Numerous prominent people passed away over the past 10 days, but for the moment, let's focus on two of them…
• John Madden, the legendary football coach and broadcaster, passed away three days after Christmas. He was 85.
In the various pieces about Madden, he was described as a natural teacher who changed the way people saw the sport he loved, either through his descriptions of the games he was broadcasting or his contributions to the video game series that bore his name. As the New York Times put it, "Madden’s influence, steeped in Everyman sensibilities and studded with wild gesticulations and paroxysms of onomatopoeia — wham! doink! whoosh! — made the N.F.L. more interesting, more relevant and more fun for over 40 years."
When Madden moved from coaching to broadcasting, experts agreed, he changed the game by simultaneously taking viewers (and booth partners) inside the game's strategies and tactics while simultaneously making it more accessible to even the casual viewer. in other words, a teacher.
From the Times appreciation: "Fastidious in his preparation, Madden introduced what is now a standard exercise in the craft — observing practices, studying game film and interviewing coaches and players on Fridays and Saturdays. Come Sundays, he would distill that information into bursts of animated, cogent and often prescient analysis, diagraming plays with a Telestrator, an electronic stylus (whose scribbles and squiggles reflected its handler’s often rumpled appearance) that showed why which players went where."
• Betty White, who in more than 70 years on television gave us two indelible characters - Sue Ann Nivens on "The Mary Tyler Moore Show" and Rose Nylund on "The Golden Girls" - passed away on New Year's Eve at age 99, just days before her 100th birthday.
White's legacy may be mostly one of endurance and indefatigability - she always seemed happy and willing to poke fun at herself in a way that might give much younger performers pause. And she became a bigger star even as she aged, which almost never happens.
It also ends up that she had an ethical spine that was hidden behind the dimples. One of the stories that has gotten a lot of publicity over the past few days has been about how White had a variety series, "The Betty White Show," back in the fifties, and one of the regulars was a tap dancer named Arthur Duncan. A Black tap dancer.
"This was in 1954," the Washington Post notes. "As in, the year the Supreme Court handed down the Brown v. Board of Education decision banning segregated schools. As in, before the Montgomery Bus Boycott, the Little Rock Nine and the Greensboro, N.C., lunch-counter sit-ins."
There was backlash. Stations in the south threatened to stop carrying the show unless Duncan was fired.
White's reported reaction: "He stays. Live with it."
By the way … here's a clip from "MTM" that, while it hasn't aged particularly well, is hysterical and typical.