Although she is best remembered for playing the naive Rose Nylund in the hit comedy The Golden Girls (1985-92), Betty White, who died at the age of 99, was for seven decades the one of American television’s most beloved performers, an accomplished professional who has won eight Emmy awards, the first and last separated by over 60 years. She was also a pioneer, in the 1950s, one of the first female television producers, and, 30 years later, the first host of television games, nicknamed “femcee”.
All four of The Golden Girls’ lead actors won the Emmy Awards for Best Actress, but White came in first, in 1986. Maybe that’s because she played the guy; Rose was the opposite of her role on the Mary Tyler Moore Show, as Sue Ann Nivens (1973-77), who hid her complicit nature under a sugary surface, while playing the role of Happy Homemaker at the station. television where Mary worked.
From 1983 to 1986, White and Rue McClanahan starred together in Mama’s Family, a spin-off of the Carol Burnett Show; when they left to join The Golden Girls, McClanahan, who had been Bea Arthur’s naive foil on Maude, was cast as Rose, with White set to play the White manhunter. Director Jay Sandrich suggested the two should swap roles, and the chemistry immediately succeeded.
Born in Oak Park, Ill., Betty moved with her parents, Engineer Horace White and Tess (née Cachikis), to Los Angeles during the Depression, and graduated in 1939 from Beverly Hills High School. her school theater colleagues included future movie star Rhonda Fleming. She starred on an experimental LA TV channel that year, but made her acting debut at the Bliss Hayden Little Theater.
During World War II, she served in the Women’s Voluntary Services, making her film debut in Time to Kill (1945), a short film produced to inform the military about military education programs; the cast included Jackie Cooper, George Reeves (later TV’s first Superman), DeForest Kelley (later Bones on Star Trek), and Barry Nelson. She was also married, briefly, to Dick Barker, an Air Corps pilot.
After roles on radio shows such as Archie and the Great Gildersleeve, she got her own local program, the first of four Betty White shows she would star in. In 1947, she married Agent Lane Allen; they divorced in 1949. That year, another local radio star, Al Jarvis, hosted a variety show called Hollywood On Television, and hired White as his “Friday Girl,” playing records and making songs. advertisements and interviews. When Jarvis left the series in 1952, White took over as host.
She also joined writer George Tibbles and producer Don Fedderson at a production company, trying to create shows from the skits she performed in her program. Life With Elizabeth debuted in 1952 and, broadcast nationwide, became an instant hit, winning White her first Emmy.
As a co-producer, White followed Lucille Ball, but it could be argued that she had more creative control over her product than Lucy in Desilu. Life With Elizabeth lasted until 1955; in 1954, White simultaneously presented his own variety show, his second Betty White show. She created another sitcom, Date With the Angels, in 1957; when her co-star Bill Williams left in 1958, it also became The Betty White Show before it was canceled.
White turned to game shows and late-night chats, especially as a frequent guest on Jack Paar’s show, precursor to The Tonight Show and regular at Password, with whose host, Allen Ludden, she had played in the summer stock. Ludden also hosted the GE College Bowl, from which the University Challenge took its format. White and Ludden were married from 1961 until his death in 1981.
In 1962, she made her film debut, playing the role of a senator in Advise and Consent, but although she put in a solid performance, it took 36 years before White returned to the big screen. Meanwhile, her friendship with Password creator Bob Stewart and his producers Mark Goodson and Bill Todman kept her busy on their other shows, such as What’s My Line ?, To Tell the Truth and the many successors to Password. She remained in demand as a guest star, and in 1971 produced and hosted a syndicated show featuring interviews with celebrities and their pets called The Pet Set.
Her career was reborn in 1973 when she made her debut as Sue Ann on the third season of the Mary Tyler Moore Show, hired because she and Ludden were friends with show producer Grant Tinker, who saw the storyline called for Sue Ann to be played by “an icky-sweet Betty White guy.” She won the Emmys for Best Supporting Actress in 1975 and 1976.
When the show ended in 1977, she began her fourth Betty White show, a sitcom starring John Hillerman, but which only lasted one season. She appeared in several television dramas before, in 1983, becoming the first woman to host a game show with Just Men !, in which a panel of men helped women win cars. She landed a daytime Emmy, her fourth overall.
She had a recurring role on The Love Boat before making her mark again on Mama’s Family, which led to the Golden Girls. With the show’s success, White released her first memoir, Betty White In Person (1987). When Bea Arthur left The Golden Girls in 1992, the other three lead roles continued in The Golden Palace for two seasons. White has shown no signs of slowing down, as the title of his second book, Here I Go Again: My Life In Television (1995) suggests. She appeared in Marie Osmond’s series Maybe This Time (1995-96) and was busier than ever as a guest, winning her sixth Emmy as Best Guest Star on The John LaRoquette Show (1996).
In 1999, she started two seasons playing the mother of a single father (Alfred Molina) in Ladies Man. She appeared as Catherine Piper in David E Kelley’s series The Practice and its spin-off, Boston Legal, and in 2006 made her soap opera debut The Bold and the Beautiful, as the mother of the matriarch from the Serie. She proved so popular that her role was extended for three seasons, until 2009. She started another TV sitcom, Hot in Cleveland, in 2010, at the age of 88, and she lasted for five. series. She won a Primetime Emmy for this appearance and in 2015 an Emmy Award for Lifetime Achievement. “
During this time, she returned to the big screen in Dennis the Menace Strikes Again (1998). Among the films that followed, her best roles were in Lake Placid (1999) and The Proposal (2009).
In 2010, after a Facebook campaign, she became the oldest person to host Saturday Night Live, joking that at her age she reached out to old friends not with Facebook but with a ouija board.
Outside of the entertainment industry, she was active in animal charities and the Los Angeles Zoo – Betty and Friends: My Life at the Zoo, was published in 2011. She told the Chicago Sun-Times that, as well as for her acting, “I also want a lady who helped animals be remembered.