Betty White: The Crew on One of Her Earliest Shows Included an Iconic Western Director

by Jacklyn Krol

Over her long and successful career, actor Betty White has worked with many people. But one of her earliest projects included a famed western director.

According to “Women Pioneers in Television: Biographies of Fifteen Industry Leaders” via MeTV, she worked with director Sam Peckinpah on the sitcom Life with Elizabeth. Peckinpah later became a staple in the western genre.

Peckinpah began as a screenwriter for television shows before creating the 1959 show The Westerner starring Brian Keith. Soon after the show was canceled, he began to direct films. He worked on projects such as The Wild Bunch, The Ballad of Cable Hogue, Straw Dogs, and Major Dundee, among others.

Betty White on Sam Peckinpah

Betty White spoke fondly of her former collaborator. In an interview from the 1990s, she spoke about the director’s early career and humble beginnings on her show. Prior to becoming a famous screenwriter and director, he started off by being on the production crew of White’s show. One of his jobs was to display the cue cards for actors.

“Sam Peckinpah used to pull cards on Hollywood on television all of those years ago. He was one of the crew guys,” White began. “And in those days, to pull the telephone numbers for things you’d pull the cards. I would always have to go up and make him clean his fingernails because his fingernails were dirty.”

Fun Facts About ‘Life With Elizabeth’

Betty White was in full creative control for most of her projects. This included her 1950’s sitcom Life with Elizabeth, which she also co-produced. As a woman, having creative control of a television show was extremely unheard of. In fact, in 1952 she became one of the first female producers in television.

Life With Elizabeth starred White as Elizabeth and Del Moore as Alvin. The show was similar to I Love Lucy, as they were both were a sitcom about a newlywed couple based around sketch comedy.

“The day-to-day events in the lives of a newly married couple. Each episode consists of three short, unrelated sketches in which characters often break the imaginary fourth wall,” the show’s official description reads.

The show ran for just 65 episodes between 1952 and 1955. However, the show wasn’t canceled because of ratings. Guild Films canceled the show because they didn’t want too many episodes to make the show less profitable for syndication.

Speaking of money, the show reportedly had a budget of $1.95 for each episode. That translates to $17.81 in today’s currency.