The English have an expression about a story being “good enough to dine out on.” If the following is any indication, Betty Petitt should be out to dinner every night...and then some!
A mid-Westerner, Betty lists herself as one of many “imports” to Hollywood, where everyone is from somewhere else. On a full undergraduate scholarship she graduated from Capital University in Columbus, OH, did her Master’s at the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, then won a Harris Internship and was hired by Newton (“TV is a vast wasteland”) Minnow, Fred Friendly, Sr. and Irving Harris...all pioneers in television...to work in the scene shop of what became PBS. There, she caught Tony Randall gaping at her because “he had never before seen a woman behind the scenes in jeans.”O tempores, o mores!
In another pioneering move Betty worked on the first Black soap opera, “Bird of the Iron Weather”, a veritable Noah’s Ark in the staffing department with a pair of everything, one White, one Black. “It lasted one season, but it provided employment for lots of Black actors and crew,” she noted.
Next was a news magazine-type show called “Our People”, hosted by Jim Tillman and with guests like Jesse Jackson and Billy (“Boulevard of Broken Dreams”) Eckstine. A subsequent stint with “Video Nursing” training films added variety to her resume and, she says, provided a triage metaphor for her career: getting the most out of something for the least investment of equipment and supplies.
Before moving to Hollywood there was a Northwestern U. Period (where she was Alumnae Advisor, Phi Beta Prof. Fraternity), a change of direction to Northeastern U. (as Faculty Advisor) a St. Louis Period (she got a lifetime Certificate as Assistant Professor of Speech) and an Unemployed in Ohio Period. The Betty’s Wonderful Adventure Period came about after a chance meeting with a staff member for evangelist Rex Humbard, who was then appearing on 684 TV stations around the world. She was hired and traveled with his crew to Brazil, where it was customary to find the equipment hexed by sprinklings of chicken blood while voodoo drums pounded through the night. The next stop, Santiago, Chile, seemed restful in comparison although Pinochet was in power and Betty worked on the national radio station doing promos through an interpreter while everyone tried to ignore the machine-gun toting guard in the doorway.
Ultimately, she was fired because she asked for a raise. Betty’s Wonderful Adventure suffers a momentary set-back. The crew, deciding to help re-shape Betty’s future, took up a collection and gave it to her with the suggestion that she move to Hollywood.
Betty and her mother drove to California on Mother’s Day, 1979. She spent the next two years in computer animation with both ABC and NBC sports but decided she missed working with “real people”. In the unfolding saga of Betty’s Wonderful Adventure she found herself suddenly hired at Columbia Pictures Television, where “Blue Thunder” had just been picked up and Betty’s varied talents were required. She spent 13 years on the Columbia/Warner lot. Her “Hollywood Period” includes work with Irwin Allen (The Towering Inferno) on Alice In Wonderland, which had music by Steve Allen, and starred Carol Channing, Ann Jillian, Jayne Meadows, Sid Caesar and Imogene Coca, Martha Raye, Donald O’Connor, Ringo Starr, Patrick Duffy, Sammy Davis Jr., Sally Struthers, and the entire Bridges family.
She spent seven years with TV’s Designing Women, worked with some of Alfred Hitchcock’s crew and also with art director John Beckman, who designed the interiors of Grauman’s Chinese Theater and the Hollywood Canteen...as well as the sets for the film by the same name.
Her current job in voice-over/audio requires a blend of engineering and directorial skills. Still ‘people oriented,’ she devotes her spare time to being a Volunteer for not only Hollywood Heritage but also the LA Conservancy (she’s Head Usher for Last Remaining Seats and a docent on house tours), she’s a member of the Academy of Television Arts & Sciences, she’s on the Blue Ribbon Panel for the Emmys, she narrates books on tape for the Braille Institute and the Library of Congress . . . including bios of Buster Keaton, Mary Pickford, Doris Day and June Allyson AND the entire Catholic One-Year-Study Bible. She’s an Elder of the First Presbyterian Church of Hollywood, is in charge of the women’s portion of the DGA’s Minority Students Film Awards, and probably has no time to dine out anyway so Betty’s Wonderful Adventure is here for all to read.