The Betty White Show gave tap dancing star Arthur Duncan his big break but his appearance on the show wasn’t universally popular at all.
Betty White, to put it simply, is a national treasure in the US.
The 98-year-old actress is loved by almost all and has had an unbelievably successful career spanning more than eight decades.
However, Betty White wasn’t always such a universally loved figure as the cancellation of The Betty White Show in 1954 goes to show.
The cancellation of her variety and talk show came after a huge backlash surrounding the appearance of Arthur Duncan.
But just who is Arthur Duncan and why did his appearance on The Betty White Show cause such controversy at the time?
Who is Arthur Duncan?
Arthur Duncan, who is currently 87 years old, is an African-American tap dancer and entertainer.
After being born in Pasadena, California in September 1933, Arthur Duncan took his first steps in the performing world at the age of just 13 and after a brief spell studying pharmacy, returned to the world of showbusiness in his early 20s.
Arthur Duncan’s early career was helped immensely by breakthrough performances on The Jimmie Rodgers Show and, of course, The Betty White Show.
Arthur Duncan on The Betty White Show
Arthur Duncan was invited onto The Betty White Show as a recurring performer for its one-season run in 1954.
After initially becoming a ratings success, a controversy surrounding Arthur Duncan and repeated scheduling changes resulted in The Betty White Show’s quiet cancellation by NBC who did not renew the show for more episodes according to WFMU.
Duncan appeared in three episodes of The Betty White Show according to IMDb and it was these episodes, in particular, that drew criticism.
When The Betty White Show was rolled out on TV channels across the US, many stations and viewers in southern US states threatened to boycott the show unless Arthur Duncan was removed owing to the segregation laws and attitudes towards race that were prevalent at the time.
In response, Betty White famously said “I’m sorry. Live with it,” according to USA Today and ended up giving Arthur Duncan more airtime as a result.
What happened to Arthur Duncan ater The Betty White Show?
Following his breakthrough performances on variety shows, Arthur Duncan was invited to be part of Bob Hope’s troupe of performers to tour US military bases and was the first African-American to do so.
Later on, Arthur was discovered by Sam Lutz, Lawrence Welk’s personal manager and was invited to perform as part of Welk’s ‘musical family.’
A long and successful career followed, including several film and TV appearances.
In 2017, Arthur Duncan was reunited with Betty White on Little Big Shots: Forever Young (pictured above) and later in 2018, contributed to PBS’s Betty White: First Lady of Television documentary film.