Following the news Friday that Betty White died less than three weeks before her 100th birthday, fans throughout the world recalled everything about the beloved actror — from her niche as one of the early stars of TV to her being a staple of TV game shows in the 1950s, to her ironic starring roles in "The Mary Tyler Moore Show" and "Golden Girls."
Less remembered is Betty White as a movie star — and for a good reason. She wasn’t a movie star.
Her parts in barely 30 films over 60 years, sometimes as narrator or the voice of an animated character were forgettable. In several films, such as “Return to the Batcave,” she played a cameo as — you guessed it — Betty White.
But White’s third motion picture role and first major role was possibly the most intriguing: as U.S. Sen. Bessie Ames Adams of Kansas in Otto Preminger’s epic 1962 film version of Allen Drury’s classic Washington, D.C. novel "Advise and Consent."
Seen primarily on the Senate floor in debate over the nomination of liberal Robert Leffingwell (Henry Fonda) to be secretary of state, Sen. Adams voices doubts about the nominee and is sharply challenged by left-wing demagogue and Wyoming Sen. Fred Van Ackerman (George Grizzard).
At one point, as Adams gently puts down Van Ackerman, he angrily counters that she behaves as she does because of “your sex.”
Filmed at a time when there were only two female U.S. senators (Republican Margaret Chase Smith of Maine and Democrat Maurine Neuberger of Oregon), could Adams have been based on either one of them?
It’s unlikely. In several conversations and interviews before his death in 1996, author Drury told Newsmax that “none of my characters are based on any one person ... There is some of FDR in my [never-named] president but he certainly is not based on him. A good author never bases his character on a known individual.”
But it could well be that the plainspoken Midwestern Adams was a forerunner of a real-life Kansas senator elected 16 years after the film: centrist Republican Nancy Landon Kassebaum. Drury (who had no role in casting and never met White) had an uncanny knack for creating characters who seemed to emerge in real life.
"Advise and Consent’s" Sen. Raymond Robert Smith of California is described as formerly being “Hollywood glamor boy No. 3 turned TV commentator No. 1” — a hint of Ronald Reagan to come soon, perhaps.
A Black congressman from California named Cullee Hamilton moves quickly to the Senate and the vice presidency in Drury’s subsequent sequels — perhaps a “sneak preview” of Barack Obama.
“Every time I’ve seen it with an audience, when [Sen. Ames] stands up to speak, everyone giggles and goes, ‘Oh, Betty White,’” Kenneth Killiany, Drury’s nephew and close associate, told Newsmax. “As senator from Kansas, it is fitting as the way she carries herself because it reminds me of no one else so much as Nancy Landon Kassebaum.
"Al and I liked Sen. Kassebaum personally very much, and frankly her [centrist] politics were very, very similar to Al’s. So, I think casting was both excellent and prescient. Of course, as written, it was tailor made for Betty White, because her few lines are gracious, but knowing and smart-alecky.”
John Gizzi is chief political columnist and White House correspondent for Newsmax. For more of his reports, Go Here Now.
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