Seven time Emmy winner, Betty White is still going strong. Her wit and sense of humour is still as sharp as ever. I love her on The Golden Girls as the sweet and naive Rose Nylund.
Betty has a lot of titles under her belt–actress, comedienne, singer, author, and former game show personality. Her career began in 1939, three months after she graduated from high school. Betty found work as a model and her first professional acting job was in at the Bliss Hayden Little Theatre. Her career was interrupted when World War II broke out causing her to join the American Women’s Voluntary Services. In the 1940s, Betty worked in radio, appearing on shows such as Blondie, The Great Gildersleeve and This Is Your FBI. Then she got her own radio show, called The Betty White Show.
In 1950 Betty made history by being nominated for her first Emmy Award as “Best Actress” on television. This was the first award and category in the new Emmy history designated for women on television. The Emmy went to Gertrude Berg. Two years later Betty hosted Hollywood on Television, White co-founded Bandy Productions with writer George Tibbles and Don Fedderson, a producer. In 1954, she briefly hosted and produced her own daily talk show, The Betty White Show, on NBC.
Betty’s fame picked up in the 1960s and 1970s thanks to her long stint as hostess and commentator on the annual Tournament of Roses Parade broadcast on NBC. She was later replaced by NBC due to her success on The Mary Tyler Moore Show, a show on rival network, CBS. Betty admitted to People Magazine that it was difficult “watching someone else do my parade”, although she soon would start a ten-year run as hostess of the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade for CBS.
From 1973-1985, Betty enjoyed success in sitcoms such as The Mary Tyler Moore Show, The Betty White Show, Mama’s Family and in 1985, she landed the role on The Golden Girls which turned out to be the biggest career hit of her career. The show enjoyed a successful run from 1985 through 1992. The cast could not have been more perfect–Beatrice Arthur, Estelle Getty, and Rue McClanahan. I remember watching the show in New York every Saturday night with my mother and sisters. I watch the reruns and still laugh out loud.
Betty won one Emmy Award, for Outstanding Actress in a Comedy Series, for the first season of The Golden Girls and was nominated in that category every year of the show’s run (the only cast member to receive that distinction. I was sorry when the show ended but it ended on a positive note–Dorothy got married again.
I remember learning that Betty was the oldest cast member of the show but is the only surviving member, following the deaths of Estelle Getty in July 2008, Bea Arthur in April 2009, and Rue McClanahan in June 2010.
Betty was originally offered the role of Blanche in The Golden Girls, and Rue McClanahan was offered the role of Rose (the two characters being similar to roles they had played in Mary Tyler Moore and Maude, respectively). Jay Sandrich, the director of the pilot, suggested that since they had played similar roles in the past, they should switch roles, Rue McClanahan later said in a documentary on the series.
Initially Betty was scared to play Rose, feeling that she would not be able to play the role—until the show’s creator took her aside and told her not to play Rose as stupid but to play her as someone “terminally naive, a person who always believed the first explanation of something.” I am thankful that the roles were switched. I can’t imagine anyone playing Rose but Betty and no other actress could pull of the role of Blanche as Rue did.
Life after The Golden Girls was very good for Betty. She guest starred on shows like Ally McBeal, The Ellen Show, My Wife and Kids, That ’70s Show, Everwood, Joey, and Malcolm in the Middle. She was nominated for her appearances on Suddenly Susan, Yes, Dear and The Practice. She won an Emmy in 1996 for Outstanding Guest Actress in a Comedy Series, appearing as herself on an episode of The John Larroquette Show. She has lent her voice to popular animated shows such as The Simpsons, King of the Hill and Family Guy.
She joined in the cast of The Bold and the Beautiful in December 2006. Her 2007 parody of Ugly Betty earned her a part on Ugly Betty as herself. White had a recurring role in ABC’s Boston Legal from 2005 to 2008 as the calculating, blackmailing gossip-monger Catherine Piper, a role she originally portrayed as a guest star on The Practice in 2004. This character was a far cry from Rose Nylund but it just went to show what a talented actress Betty is. She pulled it off so well. She attended the Comedy Central Roast of William Shatner.
On May 8, 2010, Betty hosted Saturday Night Live at the age of 88, making her the oldest person to host the show. She published her latest book If You Ask Me (And of Course You Won’t), was published in 2011.
On a personal note, Betty married Dick Barker, a U.S. Army Air Corps pilot in 1945. The marriage was short-lived. In 1947, she married Lane Allen, a Hollywood agent. This marriage ended in divorce in 1949. On June 14, 1963, White married television host and personality Allen Ludden, whom she had met on his game show Password as a celebrity guest in 1961, and is legally Betty White Ludden. He proposed to her twice before she accepted. Sadly, Allen died from stomach cancer on June 9, 1981. The couple did not have any children. Betty has not remarried.
We salute this remarkable woman who is a pet enthusiast and animal health advocate who works with a number of animal organizations and a recipient of numerous awards and honors, including her induction into the Television Hall of Fame in 1995; the Lifetime Achievement Award in 1990. She was formally inducted into the Academy of Television Arts & Sciences Hall of Fame in 1995. and the Screen Actor’s Guild. We thank this funny lady for all the golden years of comedy she has brought to us. We wish her all the best.