Betty White Before Acting: What Did the Successful Actress and Comedienne Do Before the Big Screen?

by Emily Morgan

Betty White is the original Queen of comedy. She’s long since been recognized as a trailblazer for women comics and actors we see today. During her decades-long career, she worked her way up, first starting in radio until she landed on the big screen.

Before she became a household name, thanks to shows like “The Mary Tyler Moore Show” and “Golden Girls,” Betty White wanted to work in wildlife. White garnered her love for animals after her family took numerous trips to Sierra Nevada. Her family also instilled in her a love for pets. At one point, the White family had over 20 dogs as pets. After she graduated high school in 1939, White set her sights on becoming a forest ranger. Unfortunately, she couldn’t land a job in the field because women were not allowed to serve as rangers.

To fall back on something else, White pursued writing. She wrote and played the lead in a play at Horace Mann School, where she first learned of her interest in performing.

America’s Sweetheart: Betty White Volunteers During WWII

As Betty White began her pursuit in entertainment, World War II had already started. In response to this, the aspiring actress put her dream on hold and volunteered for the American Women’s Voluntary Services. Before showing up on people’s television screens, White transported military supplies to the temporary army camps outside of Hollywood. However, her volunteering didn’t stop there. After her shift, White would perform dances for the troops before being deployed to another station.

After her time volunteering during the war, Betty White finally got her Hollywood start— however, it wouldn’t be on camera. Her first paying job in entertainment included reading radio advertisements and creating crowd noises. Radio disc jockey Dick Haynes asked White if she’d work on a television special alongside him. Even though White didn’t get paid for her time, the gig led to a call from disc jockey, Al Jarvis. Jarvis asked her to be his sidekick on “Hollywood on Television” in 1949. She began appearing on his live television variety show “Hollywood on Television,” on KFWB and KCOP-TV in Los Angeles.