Who was Betty White?
She was an actress, role model, world record holder, and Golden Girl. Betty White had been acting since her teenage years, but she gained popularity in her early twenties. White demonstrated a love for life and her career. She called herself a “lucky old broad” until her death on December 31, 2021, roughly three weeks away from her 100th birthday (Leopold). With jaw-dropping, funny and witty remarks, White helped break the silence regarding humorous women, women’s sexuality, and the roles that women play in society.
White was born in Illinois on January 17, 1922 (McGreevy). However, she and her family moved to California when she was two years old (Leopold). Her father was a salesman of radios, and when the depression hit after her birth, he traded radios for dogs; White recalls the numerous dogs in her family and claimed it sparked her lifelong love for animals (Leopold).
The Start of her Career
White became a part of the entertainment world in her teenage years, but at the time television had not developed very far. When she was seventeen years old, however, she had the opportunity to be in an experimental television show (Leopold). Following her feature on the television show, she modeled for a short time before World War II hit. (Leopold).
Right after the war’s end, White went back to the entertainment industry. In the late 40’s she began working with several radio shows and increasing amounts of television shows as well (Leopold). One such show, airing from 1953 to 1955, was “Life With Elizabeth.” With a strong comical female lead, her show, similar to “I Love Lucy,” opened doors for female comedians in the entertainment world (McGreevy). It’s no surprise that with her humor she was so popular in sitcoms; she even owned her own production company (Leopold). Some, likely older generations, may remember White in her youth, on various radio and television shows. But what gained her the most attention was her work on “The Mary Tyler Moore Show.”
White’s Sitcom Era
White was about 50 years old at the time of her first appearance on the Mary Tyler Moore show (Severo & Keepnews). The role she was supposed to play was intended to be a one-time or temporary appearance, but White because of her charm and talent fit into the show perfectly (Leopold). The Moore show aired from 1973 to 1977, and in 1985 she landed her role on “The Golden Girls”.
When most people think of Betty White, the first show they may think of is “The Golden Girls,” which is no surprise. White said that she, Bea Arther, Rue McClanahan, and Estelle Getty were “like four points of a compass” (Leopold). The cast’s love for each other and the content they were producing was overwhelming, and it won them several Emmys throughout its seven seasons (Leopold).
At the end of “The Golden Girls” era, White never lost popularity. Even if you weren’t old enough to remember “The Mary Tyler Moore Show,” any of her other radio shows or appearances, or even “The Golden Girls,” most generations knew who she was. Her presence on countless TV shows and movies including “Community,” “That 70’s Show,” “The Proposal,” “Saturday Night Live” (for which she was the oldest ever host at 88 years old), and countless others, made her a recognized and loved presence in the entertainment world (Severo & Keepnews).
White’s Other Passions in Life
White, although wildly talented in television, wanted to be remembered as an advocate for animals. She donated to the American Humane Society and Fund for Animals and raised awareness of animal rights and importance through her show “The Pet Set” (Severo & Keepnews).
With a love for her career and emphasis on humor to keep you young, White lived with the idea that “it’s your outlook on life that counts. If you take yourself lightly and don’t take yourself too seriously, pretty soon you can find the humor in your everyday life. And sometimes it can be a lifesaver.”
- Leopold, Todd. “Betty White, beloved and trailblazing actress, dies at 99.” CNN, CNN entertainment. 31 Dec. 2021. https://www.cnn.com/2021/12/31/entertainment/betty-white-obituary/index.html.
- McGreevy, Nora. “How Betty White Broke Barriers for Women in Television.” Smithsonian Magazine. 4 Jan. 2022. https://www.smithsonianmag.com/smartnews-arts-culture/how-betty-white-made-television-history.
- Severo, Richard, and Keepnews, Peter. “Betty White, a Television Golden Girl From the Start, Is Dead at 99.” The New York Times. 31 Dec. 2021. https://www.nytimes.com/2021/12/31/arts/television/betty-white-dead.html.
For more influential women like Betty White, read about these “Influential Women from the Past Decade.”