Betty Marion White (January 17, 1922 – December 31, 2021) was an American actress and comedian. A pioneer of early television, with a television career spanning almost seven decades, White was noted for her vast work in the entertainment industry and being one of the first women to work both in front of and behind the camera. She was the first woman to produce a sitcom, Life with Elizabeth (1953-1955).
After making the transition to television from radio, White became a staple panelist of American game shows, including Password, Match Game, Tattletales, To Tell the Truth, The Hollywood Squares, and The $25,000 Pyramid. Dubbed “the first lady of game shows”, White became the first woman to receive the Daytime Emmy Award for Outstanding Game Show Host for the show Just Men! in 1983.
She was also known for her appearances on The Bold and the Beautiful, Boston Legal, and The Carol Burnett Show. Her biggest roles include Sue Ann Nivens on the CBS sitcom The Mary Tyler Moore Show (1973–1977), Rose Nylund on the NBC sitcom The Golden Girls (1985–1992), and Elka Ostrovsky on the TV Land sitcom Hot in Cleveland (2010–2015). She gained a renewed career resurgence with her role in the romantic comedy film The Proposal (2009). She then hosted Saturday Night Live in 2010, garnering her a Primetime Emmy Award for Outstanding Guest Actress in a Comedy Series. She was the subject of the 2018 documentary, Betty White: First Lady of Television which detailed her life and career.
White earned a Guinness World Record for “Longest TV career by an entertainer (female)” in 2014 and in 2018 for her lengthy work in radio, television, and film. White received various awards including five Primetime Emmy Awards, two Daytime Emmy Awards, and a Regional Emmy Award as well as three American Comedy Awards, three Screen Actors Guild Awards, and a Grammy Award. She has a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, and was a 1995 Television Hall of Fame inductee.
Betty White Wiki, Biography
Betty Marion White was born in Oak Park, Illinois, on January 17, 1922. She stated that Betty was her legal name and not a shortened version of Elizabeth. She was the only child of Christine Tess (née Cachikis), a homemaker, and Horace Logan White, a lighting company executive from Michigan. Her paternal grandfather was Danish and her maternal grandfather was Greek, with her other roots being English and Welsh (both of her grandmothers were Canadians with roots in Ontario).
White’s family moved to Alhambra, California in 1923 when she was a little over a year old, and later to Los Angeles during the Great Depression. To make extra money, her father built crystal radios and sold them wherever he could. Since it was the height of the Depression, and hardly anyone had a sizable income, he would exchange the radios for other goods, including dogs on some occasions.
White attended Horace Mann Elementary Schoolin Beverly Hills and Beverly Hills High School, graduating in 1939. Her interest in wildlife was sparked by family vacations to the Sierra Nevada. She initially aspired to a career as a forest ranger, but was unable to accomplish this because women were not allowed to serve as rangers at that time. Instead, White pursued an interest in writing. She wrote and played the lead in a graduation play at Horace Mann School, and discovered her interest in performing. Inspired by her idols Jeanette MacDonald and Nelson Eddy, she decided to pursue a career as an actress.
One month after her high school graduation, she and a classmate sang songs from The Merry Widow on an experimental television show, as the medium of television itself was still in development. White found work modeling, and her first professional acting job was at the Bliss Hayden Little Theatre.
After the United States entered World War II in 1941, White volunteered for the American Women’s Voluntary Services. Her assignment included driving a PX truck with military supplies to the Hollywood Hills. She also participated in events for troops before they were deployed overseas. Commenting on her wartime service, White said, “It was a strange time and out of balance with everything.”
After the war, White made the rounds to movie studios looking for work, but was turned down because she was “not photogenic”. She started to look for radio jobs, where being photogenic did not matter.
Her first radio jobs included reading commercials and playing bit parts, and sometimes even doing crowd noises. She made about five dollars a show. She would do just about anything, like singing on a show for no pay. She appeared on shows such as Blondie, The Great Gildersleeve, and This Is Your FBI. She was then offered her own radio show, called The Betty White Show.
In 1949, she began appearing as co-host with Al Jarvis on his daily live television variety show Hollywood on Television, originally called Make Believe Ballroom, on KFWB and then on KLAC-TV (now KCOP-TV) in Los Angeles.
White began hosting the show by herself in 1952 after Jarvis’s departure, spanning five and a half hours of live ad lib television six days per week, over a continuous four-year span. In all of her various variety series over the years, White would sing at least a couple of songs during each broadcast. In 1951, she was nominated for her first Emmy Award as “Best Actress” on television, competing with Judith Anderson, Helen Hayes, and Imogene Coca; the award went to Gertrude Berg. At this point, the award was for body of work, with no shows named in nominations.
In 1952, the same year that she began hosting Hollywood on Television, White co-founded Bandy Productions with writer George Tibbles and Don Fedderson, a producer. The trio worked to create new shows using existing characters from sketches shown on Hollywood on Television. White, Fedderson, and Tibbles created the television comedy Life with Elizabeth, with White portraying the title character. The show was originally a live production on KLAC-TV in 1951, and won White a Los Angeles Emmy Award in 1952.
Life with Elizabeth was nationally syndicated from 1953 to 1955, allowing White to become one of the few women in television with full creative control in front of and behind the camera. The show was unusual for a sitcom in the 1950s because it was co-produced and owned by a twenty-eight-year-old woman who still lived with her parents. White said they did not worry about relevance in those days, and that usually the incidents were based on real-life situations that happened to her, the actor who played Alvin, and the writer.
White also performed in television advertisements seen on live television in Los Angeles, including a rendition of the “Dr. Ross Dog Food” advertisement at KTLA during the 1950s. She guest-starred on The Millionaire in the 1956 episode “The Virginia Lennart Story”, as the owner of a small-town diner who received an anonymous gift of $1 million.
Achievements and honors
White won five Primetime Emmy Awards, two Daytime Emmy Awards (including the 2015 Daytime Emmy for Lifetime Achievement), and received a Los Angeles Emmy Award in 1952. White was the only woman to have received an Emmy in all performing comedic categories, and also holds the record for longest span between Emmy nominations for performances—her first was in 1951 and her last was in 2014, a span of over 60 years. In 2015, she received the Lifetime Achievement Daytime Emmy. She also won three American Comedy Awards (including a Lifetime Achievement Award in 1990), and two Viewers for Quality Television Awards. She was inducted into the Television Hall of Fame in 1995 and has a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame at Hollywood Boulevard alongside the star of her late husband Allen Ludden. In 2009, White received the TCA Career Achievement Award from the Television Critics Association.
In 1955 she was named the honorary Mayor of Hollywood. White was the recipient of The Pacific Pioneer Broadcasters Golden Ike Award and the Genii Award from the Alliance for Women in Media in 1976. The American Comedy Awards awarded her the award for Funniest Female in 1987 as well as the list of lifetime achievement awards in 1990.
While volunteering with the American Women’s Voluntary Services, White met her first husband Dick Barker, a United States Army Air Forces P-38 pilot. After the war, the couple married and moved to Belle Center, Ohio, where Barker owned a chicken farm; he wanted to embrace a simpler life, but White did not enjoy this. They returned to Los Angeles and divorced within a year.
In 1947, she married Lane Allen, a Hollywood talent agent. They divorced in 1949 because he wanted a family but she wanted a career rather than children.
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 her legal name was changed to Betty White Ludden. He proposed to White at least twice before she accepted. The couple appeared together in an episode of The Odd Couple featuring Felix’s and Oscar’s appearance on Password.
Among the couple’s high-profile friends was writer John Steinbeck. In her 2011 book If You Ask Me (And of Course You Won’t), White writes about her friendship with the author. Ludden had attended the same school as Steinbeck’s wife Elaine Anderson Steinbeck. Steinbeck gave an early draft of his Nobel Prize in Literature acceptance speech to Ludden for his birthday.
While they had no children together, White was stepmother to Ludden’s three children with Margaret McGloin Ludden, who died of cancer in 1961. Allen Ludden died from stomach cancer on June 9, 1981, in Los Angeles. White never remarried. When asked the reason for this in an interview with Larry King, White responded by saying “Once you’ve had the best, who needs the rest?”. When asked by James Lipton on Inside the Actors Studio in 2010 that should Heaven exist, what would she like God to say to her when she walked through the Pearly gates, White replied “Come on in Betty. Here’s Allen.” White attended the Unity Church, part of the New Thought movement.
On the morning of December 31, 2021, White died in her sleep at her home in the Brentwood neighborhood of Los Angeles from a stroke she had on Christmas Day. She was 99 and outlived all the Golden Girls. Her remains were cremated and given to Glenn Kaplan, who was entrusted with carrying out her advanced health care directive.
White’s death was met with statements of sympathy and tribute from many people and organizations. The United States Army released a statement, as White had volunteered with the American Women’s Voluntary Services during World War II. Additionally, the Martin Luther King Jr. Center tweeted their condolences and praised White for her early support of racial equality. There were additional tributes from numerous media organizations,[ celebrities, political commentators, sports teams, musicians, politicians, and other public figures. White’s star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame was flooded with flowers and tributes within hours of the announcement of her death.
White’s two homes in Carmel and Los Angeles were sold in April and June 2022, respectively, with her personal belongings sold at auction in September. Her estate donated a substantial portion of television ephemera to the National Comedy Center in September 2022, including wardrobe pieces, annotated notes and five of her Emmy Awards.
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