Hearts everywhere broke at the news that adored comedy icon Betty White died Dec. 31, only a matter of days before she was set to turn 100. She kept audiences laughing throughout her long career. White was loved across the country, but only Oak Park has the bragging rights of being her birthplace.

214 N. Taylor Ave, where White’s aunt and uncle lived. | Photo by Lourdes Nicholls

Born at West Suburban Hospital Jan. 17, 1922, White only lived in Oak Park for a short time. She lived with her parents in an apartment on Pleasant Street and would visit her aunt and uncle at a house on North Taylor Avenue, according to the Oak Park River Forest Museum’s Frank Lipo. The family packed up and moved to Los Angeles when White was a toddler, but she lived her life according to principles that Oak Park came to honor.

White believed in equality and stood by that her whole career. She defied pressure in 1954 to fire dancer Arthur Duncan from her daytime talk show for his Black skin.

“I said, ‘I’m sorry, but, you know, he stays. Live with it,’” White recalled in a 2018 documentary about her life and career.

She was as sharp and funny as she was soft and wise

kathy griffin, comedian

Her advocacy for the welfare of animals spanned decades. She also bucked social constructs. She supported the rights of LGBTQ individuals to marry and became a beloved figure within the gay community.

White’s roles on the “Mary Tyler Moore” show” and “The Golden Girls” to her 2010 stint hosting “Saturday Night Live,” which earned White her fifth primetime Emmy Award – her repertoire cemented her as a legend of the screen.

While Oak Park cannot claim to have had an impact on White’s storied career, White certainly impacted other funny Oak Park natives who became bona fide stars in their own right. Kathy Griffin took to Twitter to extoll the praises of her friend.

“She was as sharp and funny as she was soft and wise,” Griffin tweeted.

Having acted alongside White in his sitcom “Bob” and in the finale of “Hot in Cleveland,” Bob Newhart called working with White “an honor.”

“Today, we lost a giant,” Newhart tweeted.

Next week: Be Like Betty specials

Weeks ago we started planning a special Wednesday Journal section, podcast and event to celebrate Betty White’s 100th birthday. She was, you know, born in Oak Park on Jan. 17, 1922.

Fate has intervened with her death on New Year’s Eve at a youthful 99.

Our project, though, continues now as a celebration of her remarkable life and its tender roots in Oak Park – she only lived here until she was two.

What will you find in our “Be Like Betty” section, podcast and live event?

The print special section

  • Melissa Elsmo (Yes, our favorite food writer is also a big Betty fan) interviews Kelly Schumann, River Forest native, actress, former WJ staffer, who had a recurring role on White’s Hot in Cleveland TV sitcom. Also Cindy Fee, an Oak Parker, singer of jingles and theme songs, who is the famous voice behind “Thank You for Being a Friend,” the Golden Girls theme. And George Geary, the local chef and Wright Plus volunteer who made the cheesecakes which were often a story thread on the Golden Girls (we’ll also share his recipe).
  • A two-page spread with a full-length Betty White. Suitable for hanging in your window! You know you will.

The podcast

Thank you for being a friend: A conversation with Cindy Fee is a podcast hosted by an enthused Elsmo and includes interviews with Fee and Geary. Ms. Fee sings the entire theme song for us! Thanks to CrossFunction in Oak Park for hosting and producing our podcast. Details next week on when the podcast will drop.

The live event

Join us at 10 a.m. Saturday, Jan. 15 just outside the Lake Theatre on Lake Street. Listen as Oak Park Village President Vicki Scaman reads a Betty White proclamation, Frank Lipo of the Oak Park River Forest Museum talks about Betty White’s Oak Park beginnings and we share special Be Like Betty cake – Turano Baking Company is our cake sponsor – with early guests.

Thanks to Downtown Oak Park, the Lake Theater, CrossFunction and Turano Baking Company for sponsoring the event.

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