There are words in our society today that are overused. People loosely throw around words like ‘super star’ and ‘icon’ when they don’t really apply. However, one lady of Hollywood represented the true definition of each word. Betty White, American actress and pioneer of television, had a career that spanned over seven decades. She initially worked in an industry that wasn’t always so welcoming to women, yet she became America’s sweetheart and someone we all wish was our best friend.
Betty White began her career in radio and made the transition to television, giving us, as viewers, some of television history’s most beloved characters. Ms. White was best known for her roles as Sue Ann Nivens on the CBS sitcom The Mary Tyler Moore Show and NBC’s The Golden Girls where she played Rose Nyland.
The character of Sue Ann Nivens was written into an episode of The Mary Tyler Moore Show in 1973 as the show was ascending to the top of the ratings. Sue Ann was described in the script as ‘a sickeningly sweet Betty White type,’ so in the end, who better to play the part. Ms. White played it to such perfection she became a regular on the show and won her second and third Emmys for the role. Her portrayal of Sue Ann was often described as ‘a sweetness with overlaying of a sting.’ The banter between Mary Tyler Moore and Sue Ann Nivens became scenes fans looked forward to each week.
A new generation came to know Betty White as Rose Nyland, described as ‘the seemingly dopey Nordic blonde from St. Olaf, Minnesota,’ on the long running sitcom The Golden Girls, about a group of older women living in Florida, with the great talents of Bea Arthur, Rue McClanahan, and Estelle Getty. The cast was perfectand Betty White was a genius at comedy and at the top of her game in the role.
While Betty White had much success in her professional life, her private life included two failed marriages before meeting Allen Ludden, who Ms. White described as ‘the love of my life.’ Ludden was a game show host who met Betty White when she was a celebrity guest on Password in1961. He proposed twice before she accepted and they were married in 1963, not only taking on the role of wife, but of step-mother to Ludden’s three children. The two were married until Ludden’s death in 1981 due to cancer. Ms. White was once asked why she never remarried and she replied, “I had the love of my life. If you’ve had the best, who needs the rest?”
Although she never had children, her heart and home were open until her death at age 99, to animals, quite a few in fact. Betty White was a pet enthusiast and animal welfare advocate who worked with organizations including zoos, animal foundations, and wildlife groups. Her interest in animal welfare began in the early 1970s while she was hosting and producing the syndicated series The Pet Set, which spotlighted celebrities and their pets. Over her many years, Ms. White appeared in public service announcements raising awareness of the needs of animals, both domestic and wild. Her home was often filled with quite a few furry friends, at one time, 26 dogs. She used her celebrity to bring attention to the needs of animals across the country and the importance of adoption in saving the lives of animals in shelters. Ms. White once commented on her career by saying, “I’m actually the luckiest old broad alive. Half my life is working in a profession I love and the other half is working with animals.’
While Betty White thought and believed until her passing on December 31, 2021 at the age of 99, that she was the lucky one, those who watched her amazing career and talent know that we were indeed the lucky ones. Rest in peace.
Did you know?
Betty White was initially awarded the Guinness World Record for “Longest TV Career for a Female Entertainer” in 2014 and no one ever took it from her!