Betty Furness Biography
Betty Furness ( Born Elizabeth Mary Furness January 3, 1916 – April 2, 1994 )was an American actress, consumer advocate, and current affairs, commentator. Elizabeth Mary “Betty” Furness was born in Manhattan, the daughter of wealthy business executive George Choate Furness and his wife Florence. She attended the Brearley School and Bennett Junior College.
Betty Furness Family
Elizabeth Mary “Betty” Furness was born in Manhattan, the daughter of wealthy business executive George Choate Furness and his wife Florence. She attended the Brearley School and Bennett Junior College. She made her stage debut in the school holidays in the title role of Alice in Wonderland. She also posed for commercial advertising. She began her professional career as a model before being noticed by a talent scout and being signed to a film contract in 1932 by RKO Studios. Her first film role was as the “Thirteenth Woman” in the film Thirteen Women (1932) but her scenes were deleted before the film’s release.
Over the next few years, she appeared in several RKO films and became a popular actress. Among her film successes were Magnificent Obsession (1935) and the Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers film Swing Time (1936). By the end of the decade, she had appeared in over forty films, but during the 1940s, she found it difficult to secure acting roles.
Betty Furness Education
She attended the Brearley School and Bennett Junior College. She made her stage debut in the school holidays in the title role of Alice in Wonderland. She also posed for commercial advertising.
Betty Furness Career
She began her professional career as a model before being noticed by a talent scout and being signed to a film contract in 1932 by RKO Studios. In 1948, Furness was performing in the television series Studio One, which was broadcast live. She filled in for an actor to promote Westinghouse products during the advertisement break and impressed the company with her easy and professional manner. They offered her a contract to promote their products and she thus became closely associated with them.
Early television commercials often utilized radio performers who had a difficult time adjusting to the visual medium of TV, leading to sometimes embarrassing incidents such as a Westinghouse commercial where a woman demonstrating an electric stove spilled hot chocolate all over it. Furness, due to her experience at Studio One, felt that she could do a better job. An advertising agency offered her a shot, and she found that she had a natural talent for commercials.
Making $150 a week at first, Furness did three Westinghouse commercials (they were the sole sponsor of the show) for every episode of Studio One, all of them shot live as videotape did not yet exist. (One live spot featured a refrigerator door that refused to open, causing one of the most infamous bloopers in TV history; however, this was not Furness, but actress June Graham, who was substituting for her. For decades, Furness was “credited” for the blooper, until she set the record straight in the 1981 TV special TV’s Censored Bloopers.
Furness proved a successful spokeswoman because of her good looks and attractive, but neat and modest clothing, which she changed three times a day. She also proved strongly independent-minded about her appearance and image, refusing to adopt a stage name or wear an apron after Westinghouse offered these suggestions. She did, however, agree to wear a wedding ring on camera to appear more like a housewife. Furness also purchased all of her clothing herself, not wanting Westinghouse to decide her appearance for her. During the political party conventions in the 1952 presidential election, which was heavily sponsored by Westinghouse, Furness wore 28 different outfits, enough to become the subject of a Life Magazine story.
Furness’s contract with Westinghouse eventually resulted in her receiving an annual salary of $100,000 and her advertisements caused sales of the company’s appliances to soar, with the one notable exception of the dishwasher, which proved a hard sell after market research found that American women were reluctant to buy a device that would in effect completely automate their kitchen and give them nothing to do.
One of television’s most recognizable series of commercials had Furness opening wide a refrigerator door, intoning, “You can be sure … if it’s Westinghouse.” (The spots were so well known they were often parodied: one Mad magazine gag imagined the words on a neon sign, with a few key letters burned out: YOU CAN ..SU.E IF IT’S WESTINGHOUSE!”)
Furness hosted ABC’s Penthouse Party which ran for 39 episodes from September 1950 to June 1951. Furness was a regular panelist on the CBS panel show What’s My Line? in 1951. She appeared in a series of live mysteries on ABC, under the weighty title Your Kaiser Dealer Presents Kaiser-Frazer “Adventures In Mystery” Starring Betty Furness In “Byline” which ran in November and December 1951, and again on ABC in syndication in the fall of 1957. The series was produced by the DuMont Television Network and ran on DuMont under the title News Gal.
In 1953, she appeared in her own daytime television series Meet Betty Furness, which was sponsored by Westinghouse. In 1959, a new Westinghouse president decided to drop Furness, possibly because he wished to impart his own ideas on the company, and suggested getting a new, slightly younger spokeswoman. Despite some resistance from the company marketing department, he won out and Furness was released from her contract at the end of 1960.
Her final spots for Westinghouse were seen within the CBS News coverage of the July 1960 Los Angeles Democratic Convention, the August 1960 Chicago Republican Convention and the evening of November 8 election returns. She then attempted to move into a less commercialized role in television but found herself too closely associated with advertising to be taken seriously. During this time, she worked on radio and also on behalf of the Democratic Party.
Furness has two stars on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, for her contribution to motion pictures at 1533 Vine Street and for her contribution to television at 6675 Hollywood Blvd