By Linda Levi
What broadcasting legend is hotter today at age 89 than ever before? No one other than Betty White of course!
Born in 1922, Betty began her career just three months after graduation from Beverly Hills High School. WWII interrupted her career, but never one to sit on the sidelines Betty joined the American Women’s Voluntary Services. In the 1940s, she began writing, performing and producing for radio. In 1948, she began appearing on TV daily on Al Jarvis’ “Hollywood on Television.” By 1952, she became the show’s host. That same year, she co-founded a production company that went on to create many TV shows including “Life with Elizabeth.” Her performance on that show won Betty her first Emmy Award and established her as one of the few women in television with full creative control in front of and behind the camera. She went on to host and produce her own daily talk show, “The Betty White Show,” appear on “Date with the Angels” for a year and made her film debut in “Advise and Consent” in 1962.
Betty is also well known for her many game show appearances beginning in the 1950s. They provided more than a good time for this “first lady of game shows” — she met her beloved husband Allen Ludden, host of “Password,” when appearing on his show, marrying him in 1963. She even hosted her own game show, “Just Men,” becoming the first woman to win a daytime Emmy Award in the outstanding game show host category. In 1973, Betty made her first appearance as the “Happy Homemaker” on “The Mary Tyler Moore Show.”
Betty won two back-to-back Emmy Awards for her portrayal of the man-hungry, sardonic Sue Ann Nivens. A recurring part on “Mama’s Family” was up next until Betty scored her second signature role — that of Rose Nylund on “The Golden Girls.” Betty won another Emmy Award for that performance in the show’s first year and was nominated in the outstanding actress in a comedy series category every year the show was on the air. After the show ended, Betty made many TV show guest appearances. She received Emmy nominations for appearances on “Suddenly Susan,” “Yes, Dear” and “The Practice,” and she went on to win another Emmy Award for an appearance on “The John Larroquette Show.”
For anyone who’s counting, we’re up to six Emmys — so far. Always eager to test uncharted waters, Betty joined “The Bold and the Beautiful” in 2006, marking her first daytime soap opera experience. She made periodic appearances on that show until late 2009 when her character died. She became even more a part of pop culture with her frequent late night appearances on “The Late Late Show with Craig Ferguson,” “The Tonight Show with Jay Leno,” “Chelsea Lately,” her starring role in “The Proposal” with Sandra Bullock and after receiving the Screen Actors Guild’s (SAG) Lifetime Achievement Award in 2010. However, it was Betty’s 2010 Super Bowl Snickers commercial that propelled her to the status of the “It Girl of Hollywood.” It inspired a grassroots Facebook campaign to get Betty to host “Saturday Night Live.” At age 88, she indeed became the oldest “SNL” host in May 2010, scoring the show’s highest ratings since 2008 and earning Betty her seventh Emmy Award.
Although it’s still early in 2011, Betty’s momentum continues. She recently received the SAG Award for top comedy star for “Hot in Cleveland,” she is getting Emmy recognition for her starring role in “The Last Valentine,” a Hallmark Hall of Fame movie that just aired on CBS, and her next book, “If You Ask Me,” will be released on Mother’s Day. There’s no doubt Betty is an American treasure. Among her many honors include being inducted into the TV Hall of Fame in 1995, receiving the Pop Culture Award in 2008 at the Sixth Annual TV Land Awards, being named AP’s Entertainer of the Year in 2010 and now winning a lifetime achievement award from New York Women in Communications.
But no tribute to Betty would be complete without mentioning that last year the USDA Forest Service made her an honorary forest ranger, fulfilling a childhood dream not open to young women in her day. Betty spent her life devoted to animal welfare, and today she is a symbol that it’s never too late to pursue and live out your dreams.
Here — with links to video clips — a selection of quotes featuring Betty (compiled by Michelle Lodge):
- “When I heard about the campaign to get me to host Saturday Night Live, I didn’t know what Facebook was. Now that I do know what it is, it sounds like a huge waste of time.”
- Jon Stewart: “Are there people in your life who say no to Betty White?” Betty: “I haven’t found him.”
- “I may have more than two passions. [Well-timed comic pause] But it’s none of your business.
- “What boggles my mind is that I’ve worked with many of you, maybe had a couple -- and you know who you are.”
- "Where’s Spock? And James Spader? And Bones and Scotty?
- “Oh, Bill, all your friends are either dead or they hate you. To be fair, I’m a little in Column A and a little in Column B.”
- Betty: “Come on, man, you’ve been riding me all day.” Coach: “You’re playing like Betty White out there.”
- Vanity Fair: If you were to die and come back as a person or thing, what do you think it would be? Betty: “Jane Goodall.”