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Hear 8-Year-Old Betty White Playing a Crippled Orphan

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Betty White is celebrating her 91st birthday today. Eight decades ago as a little (Golden) girl, she made her radio debut. Later, a collaboration with a radio disc jockey would help launch her into television stardom. Here's a look back at the highlights of her radio career, with some clips provided to us by the Old Time Radio Catalog.

Early Radio Debut

Betty White's earliest radio work found online is from an early 1930s drama called Empire Builders, sponsored by the Great Northern Railway Company. The program dramatized stories, often with travel and American landscapes in the background, and lots of evocative train sounds. Betty White starred as a young crippled orphan who befriends a wealthy bachelor at the hospital in time for a happy ending at Christmas. She was just eight years old.

On another episode, she played a baby abandoned on a train. In both tales, she charms those she meets and ends up adopted.

(Program information is available here.)

How Margarine Launched Betty White’s Career

Today she may be known for her Snickers commercial, but it was another food that helped White get her start. In the mid-1940s, she went from audition to audition hoping for that first break. Producer Fran Van Hartesveldt took pity on the young Betty. One day, they were both in the elevator and he said, “I’ll take a chance and give you one word to say in the commercial on this week’s Gildersleeve…Think you can say ‘Parkay’ without lousing it up?”

The union membership would cost her more than the $37.50 she would earn, but it was well worth it. Despite fears of saying “parfait” instead of “Parkay,” she succeeded in her debut, and as she says in her biography, “I was in show business!”

The radio program was the comedy The Great Gildersleeve, starring Harold Peary and sponsored by Kraft Foods. A sampling of Great Guildersleeve episodes are available here.

White went on to read more commercials and play bit parts in The Great Gildersleeve, Family Theater Radio, and Blondie, a program based on the popular comic strip.

Turning to Crime

She also played leads on the air. Betty White became the voice of some of the FBI’s most wanted in episodes of This Is Your FBI. Produced and directed by Jerry Devine and endorsed by J. Edgar Hoover, the program dramatized actual cases ripped from FBI files.

She acted in such shows as the 1949 episode “Larcenous Bride.” We hear glimmers of Rose Nylund’s innocence in the naïve newlywed who becomes entangled in major scams.

From Turntables to Television

As the television industry grew, radio broadcasters were getting into the mix. In 1949, Al Jarvis, one of America’s first radio disc jockeys, made the shift by launching the program Hollywood on Television on KLAC—essentially a televised broadcast of his radio show. He called up Betty to recruit her as his “girl Friday.” She ended up being on the show every day, earning a whopping $50 per week, which soon increased to $300. Over time, they played fewer and fewer records, focusing instead on variety segments and commercials.

With over five hours of airtime per day, she and Jarvis had a lot of space to fill, giving her a chance to play with ad-libbing and singing. The improv would lead to future sketches and she went on to sing on the short-lived Betty White Show and elsewhere.

In 1952, she took over the reins of Hollywood on Television, becoming the first woman to host a daytime talk show. She and the program’s pianist George Tibbles began to incorporate more sketches into the show, including comedic spats between a married couple—Elizabeth and Alvin. This turned into a new sitcom venture Life With Elizabeth, a program that led to her first Emmy. Here’s the first episode of that show:

Happy birthday to a pioneer across the media platforms!

[This story first appeared last year, for Betty White's 90th birthday.]

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Every New Movie, TV Series, and Special Coming to Netflix in May
Netflix
Netflix

Netflix is making way for loads of laughs in its library in May, with a handful of original comedy specials (Steve Martin, Martin Short, Carol Burnett, Tig Notaro, and John Mulvaney will all be there), plus the long-awaited return of Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt. Here’s every new movie, TV series, and special making its way to Netflix in May.

MAY 1

27: Gone Too Soon

A Life of Its Own: The Truth About Medical Marijuana

Amelie

Barbie Dreamhouse Adventures: Season 1

Beautiful Girls

Darc

God's Own Country

Hachi: A Dog's Tale

Harold & Kumar Escape from Guantanamo Bay

Hellboy II: The Golden Army

High School Musical 3: Senior Year

John Mulaney: Kid Gorgeous Live at Radio City

Mr. Woodcock

My Perfect Romance

Pocoyo & Cars

Pocoyo & The Space Circus

Queens of Comedy: Season 1

Reasonable Doubt

Red Dragon

Scream 2

Shrek

Simon: Season 1

Sliding Doors

Sometimes

The Bourne Ultimatum

The Carter Effect

The Clapper

The Reaping

The Strange Name Movie

Yu-Gi-Oh! Arc-V: Season 2

MAY 2

Jailbreak

MAY 4

A Little Help with Carol Burnett

Anon

Busted!: Season 1

Dear White People: Volume 2

End Game

Forgive Us Our Debts

Kong: King of the Apes: Season 2

Manhunt

My Next Guest Needs No Introduction With David Letterman: Tina Fey

No Estoy Loca

The Rain: Season 1

MAY 5

Faces Places

MAY 6

The Joel McHale Show with Joel McHale

MAY 8

Desolation

Hari Kondabolu: Warn Your Relatives

MAY 9

Dirty Girl

MAY 11

Bill Nye Saves the World: Season 3

Evil Genius: the True Story of America's Most Diabolical Bank Heist

Spirit Riding Free: Season 5

The Kissing Booth

The Who Was? Show: Season 1

MAY 13

Ali Wong: Hard Knock Wife

MAY 14

The Phantom of the Opera

MAY 15

Girlfriends' Guide to Divorce: Season 4

Grand Designs: Seasons 13 - 14

Only God Forgives

The Game 365: Seasons 15 - 16

MAY 16

89

Mamma Mia!

The 40-Year-Old Virgin

The Kingdom

Wanted

MAY 18

Cargo

Catching Feelings

Inspector Gadget: Season 4

MAY 19

Bridge to Terabithia

Disney’s Scandal: Season 7

Small Town Crime

MAY 20

Some Kind of Beautiful

MAY 21

Señora Acero: Season 4

MAY 22

Mob Psycho 100: Season 1

Shooter: Season 2

Terrace House: Opening New Doors: Part 2

Tig Notaro Happy To Be Here

MAY 23

Explained

MAY 24

Fauda: Season 2

Survivors Guide to Prison

MAY 25

Ibiza

Steve Martin and Martin Short: An Evening You Will Forget for the Rest of Your Life

The Toys That Made Us: Season 2

Trollhunters: Part 3

MAY 26

Sara's Notebook

MAY 27

The Break with Michelle Wolf

MAY 29

Disney·Pixar's Coco

MAY 30

Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt: Season 4

MAY 31

Bombshell: The Hedy Lamarr Story

My Next Guest Needs No Introduction With David Letterman: Howard Stern

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Solve a Murder Mystery (and Eat Cheesecake) with The Golden Girls
NBC
NBC

Something is rotten in the city of Miami. A murder has been committed—and nobody knows who’s behind the dastardly crime. The police are likely no match for the killer, so it’s up to the Golden Girls characters to combine their wits (over cheesecake, of course) to crack the case. But they can’t do it without your help.

That’s right: Peddler’s Village, a quaint shopping village in Lahaska, Pennsylvania, is now offering a Golden Girls Murder Mystery dinner and show every Friday and Saturday night through August 25, 2018. The whodunit takes place at Peddler's Pub at the Cock 'n Bull Restaurant, at 7 p.m.

While the major plot details have been kept under wraps (it is a murder mystery, after all), we do know that Dorothy, Blanche, Rose, and Sophia have "invited a couple of well known detectives to join the party and discuss their famous capers." And given that the show is titled "The Golden Girls: The Curse of Jessica Fletcher," we can only guess (and hope) that an amateur sleuth from Cabot Cove, Maine will be making an appearance.

It's not the first time Peddler's Pub has hosted the gals from Miami; the current show is a sequel of sorts to the original Golden Girls Murder Mystery that Peddler's Pub put on back in 2016. Fun fact: Mental Floss Editor-in-Chief Erin McCarthy beat out a room full of other Betty White sangria-drinking armchair detectives to correctly solve the mystery during its original run. (She has the mug to prove it.)

Tickets are $69.95 per person, and you can make a reservation (which is required) by calling 215-794-4051. As for what you'll be dining on: You can scope out the menu online (and yes, the Girls’ favorite dessert is involved).

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