Atap dancer with remarkable skill, Arthur Duncan was the first African American to be hired as a series regular on the variety shows of early television. He entertained thousands of viewers each week with his performances and dazzled thousands more with his live performances. And he got his start in no small part thanks to Betty White.
In the 1950s, representation on television was still a controversial subject, and the gatekeepers of the industry weren’t even keen on having women run shows. So it was a minor coup when Betty White got her own show in 1954 with full creative control.
Not one to waste an opportunity, White immediately set about hiring Duncan to dance on The Betty White Show, which aired on NBC in Los Angeles. But even in California, Duncan’s regular presence on the show drew criticism. And it only escalated after NBC rolled out the show nationally, with Southern viewers threatening to boycott the network if White didn’t remove Duncan from the lineup.
Although NBC eventually canceled White’s show, Duncan had become a star. He soon moved on to The Lawrence Welk Show in 1964, where he was introduced every week until 1982 as “the man who’s keeping tap dancing alive.”