Welcome to a new Wildcard Wednesday! This week we’re celebrating the great Betty White, who was born 99 years ago on January 17, 1922. We all know this charming sitcom staple from her work on classics like The Mary Tyler Moore Show and The Golden Girls, but she was also an early icon of live television in Los Angeles, with several locally popular shows — including Life With Elizabeth, which was later filmed and nationally syndicated for 65 episodes, beginning in 1953.
White’s first network sitcom came a few years later — Date With The Angels (1957-1958, ABC), a multi-camera husband/wife show in the I Love Lucy vein. (It was filmed at Desilu before an audience, claimed James V. Kern as its director, and used many familiar Lucy plots.) We’ve talked about Angels before — it’s a clichéd domestic comedy from Don Fedderson with simple scenarios that were initially intended to contrast against the leading lady’s elaborate daydreams and fantasies. But the sponsor (Plymouth) insisted on making the show more traditional, and head writer George Tibbles was unable to offer the strong characterizations necessary to sustain this low-concept (and now fantasy-less) format, so it was no surprise when Angels got canceled after two half-seasons, replaced by a variety series anchored by White.
However, Date With The Angels is an easygoing slice of ’50s sitcommery, and it’s fun to see this star use her early “sweetheart” persona. Speaking of which, here’s an article about White being “America’s Sweetheart” from the April 23, 1954 edition of TV Guide. (This comes from her Life With Elizabeth era, when national audiences were first discovering Betty White.)
As for Date With The Angels, here’s a seldom-seen episode called “Heartburn,” first broadcast on July 19, 1957. Its plot has “Vickie” attempting to play matchmaker for a single friend, and while this script, by George Tibbles with Fran Van Hartesveldt & Bill Kelsay, won’t win any awards for creativity, it’s an accurate sample of the series and boasts some notable guest work, especially from the recurring Loie Bridge. Enjoy — and Happy 99th Birthday, Betty!
P.S. This week also marks the 50th anniversary of All In The Family, which premiered on January 12th, 1971. Here’s a list of 25 first-rate episodes from this influential game-changer.
Come back next week for another Wildcard! And stay tuned Monday for a musical theatre rarity!
Thanks for the writeup on Date with the Angels and providing us with a rare episode! I know Betty wasn’t happy with this series, but I really enjoy this show. I think it plays much better than Life with Elizabeth. My favorite episode is “Star Struck” with Dennis Day. I love the song Betty sings in it.
Do you have any idea where “Vickie Goes to a Party” might be available? I’ve always been interested in seeing it because of the presence of Mary Jane Croft and you ranking it so highly makes me even more intrigued.
Hi, Jimmy! Thanks for reading and commenting.
“Vickie Goes To A Party” is notable for its use of the series’ initial fantasy conceit. I singled it out as one of the show’s best by citing and bolding it above, but, just in case there’s any confusion, my list is in airing order (as usual) and thus not ranked. Also, you’ll be glad to know that the episode has been shared on this blog in its entirety — just use the “DATE WITH THE ANGELS” tag and you’ll find it!
Thanks, Jackson! I don’t know how I missed that!
No worries — I buried it in another post that needed a pick-me-up!
Hi Jackson! Thank you for your birthday tribute to Betty White. She is truly a national treasure. I am wondering what do you think of her work as Elka in “Hot In Cleveland”? I think it is truly remarkable that being in her late 80s and 90s she was able to not only play such a major role, but also that she was so good in it-Elka was definitely the highlight of the show. Also, which of her two most iconic roles do you prefer, Sue Ann Nivens or Rose Nylund?
Hi, Raul! Thanks for reading and commenting.
These are great topics for a future Q&A post — I have flagged this comment for possible use in the next entry.
Thanks Jackson for sharing this with us. I loved it. Betty White has always been one of my favorite actresses. Loie Bridge was a hoot. Why was Betty unhappy with the series? Looking forward to your answer between Rose and Sue Ann. Thanks again. Also, Happy Birthday Betty White!
Hi, Smitty! Thanks for reading and commenting.
White was attracted to the project because of its fantasy element. When that was removed, she knew the show was effectively neutered, particularly with a leading man (Bill Williams) who couldn’t play comedy. In other words, she was aware she was in a turkey.
Nice tribute to the remarkable Betty. Although I am aware of its faults I’ve enjoyed the episodes of DATE that I have seen. The multi camera/live audience helps give it an energy that many of the 50s sitcoms are lacking.
Hi, John! Thanks for reading and commenting.
I agree with you, but normally the multi-cam format encourages more comedic, character-driven writing. Of the filmed sitcoms produced this way in the ’50s, I’m afraid I think ANGELS is one of the weaker efforts. We wouldn’t watch it today if it wasn’t for White! (Of course, that’s more than enough reason!)