Betty White defended a Black dancer on her 1950s variety show
Betty White, star of The Golden Girls and gay icon, once defended a Black dancer on her 1950s variety show in the face of racist calls for a boycott.
The beloved actor broke many barriers throughout her life, and in 1954 she was hosting and and producing her own variety show, The Betty White Show, for NBC.
White had complete creative control, and was able to hire a female director, as well as make Arthur Duncan, a Black tap dancer, a regular cast member.
But Duncan’s role on the show resulted in TV networks in Southern Jim Crow states threatening to boycott the programme, and White faced pressure from the network to fire him.
Despite this, she refused, and according to PBS biography of White, she simply said: “I’m sorry, but, you know, he stays. Live with it.”
In the face of the horrific racism, White decided to give Duncan more airtime, and his role on The Betty White Show ended up launching his successful career.
Sadly, White’s defiance meant that the show was cancelled in December, 1954, but Duncan was unaware of the situation until years later.
“the betty white show” was 1st canceled because she had black entertainer arthur duncan as a guest performer in 1954. when threatened with cancellation she said “I’m sorry, he stays. live with it.” this is a part of his debut performance. #ripbettywhite pic.twitter.com/mp83FQ61yI
— facebooksota (@Metasota) December 31, 2021
one of my favorite Betty White stories is that when she got her own tv show in the 50’s, white southerners threatened to boycott if she didn’t get rid of a black dancer named Arthur Duncan.
she said, “He stays. Live with it.” and gave him even more airtime. RIP to an icon.
— caleb hearon (@calebsaysthings) December 31, 2021
In 2017, according to Yahoo Entertainment, the then 83-year-old tap dancer appeared on Steve Harvey’s competition show Little Big Shots: Forever Young.
He recalled: “I was on the show, and they had some letters out of Mississippi and elsewhere that some of the stations would not carry the show if I was permitted to stay on there.
“Well, Betty wrote back and said, ‘Needless to say, we used Arthur Duncan every opportunity we could.'”
Reunited in 2017 pic.twitter.com/gwOomwbcXC
— RIP Kobe/GiGi 💔🙏🏽🐐🐐 (@EightWitTha24) April 3, 2021
During the show, Duncan had a surprise reunion with White, and asked by Harvey how he felt, he said: “God, I think I am ready to go now.”
He told White: “I hope we have a chance to visit after this is over.” She responded: “Oh, I hope so. You never call. You never ask me out.”