How One Role Changed Betty White’s Career Forever

by Liz Holland

Betty White had an impressively long career, spending nearly 75 years on television. Many know her for her role in “Golden Girls”. However, before that iconic series stole the hearts of people everywhere, there was one TV show that changed Betty White’s career forever. 

Betty White portrayed Sue Ann in the sitcom “The Mary Tyler Moore Show.” The show was loved by audiences, and White’s role in the show earned her two primetime Emmys for “Outstanding Supporting Actress in A Comedy Series”. It was ultimately her role in this show that made her a household name, and landed her gigs like “Golden Girls”. Thanks to White’s spunk and the way she shamelessly says what we’re all thinking, she was the first pick for the role of Sue Ann. The sitcom ran for 7 seasons, totaling at 168 episodes, but White says no one really knew it was gonna be a hit. In a 1997 interview, White offers some insight. 

Betty White Says the Show’s Reception Was Unprecedented

“Nobody knew going in that The Mary Tyler Moore Show would be an all-time classic,” she said. “In the fourth season, I got a call one week, would I do that week’s Mary Tyler Moore Show, from casting. They wanted a happy homemaker who was a sickening, icky Betty White type.” The actress continues, “It sounded like a cute idea, and funny, because [Sue Ann] was just lovely on camera, she was so sweet, until the red light went off, and then she was a monster,” White said. “She was also the neighborhood nymphomaniac.”

Despite how well she performed in the role, Betty White remained humble about it all. She says the writers behind the show were the real rockstars. “The magic, of course, of the show,” she said, “was the writing. It takes a lot of cleverness to keep manipulating and keep making things fresh. Everybody worked together and the chemistry was, it became a unit.”

The show won White two Emmys, back to back. Taking home the honor two years in a row, it was truly a turning point for White. The wins lit up her passion for the arts and being a performer even more. “I was so excited, so happy. And so grateful,” she explains. “I started out as an actress in the business, but then I did game shows and talk shows. I became a “television personality.” So everybody was so surprised. ‘Why Betty can act, isn’t that amazing?’ It really did turn my career completely around.”

The Cast Shared An Emotional Goodbye

When it finally came time for the show to wrap, the cast was in emotional shambles. White says,

“We were all just devastated.” She elaborates, “Finally, the writers just couldn’t write the last scene. They just couldn’t do it. The last scene was missing [until the last day]. They brought it down. We read through it and we blocked it and we walked away from it. That last day [we were] all a mess. We had to be re-made up. And then we got into the show that night and just wept to pieces, so did the audience. By the time Ed Asner gets to, ‘I treasure you, people,’ I mean from then on, it’s underwater.”

Betty White and the impact of her career and art continue to live on through works like “The Mary Tyler Moore Show.”