Adelaide Hawley Cumming, Betty Crocker

Adelaide Hawley Cumming, television’s original Betty Crocker, died on Monday at Harrison Hospital in Bremerton, Wash. She was 93.

Ms. Cumming played the cheerful homemaker who mixed cake batter and sold pancake mix in the 1950’s and early 60’s for General Mills, which billed her as ”America’s First Lady of Food.”

She was once ”the second most recognizable woman, next to Eleanor Roosevelt,” said Jack Sheehan, a General Mills spokesman in Minneapolis. ”Certainly she was a broadcasting pioneer and probably the most visible Betty of all time.”

Ms. Cumming studied piano and voice at the Eastman School of Music at the University of Rochester and later joined two friends to form a vaudeville trio, Red, Black and Gold, with hair dyed accordingly.

From 1937 to 1950 she was host of the ”Adelaide Hawley Program,” first on NBC radio and then on CBS.

General Mills made up the name ”Betty Crocker” in 1921. In 1949, Ms. Cumming was hired to assume that persona on radio and television. Her half-hour ”Betty Crocker Show” was shown on CBS in 1950-52. The ”Betty Crocker Star Matinee” followed.

She did walk-on commercials during the George Burns and Grace Allen comedy series, introduced by lines such as, ”I don’t know how to bake a cake, Gracie, but here is Betty Crocker to show us how.”

In 1964, seeking a more sophisticated image, General Mills dropped Ms. Cumming. She returned to school, earning a doctoral degree in speech education from New York University in 1967, and taught English to foreign students. Her last class was Dec. 18.

In a 1997 interview, Ms. Cumming, a feminist in private life, recalled instructing her daughter to tell curiosity-seekers that ”I am the current incarnation of a corporate image. That’ll shut them up.”

She and her first husband, Mark Hawley, an announcer known as the voice of the Pathe newsreels, were charter members of the American Federation of Radio Artists, now the American Federation of Television and Radio Artists.

She is survived by two sisters, a daughter, three grandchildren and four great-grandchildren.

SOURCE: THE NEW YORK TIMES, 25 December 1998