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A Tribute to Betty White

Thu 13th Jan 2022

Betty White - Image care of Allen White
Betty White - Image care of Allen White

On what would have been her 100th birthday, we celebrate the ever entertaining, enigmatic icon of the silver screen, Betty White.

Early Life

Betty Marion White was born on the 17th of January 1922 in Oak Park, Illinois. She was the only child of Horace White, an electrical engineer and salesman, and Tess Curtis, a homemaker. During the Great Depression the family relocated to California, where Betty resided for much of her life. With a lifelong love for animals; nurtured with yearly camping trips to Sierra Nevada and the family being known to have 26 dogs - it was no wonder White became a highly involved animal activist.

Growing up, Betty thought she would become a park ranger or a writer. Indulging her passion for writing, she authored the school play in her senior year of high school. She ended up playing the lead role and absolutely fell in love with performing. From that day forth, she was engrossed in show business.

Loves and Losses

Before launching her Hollywood career, Betty was married twice. Her first marriage, in 1945 to US Air Force Pilot Dick Barker, lasted just months. Destined for the silver screen, White was not content with the simple life on a chicken farm in Ohio! In 1947 she was married to Hollywood talent agent Lane Allen, whom she divorced in 1949 as he wanted children but she wanted to continue to pursue her career independently.

Betty White. Photograph by Alan Light.
Betty White. Photograph by Alan Light.

The Showbiz Era

In the 1940s Betty acted on various radio shows before making the transition to television. In 1949 Betty began co-hosting Hollywood on television - a daily variety show. Her co-host later left, and Betty continued to perform 5 hours of ad lib, 6 days per week, a testament to her unrivalled talent and stamina.

 

In 1952 she got her first sitcom role in Life with Elizabeth. Betty went on to become the producer of this show, making her one of the first women in Hollywood to work on both sides of the camera. For her contributions to Life with Elizabeth, White was awarded her first Emmy. It is accomplishments and accolades such as this which led to her being lovingly referred to as the 'First Lady of Television'.

 

True Romance

In the 60s Betty married the love of her life, Allen Ludden, whom she met when she was a celebrity player on the television game show he hosted, Password. They were married until his death from cancer in 1981.

White never remarried after this. When questioned about this in an interview with Larry King, she responded "...once you've had the best, who needs the rest?".  Asked by James Lipton in an episode of Inside the Actor's Studio, if heaven should exist and when she arrived she was greeted by God, what would she hope for him to say, she responded "...come on in Betty. Allen's here".

 

Betty White
Betty White

 

During the time of her marriage to Allen, Betty's television career was accelerating in its glory. From 1973 to 1977 White made numerous appearances as 'man-hungry' Sue Ann Nivens on the sensational Mary Tyler Moore Show.

   

Golden Girl, Golden Days

Following this, Betty gained the most notable role of her career, as Rose Nylund on The Golden Girls. She played this role from 1985 until the show's conclusion in 1992. The Golden Girls was a roaring success, and White earned seven Emmy nominations for her role, winning the award in 1986.

Following a viral commercial she performed in for Snickers bars at the Super Bowl in 2010, Betty experienced a renewed surge in popularity. Fans rallied and petitioned to have her host an episode of Saturday Night Live. They were successful, and in May 2010 she became the show's oldest host.

From 2010 to 2014, Betty produced and starred in Betty White's Off their Rockers - a lighthearted television series where senior citizens play pranks on unsuspecting younger people.

Betty's Tips for Living Well

Reflecting on a long and happy life, Betty shared the following pearls of wisdom on how to live well:

  • "Take some wheatgrass, soy paste and carob. Toss them in the garbage and cook yourself a big-ass piece of pork."
  • "Get eight hours of beauty sleep. Nine, if you're ugly."
  • "I try to avoid anything green. I think it's working."
  • "Taste every moment."
  • "A sense of humor [keeps me young]. Don't take yourself too seriously. You can lie to others - not that I would - but you cannot lie to yourself."
  • "I'm a health nut. My favorite food is hot dogs with French fries. And my exercise: I have a two-story house and a very bad memory, so I'm up and down those stairs."

Betty White died peacefully in her sleep in Brentwood, California on December 31, 2021. She will be remembered forever as one of America's most gifted actresses, and will live on through the silver screen, made immortal by the characters she so artfully played.

By Lydia Moreland

Sources:

  • Wikipedia, "Betty White"
  • People Magazine "Betty White Dies: The Golden Girl and Mary Tyler Moore Star was 99"