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by Traci L. Jones

There is a feeling of incongruity you get when you see donnie l. betts and when you hear his story. For, with all the different experiences he has had in his life he surely must be far older than he is. But, he is not. He simply has the unique ability of cramming his life full of life, love, and experience. What take most people years to accomplish, it takes betts months. An accomplished actor, award winning filmmaker and current producer, betts, is also the star of a syndicated radio show.

betts, the lower case is intentional, is a multi-talented man. The Lord must have purposely made betts so tall and powerful so that all the talent he bestowed on him could reside comfortably with his body, with room for stretching and growing. Stretching, growing and learning has been a recurring theme in betts' life. Early on it was clear to him that his dreams and wants were much bigger than the town of Dekalb, Texas where he was born and raised. One of 12 children, betts refers to himself as the "only child of twelve." As the twelfth child of 12 he came as a surprise to his mother who was only in his life until the age of nine, when she passed away. Despite this tragic occurrence he recalls his childhood as a happy one, being cared for by his oldest sister.

"[My childhood was] playful, [although] we worked hard because we lived on a farm. We were always growing we were always picking something. Because I was so young, I saw some of it as being fun."

His knack for performing began on a grassy knoll behind his house where he and his sister would entertain themselves by, well, entertaining themselves with skits, songs and acting out different characters. As he grew older, show business was overshadowed by the sports business. A jock in high school, it wasn't until a very pretty, young student teacher persuaded the senior athlete to take a role in a play that his talent and true calling became readily apparent. Playing the role of an old man betts "loved the reaction of the audience." It was, ironically, his football talent that would solidify his interest in the arts.

Attending Angelo State in San Angelo, Texas, on a football scholarship, betts found himself living with a group of football players with talents that were in the same vein as his own. It was in college that betts not only began to share with others the poetry and short stories he had always written privately. These "jocks" wold eventually create a performing group that would travel the area and perform mixing poetry and jazz.

Family is key to betts and many of his life's adventures come as a result of his family? He left Angelo State to travel to California to help a sister through a bad marriage, attending Fresno State and getting his first experience in the radio business. Leaving California, betts came to Denver to marry. His son, Tj, came within a year, and betts was a young father going to school, working and doing a radio show.

Having put acting aside for a time, betts was asked to try out for a play that his wife was in and again acting became a major part of his life. As a part of the Denver Black Arts Company, betts would be in Denver's theatre scene for seven years. In addition to his theatre, betts was learning the ropes of video, working for the Video Department of IBM and then US West. betts, adept at juggling, was also on the radio playing jazz and gospel music. After the Denver Black Arts Company disbanded, he really focused on school, attending Metropolitan State College, and continued his work in video and film, as well as appearing occasionally on Perry Mason, doing Red Lobster commercials and the odd movie of the week. Going back to the state, betts was the first local hire for the new company, acting for nine seasons at the Denver Center Theatre Company.

A friend suggested that he apply to graduate school and he was accepted on the second try into Yale. Wanting to have the ability and the power to make the key decisions, he chose to concentrate on the business end, rather than the acting aspect, of show business. Leaving Denver for the three-year program, betts learned to survive the often-hostile environment of show business. After graduation, betts left the east coast for the west coast, working in L.A. in a variety of casting and production positions for shows such as In Living Color, Carol & Company and for HBO's Dream On. Working and living among the famous was not enough to keep him in California when his son told him he wanted him back in Denver. betts immediately left, because family comes first.

Back in Denver he would again juggle three or four careers, actor for the Denver Center for Performing Arts for three or four seasons, managing and working behind the scenes for the City State Ensemble, filming a highly acclaimed documentary and producing a radio show, Destination Freedom. Not to mention creating and running his business, No Credits Production Inc., as well as teaching acting at the University of Colorado at Denver and the Denver School of Arts. It is his business and his radio show that keep him busy. Destination Freedom is now aired in 50 cities from Miami to Philadelphia to Boston. Currently his focus has shifted slightly, back to family. He is scheduled to donate one of his kidneys to his sister, who is suffering from lupus. Not content to donate only his bodily organ, he has also donated his time and expertise by hosting an event, to benefit the Lupus Foundation of Colorado.

"My hope is that the benefit will bring about awareness for organ and tissue donation," says betts, who has already had one sister die of the disease.

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