The Loss of Betty White

Everybody knew Betty White.

She’s been a regular presence in the home of anyone with a radio or a television set for almost a century. White, who died on Friday at age 99, began her career as a child actor on radio before she was ten and starred on television until well into her 90s, charming generations of audiences with a beguiling mix of human qualities that were hers alone: sweet but never syrupy, smart but not intimidating, tartly funny without being mean, her turn as Sue Ann Nivens notwithstanding.

“She passed away peacefully in her home in Brentwood, California,” White’s longtime agent Jeff Witjas confirmed to The Daily Beast on Friday afternoon.

Betty Marion White Ludden was an American actress and comedian. A pioneer of early television, with a career spanning over seven decades, White was noted for her vast work in the entertainment industry. She was among the first women to exert control in front of and behind the camera, and the first woman to produce a sitcom, which contributed to her being named honorary Mayor of Hollywood in 1955. Her most notable roles include Sue Ann Nivens on the CBS sitcom The Mary Tyler Moore Show, Rose Nylund on the NBC sitcom The Golden Girls, and Elka Ostrovsky on the TV Land sitcom Hot in Cleveland.

Lived: Jan 17, 1922 – Dec 31, 2021 (age 99)
Height: 5 feet 4 inches (1.63 m)
Spouse: Allen Ludden (1963 – 1981) · Lane Allan (Since 1947) · Dick Barker (1945 – 1945)
Education: Beverly Hills High School · Horace Mann School
Parents: Tess Curtis White (Mother) · Horace Lawrence White (Father)

 

Betty White is being remembered for her light, humor, charm and friendship.

Ryan Reynolds posted a loving tribute to longtime friend and “The Proposal” costar, who died Friday at the age of 99.
“The world looks different now,” Reynolds wrote. “She was great at defying expectation. She managed to grow very old and somehow, not old enough. We’ll miss you, Betty. Now you know the secret.”

In a recent interview with People magazine, published three days before her death, White said she was “born a cockeyed optimist.” She was set to grace the magazine’s cover in early January.

“I got it from my mom, and that never changed,” she told the magazine. “I always find the positive.”

As a performer, she thrived almost exclusively on TV, and before that on radio. She was never a movie star and never had a big stage career. But for decades, she was a familiar presence in the more intimate, human-scale formats of broadcasting, appearing regularly on sitcoms, game shows, variety shows, radio dramas, and as a long-time host of the Rose Bowl Parade.

And because her whole life can be told through the shows on which she appeared, that is what we’ve done here. Tune in.

 

Betty was her given name. It’s not short for anything. Betty Marion White Ludden was born Jan. 17, 1922, in Oak Park, Illinois, the only child of Christine Tess and Howard Logan White. When Betty was two, the family moved to Los Angeles, where Howard White eked out a living building and selling and sometimes bartering radios. More than once, he bartered a radio for a dog. The Whites loved dogs so much, Betty recalled, that even when hard times forced the family to miss a meal, the dogs always ate. Radios and animals were tandem themes throughout Betty’s childhood, and her love of animals (both real and stuffed) lasted all her life.

Her radio days began in her father’s shop, but she had barely entered elementary school when she started acting in nationally broadcast radio plays. From radio she made the leap to television, and there she stayed—not forever, because it turns out that even Betty White is mortal, but it seemed like forever for a very long time.

Producers of Betty White: 100 Years Young, a documentary that was to be screened for one night only in theaters on White’s 100th birthday January 17, said Friday the show will go on to honor the iconic actress, who died Thursday night.

The documentary includes highlights from White’s unprecedented TV career, her telling inside stories about her life, and clips of the funniest moments from such shows as The Golden Girls, SNL, Hot in Cleveland, The Proposal and The Mary Tyler Moore Show among others.

“Our hearts mourn today with the passing of Betty White,” producers Steve Boettcher and Mike Trinklein said in a statement on the Fathom Events page promoting the screening, which was to include the showing of the doc and live footage of what would have been White’s 100th birthday party.

 

 

 

1930
In 1930, an eight-year-old Betty played 10-year-old Ann, a child confined to a hospital in Portland, Oregon, in the Christmas episode of The Empire Builders (1930), a mashup of radio play and infomercial for its sponsor, the Great Northern Railway.

1949
Betty was 27. She’d been a pro on the radio for almost two decades. She had already made some appearances on the infant medium of television, and she’d auditioned for movie parts. But casting directors told her she was not photogenic. So, she stuck to radio. In the beginning, she took any part that came her way, even providing crowd noises and showing up on local game shows. Ultimately, she became a versatile radio personality who switched easily between comedy (Blondie, The Great Gildersleeve) and drama (This Is Your FBI). In 1952, she got her own show, The Betty White Show, a variety show where she ad-libbed and occasionally sang on the air for five hours at a stretch.

In this installment of the ripped-from-the-headlines cop show This is Your FBI—“the finest dramatic program on the air,” claimed FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover—Betty’s character gets the book thrown at her for colluding in cons orchestrated by her mother.

This Is Your FBI: “Larcenous Bride” – 08/12/1949

1953
Unlike many performers in early radio, and television, she did not get her start in vaudeville, big bands, or theater. Betty White was a creature of mass media.

In 1953, Life with Elizabeth premiered, and White had her first sitcom. The show was a spinoff of a character from Hollywood on Television, a variety show that began on radio and migrated to television. When the talkshow made the transition, so did White. Life With Elizabeth not only marked her transition to television, it also made her one of television’s earliest producers. She helped create the show, starred in it, and then produced it for its entire three-year run, making her one of the few women to have total artistic control in Hollywood before or since. She was barely 30 and still lived with her parents.

Life with Elizabeth: “Lobster for Dinner”

1954
Betty was 33 when The Betty White Show—her behind-the-desk talkshow—first aired on television. There would eventually be a third show of the same title. She hired a female director, and Arthur Duncan was so often a guest that she was widely criticized for featuring a Black man so prominently. Crediting Betty for his early television appearances, Duncan said, “She is probably one of the nicest, grandest, and greatest of all people I’ve had the chance to meet throughout my life. Whenever she walked into a room, it lit up. She was very thoughtful and very helpful. She launched me into show business.”

The Betty White Show – 11/29/1954

1959
Vintage Betty White in her ’50s Dior-style dresses endorsing Richard Hudnut cosmetics might be the best part of the Milton Berle television special that aired Oct. 11, 1959. By now, she was a 37-year-old television mainstay, seemingly immune to the agism so often associated with the industry. She was just getting started!

NBC Milton Berle Television Special – 10/11/1959

1963
In the mid-60s, game shows dominated television, and Betty White was an oft-featured special guest. Good fortune landed her on Password, where she met and later married the show’s host, Allen Ludden. She declined his marriage proposals on a few occasions, and turned down hosting NBC’s Today Show, which would have put her on the East Coast with Ludden. After he presented her with a stuffed bunny and a pair of sapphire and diamond earrings, she finally said yes to his proposal, but not for the earrings. She loved the stuffed bunny, and Allen. The two remained the epitome of a happy couple until his death in 1981.

Watch the flirtations between the two on this episode of Password.

1970s
The 70s were a breakout decade for White. Her love for animals and her cachet as a television producer allowed her to create a show where her celebrity friends could showcase their pets. The Pet Set, the television experience she loved the best, lasted only one season. But she and Ludden got to work together on the show, and she loved working with the animals. “I was like a kid in a candy store,” she said. “I’d get one of my celebrity friends to come on and bring her animal, and then I’d write the rest of the show around that celebrity’s interest in animals.”

In 1973, she was cast in the fourth season of The Mary Tyler Moore Show as Sue Ann Nivens, “The Happy Housewife,” sweet on camera but a horror the minute the cameras were off. The show’s producers sought to cast an “icky sweet Betty White type”—but not Betty White, because, should she fail the audition, her friendship with Mary Tyler Moore might be compromised. In the end, no problem: She was utterly successful in her ability to pull off the ultimate sweet-and-sour Sue Ann. “She’s not only a bitch but a nympho,” White told Los Angeles Times TV critic Cecil Smith in 1973. Her performance won her second and third Emmys for Best Supporting Actress in a Comedy Series.

Years on the radio with five-and-a-half hours of unscripted riffing made Betty White perfect to announce Pasadena’s Rose Parade. In 1975, due to her rising status at CBS, NBC fired Betty and replaced her as commentator for the live airing of the parade, a position she had held for two decades (doubling up from 1962-1971 as an announcer for Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade as well). She was devastated, because she had come to think of it as her parade, which in a way it was.

The Tournament of Roses – 1970

1985
Doe-eyed Rose Nylund, Betty’s character in The Golden Girls, is as close a match to naïveté as an adult can be, although it’s hard to single out a Betty White character who doesn’t embody that sweetness, fake or not, on some level. Over the show’s seven-year run on NBC (1985-1992), all four cast members—Betty White, Bea Arthur, Rue McClanahan, and Estelle Getty— won Emmys for their respective performances. In recent years, The Golden Girls has experienced a retro resurgence with younger audiences.

The Golden Girls – Season 6 episode 26 “Henny Penny Straight No Chaser”

2012
Betty White even hosted Off Their Rockers, a geriatric take on “Jackass”—well, maybe closer to Candid Camera. Manufactured senior moments that nobody younger than 70 could pull off, the show premiered in 2010 and ran two seasons on NBC before Lifetime picked it up for a third season. “Respect your elders. There’s nothing in there about us respecting you back!”

Off Their Rockers – Trailer (2012)

2018
In 2018, Betty White enjoyed a standing ovation at the 70th Emmy Awards, where she was honored with a Lifetime Achievement Award. She was 96 when she received the award and no less enthusiastic about winning than she had been the previous eight times.

2018 Emmy’s

 

The death of national treasure and comedy legend Betty White has left Hollywood, as well as her millions of fans, reeling on Friday. Just a few weeks shy of her 100th birthday, White was set to premiere “Betty White: 100 Years Young — A Birthday Celebration,” on January 17, and had a spread in People magazine celebrating her centennial year. Celebrities, comedians, and politicians took to social media to pay tribute to the Golden Girls star. Friend and co-star Ryan Reynolds wrote, “The world looks different now. She was great at defying expectation. She managed to grow very old and somehow, not old enough. We’ll miss you, Betty. Now you know the secret.” Seth Meyers tweeted, “RIP Betty White, the only SNL host I ever saw get a standing ovation at the after party. A party at which she ordered a vodka and a hotdog and stayed til the bitter end,” referencing the TV icon’s longstanding love for hotdogs and vodka. Check out more celebrity tributes to White below.

White’s “Hot in Cleveland” costar Valerie Bertinelli wrote, “Rest in peace, sweet Betty. My God, how bright heaven must be right now.”

Comedian Kathy Griffin wrote that White was always accepting of her.
“She treated me like we were in the same club or something,” Griffin tweeted in a long thread about White, “She actually treated me like an equal in the comedy gurrrl world. She was as sharp and funny as she was soft and wise …and no matter how long this world continues to spin, there will be only one Betty White.”

The Martin Luther King Jr. Center thanked White “for being a friend.”

Andy Cohen, who is set to host a New Year’s Eve special with Anderson Cooper on CNN Friday, tweeted, “Tonight we will raise MANY glasses to the WONDERFUL legacy of Betty White!!!”

Actress Debra Messing wrote, “Betty White. Oh noooooooo. I grew up watching and being delighted by her. She was playful and daring and smart. We all knew this day would come but it doesn’t take away the feeling of loss. A national treasure, indeed. Fly with the Angels.”
Actor George Takei wrote, “Our national treasure, Betty White, has passed just before her 100th birthday. Our Sue Ann Nivens, our beloved Rose Nylund, has joined the heavens to delight the stars with her inimitable style, humor, and charm. A great loss to us all. We shall miss her dearly.”

GLAAD took to Twitter to praise White for her support of the LGBTQ+ community.
“We are heartbroken over the death of Betty White, a longtime friend of GLAAD and supporter of LGBTQ equality and acceptance. Our hearts go out to her loved ones and fans.”

The Television Academy remembered the five-time Emmy winner on the organization’s official Twitter account.

Actor Henry Winkler wrote, “Betty White : I[t] is very hard to absorb you are not here anymore.”

Comedy Central’s official Twitter page posted, “Betty White showed that funny was ageless.”
Author Roxane Gay wrote, “RIP to Betty White who was charming, delightful, hilarious, talented and unproblematic for 99.9 years.”
Actor and director Marlon Wayans paid tribute on Facebook.
This woman… beyond the talent… the smile… the spirit. I swear i thought she’d live forever,” Wayans wrote. “And, she will. Through her work, her smile, her love of life. May we all live ” A Betty White Life.”

 

 

 

Betty White · Golden Globe Awards

  • 1989 Best Actress in a Musical or Comedy TV Series – The Golden Girls – Nominated
  • 1988 Best Actress in a Musical or Comedy TV Series – The Golden Girls – Nominated
  • 1987 Best Actress in a Musical or Comedy TV Series – The Golden Girls – Nominated
  • 1986 Best Actress in a Musical or Comedy TV Series – The Golden Girls -Nominated
    Betty White won the award for Outstanding Lead Actress in a Comedy Series in 1986, with Rue McClanahan winning the award in 1987 and Bea Arthur winning in 1988. In 1988, Estelle Getty won the award for Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Comedy Series.

Betty White · Grammy Awards

  • 2012 Best Spoken Word Album – If You Ask Me – Won
    When 90-year-old Betty White took home the Best Spoken Word Album GRAMMY for her audio recording of her book If You Ask Me (And Of Course You Won’t), she tied blues musician Elizabeth Cotten as the oldest female to win a GRAMMY. (Cotten holds a technical edge by just 12 days.)

Betty White · Primetime Emmy Award

  • 2010 Guest Actress – Comedy Series – Saturday Night Live – Won
    Once the show ended, White began her career as Rose Nylund on Golden Girls. In 2010, at the age of 88, the Hot in Cleveland actress won Outstanding Guest Actress in a Comedy Series for hosting Saturday Night Live 2010. Although Rose Nylund was her most famous role, she earned the title of the oldest person to ever host Saturday Night Live.
  • 1996 Guest Actress – Comedy Series – The John Larroquette Show -Won
    The comedian won her fourth Emmy in 1996 for Outstanding Guest Actress in a Comedy Series for an appearance on The John Larroquette Show. In the 2000s, she starred on The Bold and the Beautiful and Boston Legal. She hosted Saturday Night Live in May 2010 at the age of 88, making her the oldest person to helm the NBC series.
  • 1986 Actress – Comedy Series – The Golden Girls – Won
    Emmy Awards Betty White won an Emmy award for Outstanding Lead Actress in a Comedy Series in 1986 and was nominated in the category every year through the final season of The Golden Girls. The Golden Girls received 58 Primetime Emmy Award nominations, with eleven wins — eight Primetime and three Creative Arts.
  • 1976 Supporting Actress – Comedy – The Mary Tyler Moore Show -Won
    A comedic genius and young at heart, Betty White won 5 Primetime Emmy Awards throughout her career. Honoring the actresses’ beautiful life and successful career, we look back on her wins. In 1975 and in 1976, White took home the honor of “Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Comedy Series” for her role as Sue Ann in The Mary Tyler Moore Show.
  • 1975 Supporting Actress – Comedy – The Mary Tyler Moore Show – Won
    A comedic genius and young at heart, Betty White won 5 Primetime Emmy Awards throughout her career. Honoring the actresses’ beautiful life and successful career, we look back on her wins. In 1975 and in 1976, White took home the honor of “Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Comedy Series” for her role as Sue Ann in The Mary Tyler Moore Show.
  • 2014 Host – Reality, Reality-Competition – Betty White’s Off Their Rockers – Nominated
  • 2013 Host – Reality, Reality-Competition – Betty White’s Off Their Rockers – Nominated
  • 2012 Host – Reality, Reality-Competition – Betty White’s Off Their Rockers – Nominated
  • 2011 Supporting Actress – Comedy – Hot in Cleveland – Nominated
  • 2009 Guest Actress – Comedy Series – My Name Is Earl – Nominated
  • 2004 Guest Actress – Drama Series – The Practice – Nominated
  • 2003 Guest Actress – Comedy Series – Yes, Dear – Nominated
  • 1997 Guest Actress – Comedy Series – Suddenly Susan – Nominated
  • 1992 Actress – Comedy Series – The Golden Girls – Nominated
    Emmy Awards Betty White won an Emmy award for Outstanding Lead Actress in a Comedy Series in 1986 and was nominated in the category every year through the final season of The Golden Girls. The Golden Girls received 58 Primetime Emmy Award nominations, with eleven wins — eight Primetime and three Creative Arts.
  • 1991 Actress – Comedy Series – The Golden Girls – Nominated
  • 1990 Actress – Comedy Series – The Golden Girls – Nominated
  • 1989 Actress – Comedy Series – The Golden Girls – Nominated
  • 1988 Actress – Comedy Series – The Golden Girls – Nominated
  • 1987 Actress – Comedy Series – The Golden Girls – Nominated
  • 1977 Supporting Actress – Comedy – The Mary Tyler Moore Show – Nominated
    A comedic genius and young at heart, Betty White won 5 Primetime Emmy Awards throughout her career. Honoring the actresses’ beautiful life and successful career, we look back on her wins. In 1975 and in 1976, White took home the honor of “Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Comedy Series” for her role as Sue Ann in The Mary Tyler Moore Show.
  • 1951 Best Actress – Nominated

Betty White · Screen Actors Guild Award

  • 2012 Actress – Comedy Series – Hot in Cleveland – Won
  • 2011 Actress – Comedy Series – Hot in Cleveland -Won
  • 2013 Actress – Comedy Series – Hot in Cleveland – Nominated
  • 2012 Actress – Miniseries or TV Movie – The Lost Valentine – Nominated
  • 2011 Ensemble – Comedy Series – Hot in Cleveland – Nominated
    Still red hot, “Hot in Cleveland” star Betty White snagged the Screen Actors Guild award for lead actress in a comedy series. White, who turned 89 on Jan. 17, won for her portrayal of Elka on the TV Land sitcom set in Cleveland.

Betty White · Daytime Emmy Award

  • 1983 Game Show Host – Just Men! -Won
  • 1984 Game Show Host – Just Men! -Nominated

Betty White · MTV Movie & TV Awards

  • 2010 Best WTF Moment – The Proposal – Nominated

Betty White · People’s Choice Awards

  • 2011 Web Celeb – Nominated
  • 2011 TV Guest Star – Community – Nominated
  • 1987 Female TV Performer – Nominated

Betty White · Screen Actors Guild Life Achievement Award

  • 2010 Life Achievement Award – Won

Betty White · TCA Awards

  • 2009 TCA Career Achievement Award – Won

Betty White · TV Land Award

  • 2008 Pop Culture Award – The Golden Girls – Won
  • 2004 Groundbreaking Show Award – The Mary Tyler Moore Show – Won
  • 2003 Quintessential Non-Traditional Family Award – The Golden Girls – Won

Betty White · Teen Choice Awards

  • 2010 Choice Movie: Dance Scene – The Proposal – Won
  • 2010 Choice Movie Female Scene Stealer – The Proposal – Nominated

 

Betty White quotes

  • “Hot dogs and Red Vines and potato chips and French fries are my favorite foods.”
  • “I don’t know where I learned elephants like their tongues slapped. Whatever turns you on.
  • “You can always tell about somebody by the way they put their hands on an animal.”
  • “Retirement is not in my vocabulary. They aren’t going to get rid of me that way.”
  • “I just make it my business to get along with people so I can have fun. It’s that simple.”
  • “I’m a big cockeyed optimist. I try to accentuate the positive as opposed to the negative.”
  • “I think older women still have a full life.”
  • “I’m not what you might call sexy, but I’m romantic. Let’s put it that way.”
  • “I go out to the kitchen to feed the dog, but that’s about as much cooking as I do.”
  • “I’ve enjoyed the opposite sex a lot. Always have. Always will.”

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