Betty White’s ‘Mary Tyler Moore Show’ Co-Star Remembers Her Naughty Sense of Humor

by Suzanne Halliburton
Ron Galella/Ron Galella Collection via Getty Images

We’re remembering Betty White on her 100th birthday by telling her stories. This is from one of White’s co-stars of the Mary Tyler Moore Show.

Most folks think of White as Rose Nylund on the Golden Girls. White elevated sweet and naive to an art form. But on the Mary Tyler Moore Show, White was Sue Ann Niven. On that show she was over-sexed WJM’s Happy Homemaker who’d sleep with a man, then wash and iron his clothes before sending him home.

There aren’t many of White’s peers still alive from The Mary Tyler Moore Show to talk about White and the classic series from the 1970s. But enter Joyce Bulifant, who played Marie, Murray’s wife. Gavin MacLeod portrayed Murray, the TV station news writer.

Bulifant talked of the one trait she most remembered about White, who died Dec. 31 of a stroke.

“One thing I loved about her is that she gave me permission to tell naughty jokes,” Bulifant told Fox News. “She said that whenever I told her naughty jokes, it sounded like a nursery rhyme. So that gave me permission.”

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Including White, Mary Tyler Moore Show Lost Six Key People from Show in 2021

Remember when we said there were few actors remaining from The Mary Tyler Moore Show to tell all the good behind-the-scenes stories? 2021 was a sad year. White was the sixth person with a significant role on the show to leave us. Actors Cloris Leachman (Phyllis) Gavin MacLeod (Murray), Ed Asner (Lou Grant) passed away along with Allan Burns, the show’s co-creator and director Jay Sandrich.

White also loved to talk about Sue Ann. During a teleconference with reporters in 2010, someone asked her about her role on The Mary Tyler Moore Show. Remember, it wasn’t all about Rose and the Golden Girls.

“And of course I love Sue Ann. She was so rotten,” White told reporters. “The neighborhood nymphomaniac. I would love to bring her back for a minute, but I don’t know if that would be legally possible.”

White’s Niven initially was supposed to be on The Mary Tyler Moore Show for one episode. But White’s comedy was too brilliant not to mesh it with the show. Sue Ann was a dichotomy on The Mary Tyler Moore Show. She aced the part of perky, perfect housewife on air. Think of a highly-sexed Martha Stewart. When she wasn’t in front of the camera, Sue Ann was catty and man crazy, and she didn’t mind stabbing someone in the back if she needed to do so. She loved men, especially the very married Lou Grant. She was a smidge jealous of Mary because she was younger.

White’s very first episode on Mary Tyler Moore was all about a dinner party at Mary’s place. And Lars, the never-seen husband of Phyllis (Leachman) gave Sue Ann a ride home. Sue Ann sent him back to Phyllis with clean clothes. Phyllis figured out what happened and told Mary to confront Sue Ann.

So there the women were at the TV station. Mary told Sue Ann it was either Lars or her show. Sue Ann chose the show as she hovered in the kitchen, lovingly making a chocolate souffle. Phyllis slammed a door on purpose and Sue Ann’s souffle fell. It was perfect revenge against a Happy Homemaker.