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!