I read this paragraph and almost gagged.
Betty White celebrates her 95th birthday today, reaching yet another milestone in a decades-spanning career that is still just as active as ever. It’s hard to believe it’s been 55 years since the beloved actress made her feature film debut in Advise & Consent, a performance that led to breakout role after breakout role both in television and film.
Betty White’s role in Advise and Consent in 1962 was not a breakout role for her in television. Betty White was the woman who helped create the breakout role for television. No woman still in TV has been in the business longer.
My parents got a television in 1949. That brought Betty White into our home. She had a guest slot on Hollywood on Television. It starred Al Jarvis. I doubt that you have ever heard of Al Jarvis. He was a Los Angeles disc jockey who got his start when my mother was a teenager. He continued to be a popular disc jockey with teenagers in my generation. He was the first of the old-timers to start playing rock ‘n roll. Sometime around 1954, he had a Los Angeles version of Dick Clark’s American Bandstand. He and Betty White were there to launch television in Los Angeles. There was almost no television in the country at that time. There were stations in New York, Chicago, Los Angeles, and a few other large cities. Al Jarvis is so obscure that there is no Wikipedia entry on him. That was how TV started.
Then for years she was on a show called Life with Elizabeth. I wasn’t crazy about the show, but I watched it with my parents.
All this took place long before Advise and Consent.
Anytime that you want to find out about any actor or actress in America, you go to the Internet Movie Data Base, or IMDB. There, you can find just about every show, movie, or role that person ever had. It is an amazing website.
Betty White is still popular. She still draws an audience. She has made people laugh since 1949. That is a long time. As she said in her hilarious host spot on Saturday Night Live in 2010, she does not use Facebook to connect with old friends. She uses a Ouija board.
My point is this: it is easy to forget what took place before you were born. It is certainly easy to forget what took place before your parents were born. It takes intellectual self-discipline to position yourself within the timeline that still shapes the world around you. History is not a popular topic in public school curriculum programs any longer. It was in my day, but that was a long time ago.
From a technological point of view, it is easier to study history today than it ever has been. The World Wide Web let you find connections that almost nobody would have imagined two decades ago. But, unless you pay close attention to the dots, you won’t connect them. Most crimes are solved because somebody called the police and offered a tip. Forensic science is popular on television crime shows, but this is not how most crimes are solved. Similarly, unless somebody tips you off to a long-suppressed or long-ignored historical chain of events, you won’t discover the connections. You surely won’t discover them on Wikipedia. Wikipedia is for summarizing conventional connections.
It is easy to teach conventional history. There are lots of textbooks. There are lots of Wikipedia entries. The problem comes when you attempt to dig deeper into the story behind the story. There is always a story behind the story. The problem is, there are multiple stories behind every story. The hard part is sorting out which of the stories is the one that made the big difference.
Whenever you study the history of an assassination, it does not take long before you discover how complicated the multiple stories are which came together at the point that the trigger was pulled.
My friend Bill Marina was a fine historian. He understood the complexity of historical documentation, and he understood the difficulty of piecing together a coherent account of what happened. Unlike every other American historian, he was present at Dealey Plaza when Kennedy’s car drove by. He hit the ground when he heard the shots.
(For the rest of my article, click the link.)