Answer Man: The early work of Betty White

News-DemocratJuly 10, 2013 

Q. Please refresh my memory: Wasn't it Betty White who starred in a television show called "Date With an Angel" about 60 years ago? Didn't it co-star Bill somebody?

-- E.F., of Belleville

A. Long before the devil-may-care nonagenarian went off her rocker, Betty White was indeed establishing heavenly TV roots in a short-lived series called "Date with the Angels."

Then 35, White starred as newlywed Vickie Angel, who, with her husband/insurance salesman, Gus (Bill Williams), involved their friends and neighbors in typical madcap sitcom situations.

The second episode, "Mother by Proxy," sounds typical: When Vickie accompanies a friend to visit an obstetrician, Gus immediately jumps to conclusions and starts boiling water and researching diaper services.

The show premiered May 10, 1957, and ran 33 episodes until Jan. 29, 1958. If you watched it, you may remember four episodes featured an equally young Nancy Kulp, who would go on to star as Jane Hathaway on "The Beverly Hillbillies." And, if you'd like to relive those days, you can have a date with the Angels for as little as $5 for a 20-episode DVD set on amazon.com.

Of course, true Betty White fans will remember that her first big splash on network TV came in 1952 as the star of another sitcom, "Life with Elizabeth," for which she earned her first Emmy nomination in 1951. The 65 episodes invariably would end with the announcer saying, "Elizabeth, aren't you ashamed?" To which White would first nod resignedly only to break slowly into a sly grin and then shake her head vigorously.

Looks like some things never change.

Q. How wide is a football field?

-- Carl Williams, of Belleville

A. Unfortunately, I have to punt on the reason, but rule one, section one, in the official National Football League rule book states, "The game shall be played upon a rectangular field 360 feet in length (300 feet plus two 30-foot end zones) and 160 feet in width.

Why 160 (or 53 1/3 yards, making the field just over 1.3 acres)? I fumbled around on the telephone and Internet to try to find out why, but not even a Smithsonian Magazine article on the evolution of the field explained the odd ratio. You'd think they might have made it 100 yards by 50 yards, but no.

However, I did find some other interesting information you might like to tackle:

* The NFL field has 4-inch-wide yard lines placed every 5 yards. Every 10th yard is marked by numerals 6 feet high, the bottoms of which must start exactly 12 yards in from each sideline. (The font is not standardized.) Yard and other markings must be white and, unlike Lindenwood University in Belleville, the surface of the field must be a "League-approved shade of green."

* The first major change came in 1933, when two rows of hash marks were added near the center of the field at 1-yard intervals. Until then, play resumed where the ball was declared dead; with the change, the ball was placed on the nearest hash mark, deviating from the collegiate rules.

* When domed, grass fields became increasingly expensive to maintain, NFL teams started switching to artificial turf. Franklin Field, former home of the Philadelphia Eagles, became the first in 1969. (The AFL's Houston Oilers, of course, played in the Astrodome starting in 1968.)

* When the old H-style goal posts sitting on the goal line became an increasing source of injuries, Joel Rottman, a retired magazine and newspaper distributor, came to the rescue.

Supposedly while eating steak one day, he noticed how his fork's tines branched out from a single handle. Voila -- he devised the now-standard slingshot-style post. Although Rottman figured 10-foot-high uprights would be sufficient, former NFL commissioner Pete Rozelle reportedly extended them to at least 30 feet above the crossbar.

That crossbar, by the way, is 18 1/2 feet in length, 3 to 4 inches in diameter and is 10 feet above the ground. An orange-colored ribbon 4 inches by 42 inches is attached to the top of each upright. In 1974, the whole thing was moved from the goal line to the back of the end zone to further reduce the chance of player collisions. They also "must be padded in a manner prescribed by the League."

Today's trivia

What actress holds the record for most Emmy nominations for roles in a network TV comedy series? How many?

Answer to Sunday's trivia: In the third century B.C., Ptolemy II Philadelphus, the king of Ptolemaic Egypt, renamed the Old Testament town of Rabbath-Ammon as Philadelphia in his honor. Today, it's known as Amman, the capital of Jordan with nearly 3 million residents.

Send your questions to Roger Schlueter, Belleville News-Democrat, 120 S. Illinois St., P.O. Box 427, Belleville, IL 62222-0427 or rschlueter@bnd.com or call 239-2465.

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