Betty White’s “Special” Jewish Friends, Fun in Motown, A Smothering Mother
Before Betty White died, I decided to write a column item about the Betty White tribute film, which was (and is) scheduled to play in select theaters on January 17th. The 17th would have been White’s 100th birthday. (Its entitled “Betty White, a Celebration”. It's a one-day only screening. That’s true nationwide).
I didn’t want to write up ‘just’ a list of Jewish stars White worked with, like ED ASNER on “The Mary Tyler Moore Show”, and ESTELLE GETTY and BEA ARTHUR on “The Golden Girls”. So, I checked-out two memoirs that White wrote. Her 1995 memoir was very detailed. The 2011 memoir was much lighter---a collection of sweet memories.
Pretty soon I realized that White worked with tons of Jewish folks, but it was hard to tell who she really, really liked. She literally had nothing bad to say about anyone. Eventually, I found three Jewish colleagues you could “just” tell she was especially fond of.
As most of you know, game shows were very important to White. While she never stopped acting, guest shots on game shows were her biggest “thing” from about 1960 until she joined “The “Mary Tyler Moore Show” in 1973. A guest shot on “Password” changed her life. She met the show’s host, Allen Ludden, then a widower with three young children. They married in 1963. Ludden hosted “Password” until his death in 1981, age 63.
“Password” was one of many game shows created by the Goodson-Todman company. Its “hands-on” producer/ top executive was MARK GOODSON (1915-92). White’s 1995 book has a full-page photo of Goodson, with the caption: “One of a kind, a good friend.” She recounted how kind Goodson was to Allen Ludden when Ludden’s first wife fell terminally ill. White added that Goodson had a rocky romantic life and he often turned to her for counsel, or just for a kind ear.
BOB STEWART (1920-2012), White wrote, “invented” three mega-hit Goodson-Todman game shows (“Password”, “The Price is Right”, and “To Tell the Truth”) before he went off to create (1964) his own game show production company. (Stewart went on to “invent” the “$100,000 Pyramid”). White wrote that she and Stewart became close friends and, as of 1995, they dined together frequently. Stewart, I found out, was born Isadore Steinberg. He changed his name because he thought he had lost a job due to anti-Semitism.
In her 2011 memoir, White says that CARL REINER (1922-2020) and Allen Ludden served in the same Army entertainment unit during WWII. She first met Reiner when he and some other guys who served with Ludden were guests in her home.
In 2010, Reiner appeared as White’s date in several episodes of “Hot in Cleveland”. White totally loved Ludden and loved to hear good things about him. So, she just “kvelled” when Reiner told her, during a break in filming, that he “wouldn’t have had a career without Captain Ludden”. Reiner explained that during their Army days Ludden told Reiner he liked his comic material. Ludden then managed to get it seen by a big-time showbiz producer.
I was asleep at the wheel last month when “American Auto”, an NBC sit-com about a Detroit-based auto company, “sneak previewed” its first two episodes. I just caught up with those episodes, which are free to view on Peacock and on-line. New episodes air Tuesdays, at 8PM.
Basic plot: a car company, called Payne, is struggling and their new CEO (Ana Gasteyer) has no auto industry experience. The flaky Payne top execs don't help her much. They include Wesley (JON BARINHOLTZ, 42), the airhead grandson of the company's founder. (My 13-word review: some jokes and scenes were funny, but not quite enough. More work needed).
The series was created by, and is written by JUSTIN SPITZER, 44. He’s best known for creating and writing the NBC Superstore series, which ran for six seasons. His wife, JENNA BANS, 47, is best known for creating and writing the NBC series Good Girls, which aired for four seasons.
Premiering on the 20th is "Single Drunk Female", a comedy/drama series (Freeform channel/app, 10PM). SOPHIA BLACK-D'ELIA, 29, stars as Samantha Fink, an irreverent alcoholic who gets into trouble. She avoids jail by moving in with her smothering mother (played by '80s "brat pack" star ALLY SHEEDY, 59). Both actresses have non-Jewish fathers and Jewish mothers. Black-D'Elia calls herself Jewish and Sheedy has always been secular.