Homage to Betty White
By F. Lennox Campello
By the time that this column appears in print, it will be a month or so since we heard the sad news that the iconic American presence known as Betty White had passed away a few days shy of her hundredth birthday.
In spite of the fact that White was almost a hundred, the news of her death still shocked and saddened most of us, as this great figure, through her spectacular decades and decades in the limelight of American television, starting in the 1950s and all through the 21st century, was liked by most of us. She once said, “Retirement is not in my vocabulary. They aren’t going to get rid of me that way,” and she meant it.
Locally, Zenith Gallery reacted at the speed of light to the news, and the gallery’s hard working owner and founder, Margery Goldberg noted that “since the passing of Betty White, it has become abundantly clear that she is the one person in America who everyone loves, no matter what your affiliations may be.” Goldberg then reached out to her vast artists’ network (including yours truly) and asked artists about participating in an homage show to White.
The exhibition, titled “Betty White Unites!” ran through the month of January and included about 20 artists from around the nation.
Goldberg also noted that “Zenith Gallery and our artists wanted to start the year off right with love and positivity by celebrating the life of Betty White.”
“She is loved by everyone, and I believe through the celebration of her life we can be united,” said Goldberg. “We have created a website that went live the day of the opening (ww.BettyWhiteUnites.com) for this show and as a means to memorialize her.”
Goldberg pointed out that “throughout her 80-year career she has touched so many generations… and tributes continue to pour in across the world for ‘cultural icon’ Betty White, as fans from President Biden to Ryan Reynolds to Jay-Z, pay homage.”
Included in the exhibition are two works (disclosure, one of them is mine) about a young Betty White who defied television racism in 1954 when she featured Black dancer Arthur Duncan on her television show. When the network complained and demanded that she remove Duncan from the show, as she had creative control, which was rare for any actor at that time but especially for a woman, she responded by saying, “He stays.”
Duncan stayed and it kick-started a long career for the talented dancer.
Goldberg added that White “broke barriers throughout her career – she was the first woman to win a Game Show Host Emmy Award and won the Screen Actors Guild Life Achievement Award. The awards and accolades are too numerous to mention.”
The Zenith exhibition included works by Doba Afolabi, Amy Bandel, Holly Boruck, Ram Brisueno, Diane Dompka, Bulsby Duncan, Cheryl Elmo, Ruth E. Green, Mirra Karra, Rebecca Klemm, Michelle Marchello, Carol Newmyer, Gavin Sewell, Helen Silberminz, Bradley Stevens, Paula Wachsstock, Jennifer Wagner, Marcie Wolf-Hubbard and yours truly.
Amongst my faves from this show was a gorgeous painting titled “Betty” by Cheryl Elmo – it depicts a smiling, glowing, resplendent Betty White, with that smiling, slightly mischievous look that we all loved over the years.
I also liked “Golden” by Buzz Duncan, which depicts White in the style of the propaganda slogan posters so popular in the former Eastern bloc during the Soviet era, and which were revived by Shepard Fairey for the first Obama Presidential campaign.
One last Betty White quote: “The older you get, the better you get. Unless you’re a banana.”