Tuesday, February 22, 2022


Starting in 1958, Betty White found herself traveling to New York to appear on game shows, and Jack Paar liked her so much that she became a regular visitor to his “Tonight Show.”  Paar decided he should find a husband for Betty.  One of the Tonight Show producers was Tom Cochran, who had a bachelor brother named Phil.


Phil, as we know, was once Colonel Philip Cochran, a friend of Milton Caniff’s whom Milt turned into ‘Flip Corkin’ in “Terry and the Pirates.” According to White, “devious Jack started talking about what a great idea it would be to introduce Phil and Betty on the show some night.  It became a running gag, and I took it for granted that it was all show talk…”*

It wasn’t all talk, as Paar indeed booked both for the same night, and then all went to dinner at the famed 21 Club, and then Betty went on to more clubs with Tom and Phil.  As serendipity would have it, Betty’s next job was performing in 'The King and I' in a summer theater gig in Warren, Ohio.  White – “Phil Cochran lived in Erie, Pennsylvania, where he owned a large trucking firm and raised horses on his beautiful farm.  Insisting that the drive from Erie to Warren was a cinch, he actually came to see our show on two occasions.  That…was the beginning of a deep and lovely love affair that lasted almost four years.”

The relationship was long distance.  She was a California girl and had no intention of moving to New York.  She even turned down the woman’s spot on “The Today Show” that went to Barbara Walters.  Still, she went to New York often for talk and game show appearances, and things were progressing fine in their relationship, with Phil proposing marriage.  White – “Phil’s proposal was quiet, purposeful, very firm and there obviously had been a great deal of forethought.  He laid out all the reasons why it should happen…however, there was absolutely no way that I could ever pull up stakes and move east, any more then he could envision himself moving to California…The subject was not brought up again.”

In late 1961, Betty White got invited to be on a new game show called “Password”, hosted by Allen Ludden, where she had a good time.  Then she got an offer to do a summer theatre production in Cape Cod of “Critic’s Choice”, a romantic comedy where the male lead would be – Allen Ludden.  Leading up to the show, Ludden, a recent widower, began inviting Betty White out frequently, using their upcoming working relationship as a pretense.  

Phil Cochran came to the show on closing night in Cape Cod.  According to White, “(t)here was a warm kiss of reconciliation [at the end of the play].  On this particular evening, Allen held the kiss longer – much longer – than usual.  No one else may have noticed, but from the third row there was suddenly a loud and expressive clearing of Phil’s throat.  We laughed about it later at dinner.  Some of us more than others.”  

The play moved to another town for a week, during which time White spent more and more time with Ludden.  Cochran made his feelings clear to White that he was in love with her and was jealous of Allen Ludden.  White – “We had a long and serious talk, and I admitted that I needed a little slack to clear my head.”  White continued to see them both on her trips east, until it became too much for all three.  Betty White knew she “loved Phil dearly…but I was in love with Allen Ludden.”  Departing from their break-up conversation, Phil Cochran said, “You may change your mind one day.  You know where I am.”

The next year when it became public that Betty White was engaged to Allen Ludden, Phil Cochran sent her a one-word telegram – “Ouch.”  Phil got the consolation price, though.  He was immortalized by Caniff yet again, this time in “Steve Canyon” as ‘General Phil Philerie.’

*All Betty White quotes are from her book – “Here We Go Again” (1995, Simon & Schuster)