Inside Betty White’s Legacy As Television’s First Lady

Inside Betty White’s Legacy As Television’s First Lady

Inside Betty White’s Legacy As Television’s First Lady

In an industry where most faces are short-lived, Betty White proved that passion does pay in the long run. For someone who was not considered photogenic during her early days of job seeking, White went above and beyond, eventually becoming a celebrated icon. Of her numerous achievements, White revealed at a 2012 interview with ET that she owed her longevity to passion and good health. “ I am blessed with good health. That’s the bottom line. That’s the thing I’m luckiest about. But, I love what I do,” she said. Through the years, White’s passion for entertainment was shown in her commitment to the craft and extensive portfolio that lasted well into her nineties. Here’s a look at how her career played out:

Finding A Start In Radio

Betty White was born in Oak Park, Illinois, as an only child to a housewife and a lighting company executive. During the Great Depression, White and her family moved to Los Angeles, California. She would later take an interest in wildlife because of the vacations she and her family took. Pursuing a career in wildlife proved to be a futile dream, which led her to make a detour by finding another passion altogether; writing. Soon enough, White discovered performing. It took a while before she set out to be an actress since she served as a volunteer during the Second World War. In the pursuit of acting, White was turned down for not being photo-friendly. Instead, she took to radio, where she worked for little pay. On radio, White read commercials and played small parts. It was the foundation she needed to keep the spirit alive, going as far as working for free when need be. White worked her way towards having her own radio show, The Betty White Show.

A Great Run On Screen

Following her time on radio, White teamed up with George Tibbles and Don Fedderson to create television shows. Her first stint on television was on the show Hollywood on Television, through which she and her team created characters. White’s extensive work in front of and behind the camera saw her land her own show, The Betty White Show. She also made appearances on a number of shows, including The Mary Tyler Moore Show and Mama’s Family. White found her footing in the game show sphere and went on to become a sought-after host. She featured in one too many game shows including What’s My Line?, To Tell The Truth, and Password, through which she met her third husband, Allen Ludden.

‘The Golden Girls’

Amongst White’s works, she held The Golden Girls in high regard. Created by Susan Harris, The Golden Girls, starring White, Bea Arthur, Rue McClanahan, and Estelle Getty premiered on NBC in September of 1985 and ran for seven seasons. The cast ensemble each received an Emmy for their roles on the show, an achievement that proved how well-received the sitcom was. According to The Guardian’S Lucy Mangan, The Golden Girls was a groundbreaking television show that was supposed to have set the pace for more productions focused on late life. “Where are the plethora of sitcoms that should have come along in the wake of such an instant success – it was a hit from the very start – let alone one that has endured for so long, about older women? Where are the comedies that deal with their lives in the round, effortlessly ranging over subjects such as menopause, worries over adult children, starting new relationships past what society informs you was your prime? Where are the programmes that centre on female friendships and pass the Bechdel test (whereby women talk about subjects other than men) with ease?” Mangan wrote.

Working Well Into Her Nineties

After the ending of The Golden Girls in 1992, White went on to appear in a number of shows, including The Practice, Yes Dear, The Bold and the Beautiful and won herself yet another Emmy for an appearance on The John Larroquette Show. In 2009, White starred alongside Ryan Reynolds in The Proposal, sparking long-lasting online speculation about Reynolds having a crush on White. The pair played to the joke so well, tagging the fans along. White worked well into her nineties, appearing on Saturday Night Live, and Toy Story 4, in which she voiced Bitey White, a toy designed specifically for her. At the 70th Emmy Awards where White was honored, she said of her illustrious career: “ Somebody said ‘First Lady of Television’, and I took it as a big compliment. And then I heard her talking to her daughter a little later and she said,’ First lady, yes…She’s that old. She was the first one way back.’ But little did I dream that I would be here. It’s incredible that I’m still in this business and you are still putting up with me.”

A Woman Of Many Firsts

White was the first woman in television history to produce a sitcom. Starring White and Del Moore, and narrated by Jack Narz, Life with Elizabeth ran in syndication for a total of two seasons. White and Moore played Elizabeth and Alvin, a suburban couple hit with one too many ‘incidents’. Years later, Betty White became the very first woman to win an Emmy in the category of Outstanding Game Show Host. Just Men premiered on NBC in January of 1983 and aired till April, with Betty as host. The show was produced by Rick Rosner, famed for the production of CHiPs. Its format included two female contestants who were pitted against each other. In each round, the contestants, one usually a champion, were asked questions to which celebrities had either answered ‘yes’ or ‘no’. For her exceptional work on the show, White’s Emmy was well-earned. After several years in the industry, Betty White became the oldest person to host Saturday Night Live. By the time of her death, she held a Guinness World Record for the longest career on television.

Supporting Numerous Social Causes

The Betty White Show came under scrutiny in the mid-’50s following the casting of Arthur Duncan, a black tap dancer. White maintained her stance that Duncan was to be part of the show, thus lending her voice against racial injustice. More than a few times, White voiced her support for the LGBTQ community. During an interview with Larry King, White shared her thoughts yet again: “ I don’t care whom you sleep with. It’s what kind of woman are you…It’s such a personal, private business and none of mine.” One of White’s greatest friends, Wladziu Valentino Liberace, who had a stellar four-decade career, was a member of the LBTQ community. Their friendship affirmed her thoughts that it was more about the personality and less about sexuality. As an animal welfare advocate, White worked with organizations such as the Morris Animal Foundation and the Los Angeles Zoo. White’s stint as the host of The Pet Set, a show that was focused on celebrities and their pets, sparked her interest in animals, eventually leading her to make donations and sit on boards. White lived boldly and when she went out, she did so gracefully, only weeks to her hundredth birthday.


 The Bold and the Beautiful

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