddy sketch up above and it was hysterical, plays very well today. The physical comedy of it is fantastic, subtle and not slapstick. She has this wonderful little wicked edge, like someone crossed Lucille Ball with Angela Lansbury. She's beautiful and a great actor, I wonder why she's not considered more seriously. I think she was ill served by focusing her career on television with its wasteland of sitcom writing. Her career in the 60s and 70s seems to be almost entirely comedy game shows, I can't help but think that was a waste of talent.
posted by Nelson at 7:13 AM on May 8, 2010 [3 favorites]


I think she was ill served by focusing her career on television with its wasteland of sitcom writing. Her career in the 60s and 70s seems to be almost entirely comedy game shows, I can't help but think that was a waste of talent.

But to be fair, she was on a couple of the best-written shows in television history (MTM and Golden Girls), and as for the game shows, she was married to Allen Ludden.
posted by padraigin at 7:18 AM on May 8, 2010 [1 favorite]


Betty appeared on Password in part because she was married to the host Allan Ludden.

But that hardly means that the 60s and 70s were a wasteland for Betty White. For much of the 70s she was busy working on a little thing called The Mary Tyler Moore Show.
posted by brookeb at 7:38 AM on May 8, 2010 [1 favorite]


Betty White had dinner at my grandparents' house in the 50s when my mom was a kid. I wish I knew more about the story than that.
posted by amro at 7:48 AM on May 8, 2010


Betty appeared on Password in part because she was married to the host Allan Ludden.

Yeah, I was not expecting to see this image in a story about Betty White.
posted by ricochet biscuit at 8:00 AM on May 8, 2010


These are so great. Maybe it was the OP cueing me, but they do seem Seinfeldian--or vice versa, I guess--and I can't help but think Elizabeth is the ur-Elaine. So many similarities between the two characters, if you ask me.
posted by etc. at 8:36 AM on May 8, 2010


IIRC, she met Ludden on Password and married later -- accusations on nepotism are unfounded; Ms. White's reputation remains unsundered!
posted by AzraelBrown at 9:05 AM on May 8, 2010 [3 favorites]


I'd never heard of Life with Elizabeth.
On the episode of The Odd Couple where Felix and Oscar get on Password, they first meet Allen Ludden and Betty White by chance in a restaurant. Felix makes reference to Life with Elizabeth, telling Betty White "I remember watching you on TV years ago. Years and years ago!" Betty shifts uncomfortably and says something like "I didn't think it was that long ago...."
posted by Oriole Adams at 9:44 AM on May 8, 2010


It is strangely like Seinfeld. I'm not sure I would have made the connection had it not been mentioned.
posted by chunking express at 9:46 AM on May 8, 2010


For decades I confused her with June Lockhart. Looking at the videos, now I remember why.

Funny how in 'wholesome' was in the 50s ... when Father Knew Best.
posted by Twang at 1:10 PM on May 8, 2010


I've adored Betty White ever since I was a kid in the 1980s marveling over the brilliance that is The Golden Girls. As mentioned above, she's always been loveable, precious, and as sharp as a tack. And, there's always that hint of mischief! Her adorability is certainly nothing new, but if anyone deserves to be appreciated by a new generation, it's surely Betty. I don't think she's ever stopped working from the 1950s onwards, whether in comedy shows (either as the star or ensemble/supporting cast), her extended stints on various game shows (yup, AzraelBrown is right: she met Allen Ludden on Password), and talk shows. She's been the darling of television since the beginning, and, as far as I'm concerned, no one else can ever come close!

+ YouTube links for her show, A Date With The Angels (1957)
1. Santa's Helper - part one, two, three
2. Chip Off The Old Block - part one, two, three
3. Pike's Pique - part one, two, three

(I'm not going to link to all the Date With The Angels videos on YT. Here's a search link -- there are playlists, too).
posted by Mael Oui at 7:16 PM on May 8, 2010


BETTY MENTIONED "LIFE WITH ELIZABETH" IN HER SNL MONOLOGUE. I feel like she did it for *me*.

...and one more tidbit from that old show, NOT tonight's show...
posted by oneswellfoop at 10:35 PM on May 8, 2010 [1 favorite]


Thanks for compiling this awesomeness, oneswellfoop. By any chance, do you know if the scene Betty describes in your "one more tidbit" link above is in one of the videos in the FPP? I'd love to see it.
posted by scrowdid at 11:34 PM on May 8, 2010


Been watching some of these shows, they're great! They're sweet and charming but also very clever. And there's that weird thing about the narrator and how Elizabeth is the only one who can see/hear him. She knows she's in a TV show, and that makes her smarter than her husband.
posted by JHarris at 1:41 AM on May 9, 2010


I tried watching Life with Elizabeth last night on my TV via Tivo/Youtube, but that experience leaves something to be desired. I just found Amazon sells a DVD for $10, so ordered. Wikipedia claims the show is in the public domain. I'm not sure I believe that, but in any event I couldn't find a torrent after a bit of casual searching.
posted by Nelson at 7:27 AM on May 9, 2010


Betty White: Bluffin' with Her Muffin on SNL
posted by homunculus at 9:32 AM on May 9, 2010


I'm going to hell for linking BuzzFeed on MeFi, but this Betty White timeline has a smoking picture of her topless as the Nine of Hearts, c. 1940.
posted by Nelson at 4:36 PM on May 11, 2010


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