Fact Check

Was Betty White Slammed for Having Black Tap Dancer Arthur Duncan on Her Show?

Over her decades-long career, 1954’s “The Betty White Show” may have impacted lives in more than one way.

Published Apr 17, 2021

 (Film screenshot/Wikimedia Commons)
Image Via Film screenshot/Wikimedia Commons
In the 1950s, Betty White was criticized for having Black tap dancer Arthur Duncan on her variety talk show, “The Betty White Show.”

Betty White, also known as the “First Lady of Television,” wore many hats, as a comedian, a talk show host, an actress, and more. But one heartwarming story about her principled stand in supporting a Black colleague’s career despite opposition highlighted another facet of her life.

In the early 1950s, White faced criticism for featuring Arthur Duncan, a Black tap dancer and singer, on a few episodes of her variety talk show “The Betty White Show.”

According to the 2018 PBS documentary, “Betty White: First Lady of Television,” (available on Netflix) Duncan credited White for his first big break. “I credit Betty White for really getting me started in show business,” he said.

In the documentary, White described that “all through the South there was this whole ruckus, they were going to take the show off the air if we didn’t get rid of Arthur because he was Black.”

Added Duncan: “People in the South, some of them resented me being on the show and wanted me thrown out. And it was never a question at all.”

White said she wasn't going to budge: “Evidently through the South at that point it was a very heavy [thing], and I said, ‘I’m sorry, but he stays [...] Live with it!’” White said.

According to IMDb, Duncan appeared on three episodes of White's show in 1954.

Given that White and Duncan both corroborated this story in the documentary, we rate this claim as “True.”

Nur Nasreen Ibrahim is a reporter with experience working in television, international news coverage, fact checking, and creative writing.