Betty White is aging gracefully. The legendary comedian turns 99-years-old today with a career stretching over half a century-long. White made a name for herself with her kooky and zany characters and one of the warmest smiles in Hollywood.
While she’s known forever for “The Golden Girls,” White has had a prolific career with many different roles. Celebrate the actor’s birthday by taking a look back at some of her best moments.
Betty White Got Her Start in Radio
Born on Jan. 17, 1922, in Oak Park, Illinois, Betty Marion White wanted to be a star. But a movie executive told her she was too “unphotogenic” to make it in Hollywood. White sought to prove him wrong, launching one of the longest comedy careers in showbiz. (After all, she does hold the Guinness World Record for longest career for a female entertainer). The actress first got her start, not in motion pictures, but in radio. She would read for commercials.
But in 1939, White finally landed her first TV role, lending her vocals to “The Merry Widow.” But White put her career and dreams on hold during World War II. She joined the Voluntary Services of the American Women, delivering supplies across California.
In 1951, White earned the first Emmy nomination of her career with “Life With Elizabeth,” a show she also produced. It was a rarity at the time for a TV show to have a female producer. Not one to stick to convention, White actually co-founded Bandy Productions.
Meeting the Love of Her Life
White’s great love of her life was a TV personality, Allen Ludden. She had been married twice before, to an Army pilot and a Hollywood agent. But Ludden completely stole the actor’s heart when they married in 1963. She once told Larry King, “Once you’ve had the best, who needs the rest?”
Both White and Ludden also appeared on several TV series together, especially game shows such as “Password,” “The Odd Couple,” and “Match Game.” Ludden helped produce “The Pet Set” in the 1970s, which explored White’s passion for animals. The show featured a variety of creatures from the animal kingdom.
Ludden and White never had any children. But White did become stepmother to Ludden’s three children, and who wouldn’t want White as a stepmother? In 1981, Ludden died after a battle with stomach cancer. Grief-stricken, White never remarried after his death.
Betty White Stole Scenes on ‘The Mary Tyler Moore Show’
Between the 1950s and 1970s, White starred in a variety of roles. She appeared as Vicki Angel on the short-lived sitcom “Date with the Angels” in 1957. She hosted annual events like the “Tournament of Roses Parade” and even the “Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade.”
But in the 1970s, White had a break-out role on “The Mary Tyler Moore Show.” White lent her signature wit to Moore’s nemesis, Sue Ann Nivens.
Nivens was often conniving, judgmental, and crazy for whatever man crossed her path. The role earned White two Emmy’s and a ticket to a short-lived sitcom of her own.
After “The Betty White Show” was canceled, White rebounded appearing in several sketches on Johnny Carson’s “The Tonight Show.” Who could forget White in the iconic “Tarzan and the Apes” sketch in 1981? White certainly knew how to draw a laugh or two or multiple.
A game show earned White another Emmy, the first female to win the award in the game show category. White picked up the nickname “First Lady of Game Shows” as a result.
The 1980s gave White another iconic role. She appeared on the popular show “Mama’s Family” as Ellen Harper Jackson. The role would introduce her to her “Golden Girls” co-stars Rue McClanahan and Bea Arthur.
After three years on the show, White left to pursue other opportunities and ended up landing the biggest role of her career.
White Became Iconic in ‘The Golden Girls’
It’s hard to imagine but originally White was cast as the man-obsessed Blanche. It was a role similar to White’s character on the “Mary Tyler Moore Show” a decade prior.
Meanwhile, McClanahan would play the dimwitted but well-meaning Rose. But a casting director came to their senses and urged the two to switch roles.
“The Golden Girls” explored four women rooming together later in life or in their golden years. Through the lens of humor, it explored weighty topics like loneliness, growing older, and finding love. Running from 1985 to 1992, the show has been ranked as one of the best sitcoms ever made.
For her role, White won another Emmy and was nominated for four Golden Globe awards. In the years since, the rest of her co-stars have sadly passed away, making White the last surviving “Golden Girl.”
Continuing to Shock and Entertain
In the years since “The Golden Girls” ended, the actor has certainly been busy. She made multiple guest appearances on sitcoms like “Malcolm in the Middle,” “That ’70s Show,” and “Ally McBeal.”
With “Lake Placid,” White traded in her comedy for horror. She appeared as a kindly lady with a dark secret in a scene-stealing role that’s instantly iconic and probably the most memorable thing from that movie. From 2005 to 2008, White played secretary Catherine Pipe opposite James Spader on “Boston Legal.”
In 2009, White played one of her zanier roles in the romantic comedy “The Proposal,” and in 2010, she became the oldest guest to ever host “Saturday Night Live” after a fan campaign. That same year she also accepted a SAG Award for Lifetime Achievement.
White also appeared in a recurring role on “Hot in Cleveland.” At 89, she decided to prank kids with the hidden camera show “Off Their Rockers.”
The actress has remained popular with fans. After-all, few entertainers could say they won an Icon award at 93. But White did in 2015. She accepted the People’s Favorite TV Icon Award.
She also still knows how to shock her fanbase. Very few people predicted White would make out with movie star Bradley Cooper. But the two got steamy during a skit for “Saturday Night Live” 40th Anniversary Special.