Betty White: What You Don't Know About the Unofficial First Lady of TV
Known for her Emmy-winning roles as Sue Ann Nivens on The Mary Tyler Moore Show and Rose Nylund on The Golden Girls, television pioneer Betty White made a name for herself over a career that has spanned eight decades. When accepting a Lifetime Achievement Award at the Emmys in 2015, Betty said that being in showbiz "is such a privilege…[and] such fun."
At 98 years old, the "first lady of game shows" doesn’t seem to be slowing down any time soon. Even though you’ve seen her on your television screen hundreds of times, you probably don’t know everything about this Hollywood icon — read on to find out more!
Betty Was One of the First Women in Hollywood to Become a Producer
The shows Betty White is most well-known for, such as The Mary Tyler Moore Show and The Golden Girls, blazed trails in Hollywood. However, even outside of her starring turns in these groundbreaking programs, Betty was making a name for herself — and making history. And all of that glass-ceiling smashing started in the late 1940s and early 1950s.
Betty Served Her Country
Like many stars, Betty took time out of growing her career to serve her country during World War II. You might assume that she took the Bob Hope route and, like her fellow comedian, entertained troops at USO shows. However, that’s where you’d be incorrect. Betty joined the American Women’s Voluntary Services, spending her days delivering supplies via PX truck throughout the Hollywood Hills.
She Became an Honorary Mayor in the ‘50s
These days, it’s not necessarily unusual for a celebrity to cross over into politics. Even stars from the Hollywood of yore aren’t strangers to running for office. Famously, musician Sonny Bono became mayor of Palm Springs, California, and actor/director Clint Eastwood was mayor of Carmel-by-the-Sea, California. While Betty didn’t run for office, she can still relate.
Her Emmy Count Is Impressive
The Golden Girls carved out a space for women in comedy in a new, innovative way. Betty, Bea Arthur, Rue McClanahan and Estelle Getty proved that older women were funny, intelligent and completely capable of being stars — even though women over 40 were (and are) typically written off by Hollywood. Moreover, the cast members became the first since All in the Family to each win an Emmy Award.
Betty Worked With Rue McClanahan Before The Golden Girls
During the ninth season of The Carol Burnett Show, producer Joe Hamilton wanted to make a spin-off sitcom based upon one of the show’s most beloved sketch characters, Mama, who was portrayed by Vicki Lawrence. Initially, Lawrence turned down the very idea of the show that would become Mama’s Family, since she was not interested in playing the character on a weekly basis — especially without Carol Burnett, who played her daughter.
Betty Originally Auditioned for the Role of Blanche on The Golden Girls
Initially, Rue McClanahan was set to play the wide-eyed Minnesotan Rose Nylund. And Betty was keen on playing the vivacious Blanche Devereaux. That is, until the pilot’s director, Jay Sandrich, suggested Betty play Rose instead because Blanche was quite similar to her equally lustful character Sue Ann Nivens on The Mary Tyler Moore Show.
The Key to Longevity Is…Junk Food
An apple a day keeps the doctor away — unless you’re Betty White. In that case, you keep the apples as far away from you as possible and still live to be a spry 98 years old. Betty’s love of hot dogs has been well-documented with Los Angeles’ famous Pink’s even naming a dish — the condiment-free "Betty White Naked Dog" — after her.
She’s (Basically) an LA Native
Betty White was born on January 17, 1922 in Oak Park, Illinois, but, shortly after she was born, her parents, Horace and Tess White, moved the family to Alhambra, California, in 1923. Later, her father, an electrical engineer by trade, uprooted the family again — though, this time, it was for a much more reasonable move to nearby Los Angeles.
Betty Played Rose Nylund on Four Shows
Rose Nylund, the lovable airhead with a heart of gold, quickly became a fan favorite on The Golden Girls. Look, we love all of the Girls for various reasons, but, much like Estelle Getty’s character Sophia Petrillo, Rose was so beloved, and brought such a fun comedic dynamic to the show, that producers couldn’t help but write her into several Golden Girls-adjacent shows and spin-offs.
She Had a Short Stint as a Model
Although Betty is most often associated with her starring role on The Golden Girls, she has had a long career in the entertainment industry. But, even before she made her television debut, Betty was seen as a star by her classmates. During the late 1930s, her schoolyard peers voted her "best-looking female."
Betty Has a Hot Dog Named After Her
A lover of dogs — and all animals — Betty is also a lover of hot dogs. In addition to championing junk food and alcohol, Betty insists that a diet of hot dogs is one of the reasons she’s had such a long career — and life. She’s such a big fan of the summertime go-to that the 98-year-old comedian has a hot dog named after her.
She Is a Passionate Animal Lover
Like her character Rose Nylund on The Golden Girls, Betty is known to be a passionate lover of animals. She’s often seen making friends with her furry co-stars on set. In fact, she’s so unwavering in her love that she has actually turned down roles that called for potential animal abuse or mistreatment.
Betty Told President Obama About an Interesting Backup Career
Back in 2012, Betty went to the White House, where she met President Barack Obama. Perhaps more importantly, this trip gave her a reason to meet the Obamas’ family dog, Bo. The presidential pooch sat on Betty’s lap for a full 30 minutes, which led the president to ask Betty about her love of animals.
Betty Is a Big Wizard of Oz Fan
The multi-hyphenate Hollywood legend is also an author with an impressive six books under her belt. When considering writers she admires, Betty named L. Frank Baum as her all-time favorite, as she’s a huge fan of the Oz books, which, of course, served as the inspiration for the 1939 film The Wizard of Oz.
Third Time’s the Charm When It Came to Her Love Life
They don’t say "third time’s the charm" for nothing. In the case of Betty’s love life, the old saying seems to hold some truth. In 1945, before her career in television really started, she married her first husband, Dick Barker. Four months on Barker’s Ohio-based chicken farm were all it took for the couple to divorce — and for Betty to head back to LA to pursue her TV dreams.
She’s Not a Fan of Reality TV, Despite Hosting a Reality Show
In 2014, Betty became the oldest person to earn an Emmy nomination thanks to her nod for Outstanding Host for a Reality Program. The program in question was Betty White’s Off Their Rockers, a show that focused on senior citizens pranking one another. At the time of her nomination, Betty was 92.
Her Name Isn’t Short for Anything
In 1922, this pioneering comedian was born Betty Marion White. Contrary to popular belief, "Betty" isn’t actually short for anything. In her autobiography If You Ask Me (And of Course You Won’t), the television legend revealed that her parents named her "Betty" because they didn’t like most of the nicknames derived from the name "Elizabeth." To avoid any Beths, Lizas, Lizzes or Ellies, her parents stuck with just Betty.
Betty Loves a Parade
Who doesn’t love a parade, right? There’s something so festive about the spectacle — and Betty would agree. From 1962 to 1971, before Katie Couric donned a pair of ear-muffs in Herald Square, Betty co-hosted NBC’s Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade alongside Bonanza star Lorne Greene. However, the parade-host life doesn’t come without some heartbreak.
Even in Her 80s, She Loves a Happy Hour Drink
We all recall Betty’s viral video from a few years ago, which showed her sitting on a couch with a gallon-sized wine glass, stating, "Doctors say drinking a glass of wine a day can extend your life," before cheersing with the oversized glass. But her love of a stiff cocktail isn’t just some bit — nor is it just some trait she’s picked up from her Hot in Cleveland character.
Betty Is America’s Most-trusted Celebrity
Julia Roberts may be America’s sweetheart, but she’s got nothing on Betty White. In addition to being the unofficial "first lady of game shows," Betty is also America’s most-trusted celebrity. A 2011 poll asked 2,000 Americans which stars they deemed trustworthy, and Betty won in a landslide. Moreover, 44% of the folks polled admitted they’d be more likely to buy a product if Betty endorsed it.
Betty Wishes She Married Allen Ludden Sooner
As the unofficial "first lady of game shows," Betty was a regular on the circuit, which is where she met her most perfect match. No, not on Match Game or The Newlywed Game — though that would have been devastatingly fitting. In 1961, Betty was a celebrity guest on Password, which was hosted by Allen Ludden at the time.
Betty Has the Longest Career of Any Person in Showbiz
Betty is no stranger to hitting milestones or pinning down impressive records. In fact, she’s even in the 2014 edition of the famed Guinness Book of World Records. The achievement that got her selected for the popular tome? Betty earned the title of "Longest TV Career for an Entertainer (Female)" for her more than 70 years in showbiz.
Like Her Golden Girls Co-stars, Betty’s a Supporter of LGBTQ+ Rights
In a 2014 interview with Larry King, Betty answered some fan questions regarding her support for the LGBTQ+ community. Instagram user @mrluissalazar asked the comedy legend what significance the gay community held in regards to her career, and asked how she felt about the queer community in general. Betty replied, "I don’t care whom you sleep with. It’s ‘what kind of human being are you?’"
Betty Is the Oldest Person to Host SNL
When it comes to social media, Betty has had great success. When she joined Twitter, the comedic legend amassed 118,000 followers within the first 24 hours. That number climbed and climbed until reaching an impressive 1.3 million. When it comes to Facebook, Betty has seen incredible success too — at least indirectly.
Betty Was the Oldest Member of The Golden Girls Cast
On The Golden Girls, Betty, the only one of the four main actresses alive today, played Rose Nylund, a contemporary of Bea Arthur’s Dorothy Zbornak and Rue McClanahan’s Blanche Devereaux. Meanwhile, Estelle Getty, the second-youngest of the four leading ladies, played Dorothy’s ever-salty mother Sophia Petrillo.
Her First TV Appearance Is Lost to the Ages
Betty White has hit some real milestones in her career, from producing her own show quite early on to nabbing five Primetime Emmy Awards. But there’s one milestone that escapes even her. They say you never forget your first, but that’s not the case here: Betty can’t recall the name of the 1939 show that signified her television debut.
She Would Love to Work With Robert Redford
Although Betty solidified her place as America’s television sweetheart thanks to her role as Rose Nylund on The Golden Girls, she isn’t as innocent as her air-headed, heart-of-gold character might have you think. In fact, Betty loves a good dirty joke and she was admittedly quite the flirt in her younger years. Well, that hasn’t exactly changed — and Betty is a firm believer that aging shouldn’t get in the way of one’s connection to desire.
Despite Their Alleged Feud, Betty Would Carpool with Golden Girls Co-star Bea Arthur
While they’re no Joan Crawford and Bette Davis, Betty and Bea Arthur have notoriously been pigeonholed as two co-stars who never quite got along. When speaking to the Village Voice several years ago, Betty noted that "[Bea] was not that fond of me… She found me a pain in the neck sometimes. It was my positive attitude."
Betty Would Play Word Games With Rue McClanahan on the Set of The Golden Girls
Over the course of The Golden Girls’ seven seasons, the cast filmed a whopping 180 episodes, including 11 one-hour episodes. That’s a lot of time on set. According to ABCNews, Rue McClanahan and Estelle Getty claimed it took nine hours to rehearse an episode. Needless to say, between rehearsing, prepping and filming, the stars had to contend with some downtime.
Betty Is the Queen of Game Shows
In the 1970s and ‘80s, Betty was a staple celebrity panelist on countless game shows, including Password, Match Game, Tattletales, The Hollywood Squares and The $25,000 Pyramid. As such, she has been given the moniker "first lady of game shows." But her connection to games extends beyond playing them: In 1983, Betty made history by becoming the first woman to receive an Emmy for Outstanding Game Show Host for her work on Just Men!