A Betty White Christmas (with Flip Corkin as Rudolph!)

As we pause for a bit here at The Library of American Comics — to celebrate the holidays, see out the old year, and prepare to mark our 200th release — we wanted to take something of a trip back to The Way It All Began (kudos to you if you pinpointed the source of that reference without resorting to Google or Bing) …

One of our axioms is, “The more we know, the more there is to know,” and we do indeed accumulate additional knowledge as we research ongoing topics like Milton Caniff, the impresario behind Steve Canyon and Terry and the Pirates. At the appropriate place in our Terry series we devoted space to Phil Cochran, Caniff’s friend who served as the template for fictional Colonel “Flip” Corkin, seen above with nurse Taffy Tucker and Flip’s star pupil, young Terry Lee himself.

We knew that, following his military service, Colonel Cochran went into the trucking business, based in Pennsylvania — Cochran also modeled a Steve Canyon character, “General Philerie,” so named because Phil was a native son of Erie, PA — but we later learned that he spent time doing TV broadcast work at venerable station KDKA, out of Pittsburgh. Here’s an excerpt from that city’s November 30, 1960 Post Gazette discussing Cochran’s move in front of the cameras:

This article includes a discussion of a topic we had also seen referenced in passing,  and brings us around to the reason for the title of this piece. For a few years, Cochran dated beloved celebrity Betty White! Those around my age know Ms. White first as a TV personality noted for her frequent appearances on game shows such as Password and Match Game before reviving her career as an actress by completely playing against type as WJM-TV’s nasty, man-hungry “Happy Homemaker,” Sue Ann Nivens, on the Mary Tyler Moore show. In the late 1950s and early ’60s — somewhat before my peers and I could stay up and watch late night chat shows —  Ms. White was a frequent guest on The Tonight Show, then hosted by Jack Paar, and it was Paar who struck the spark between White and Cochran during their  coincidental appearances together on the show. The most celebrated of their Tonight pairings also featured comedian Buddy Hackett and his wife, as well as Selma Diamond; here’s another Post Gazette excerpt from 1961 discussing this outing:

The Akron, Ohio Beacon Journal ran a lengthy 1963 piece about Ms. White, including this segment that discusses her appearances on Tonight with Cochran and Paar:

Cochran grew serious enough about the relationship to propose marriage, but Ms. White turned him down. The reason became clear in the spring of 1963, as … well, here’s an April 30th snippet from Post Gazette columnist Harold V. Cohen that explains why:

Ms. White and Ludden wed on June 14, 1963 and were one of the small screen’s high-profile couples until his death in 1981; their guest-starring roles playing themselves on ABC’s The Odd Couple, when Oscar Madison and Felix Unger competed against White and another contestant on Ludden’s popular Password, remains a high water mark in television comedy. Through the Cochran connection, Betty White met Milton and Bunny Caniff and they maintained a cordial friendship for several years — though that connection likely would have grown closer had she chosen to become Mrs. Philip Cochran …

Dean, Lorraine, Kurtis, and I will be spending the holidays with those close to us, and we hope you’ll enjoy this time of year with the persons, places, or things that are near and dear to your hearts. We wish all visitors to this site a splendid holiday season and a fine start to the new year. We hope to see you again in this space in 2020!

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