Betty Furness was an actress, pioneering pitchwoman and consumer ombudsman on television and for various government agencies.
Intrigued by politics as much as consumer advocacy, Furness was named special assistant to the president for consumer affairs by President Lyndon B. Johnson in 1967. Despite criticism that her only consumer experience was touting refrigerators and vacuum cleaners for Westinghouse, she earned respect from consumer organizations for her strong stand on credit regulation, federal meat inspection and hidden interest rates.
When commercials were complex live productions, she demonstrated Westinghouse appliances from 1949 to 1960, ending every spot with her confident "You can be sure if it's Westinghouse."
She ventured into a different area of television consumerism late in her career, as a consumer reporter for NBC's "Today" show from 1976 to 1992, first dealing with consumer complaints and later conducting investigations.
At 16 she was off to Hollywood, where she made 35 movies over six years. "They were appalling," she said years later, "except for two—'Swing Time' with Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers, and the first 'Magnificent Obsession' film."
In 1948 she returned to New York to try the developing medium of television. Her first venture was a 15-minute show called "Fashions, Coming and Becoming." She did the narration and the commercials for $50 a show.
Westinghouse officials approached her and by 1950 she was earning $100,000 a year opening refrigerator doors on live television.
In the early 1960s, Furness hosted a CBS radio show, "A Woman's World," and a WABC-TV daily panel program, "Answering Service," which was nominated for an Emmy.