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
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
"[My childhood was]
playful, [although] we worked hard because we lived on a farm. We
were always growing something...so 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
"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.