It was early in December when Wednesday Journal put in a call to Jeff Witjas in LA. We’d been told he was Betty White’s longtime agent and her friend.
We were surprised when he came on the line to hear about our nascent plans to celebrate the life of Betty White in her hometown of Oak Park, Illinois.
Any chance of an interview? No, he said, Ms. White had stopped giving interviews and making personal appearances almost a year back, when she turned 99. Any legal concerns with our using Betty White images at our planned event? “Well, you’re doing this in a positive way, right? So no concerns.”
And he asked us to stay in touch and let him know how it all unfolded. “I’ll tell Betty about it when I see her. I think she’ll be tickled that her hometown is celebrating her birthday.”
Of course, the world knows that Betty White died on New Year’s Eve, three weeks shy of her 100th. The response to her death has been enormous, free flowing, filled with warmth and joy.
Here in her hometown, a village that mostly didn’t realize it was Betty White’s hometown since she departed as a toddler, the response has also been generous and loving.
As we pivoted under the leadership of our Lourdes Nicholls and Melissa Elsmo, from a birthday party to a celebration of a truly great life, the local connections kept surfacing and are now built into our 24-page Be Like Betty special section. We knew our one-time WJ salesperson Kelly Schumann had gone to Hollywood and had a recurring role on Hot in Cleveland with White. She wanted to talk. We found out that Cindy Fee, then an Oak Parker and now a River Forester, recorded the Golden Girls theme song “Thank You for Being a Friend.” She wanted to sing on our podcast and at our event this Saturday. The fellow who made the cheesecakes on the Golden Girls, George Geary, had a connection to Oak Park through Frank Lloyd Wright and wanted to talk and to share his cheesecake recipe.
We’ll be live streaming the event Saturday morning from outside the Lake Theatre. Stay warm at home and enjoy the show. Or come on out and get some Red Vines, Betty’s favorite dessert.
Whatever you do, don’t miss the centerspread of the special section which is, of course, a fabulous poster of Betty White created by our Andy Mead.
Finally, in this confused and tumultuous world we’d all do better if we were more like Betty White.