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Women Who Shaped Television

Women Who Shaped Television

May 19, 2022

If asked about women who had television shows in the early days of TV, you might immediately think of Lucille Ball, but did you know that there were other women who may have been even more influential in creating the show formats and characters we see today? By writing, producing, and even starring in their own shows, they helped television of the early 1950s grow into an entertainment staple. That diverse group of amazing women is the subject of When Women Invented Television by Jennifer Keishin Armstrong.

Gertrude Berg wrote, produced, and starred in The Goldbergs (1949-1956), a family-based situational comedy that was based on the radio series (1929-1946) she also created and starred in. Her character, Molly Goldberg, was so loved that books, a movie, and even a Broadway show were all based on this fictitious family. She received the first Emmy Award for Best Actress in 1951. Even if you aren’t familiar with the original actors, you might have watched the modern version of the show, which debuted in 2013. Learn more about her through Library resources.

Irna Phillips wrote and produced some of the most enduring soap operas of all time. Her first scripts were also originally written for radio. Because of a personal tragedy, it probably makes sense that her show Guiding Light (1952-2009) was based on a religious leader who helped people deal with their issues. She later created two other long-running soap operas—As the World Turns (1956-2010) and Another World (1964-1999).

Hazel Scott was trained as a concert pianist who developed a style that “jazzed up” the classics. She was also a talented singer who was known for playing two pianos at the same time. She was the first African American woman to host her own musical variety show. Her show, The Hazel Scott Show (1950), only lasted a few months due to the political pressures of the time. Although the show was short-lived, she continued to perform and even had small parts in soap operas. Want to listen to this prolific and talented artist? Download or stream a few of her recordings from Freegal Music.

Betty White is a television legend who was introduced to television when she performed with her school’s student body president on the top floor of the Packard Building in front of some of the first television cameras—two months before television broadcasts were unveiled at the New York World’s Fair (1939-1940). One of her first jobs was to cohost Hollywood on Television, which helped her transition to her own daily talk/variety show, The Betty White Show (1952-1954), and a situational comedy show named Life with Elizabeth (1952-1955).

Betty’s variety/talk show started with a song, a monologue, and then featured conversations with guests. She’s also well-known for her participation in 1960s game shows, plus The Mary Tyler Moore Show, The Golden Girls, and Hot in Cleveland, not to mention her many movie roles.

You can learn more about all of these women at Research for High Schoolers.

Terri M.
Consumer Technology Specialist

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