‘Mary Tyler Moore Show’: Cloris Leachman Explained Her Pitch to Show to Add Betty White to Cast

by Will Shepard

Cloris Leachman played Phyllis Lindstrom on The Mary Tyler Moore Show for many years. She did a wonderful job playing the downstairs landlady, and most fans really enjoyed her performance. Even though she is recognized for her acting in the show, she had several other claims to fame.

Leachman was once assertive that she brought Betty White onto The Mary Tyler Moore Show. Even though this claim is refuted, Betty White ended up being an important character for the show. So, even if Leachman only played a small role in getting Betty White onto the show, it is still noteworthy.

In particular, Leachman says that she knew Betty White well enough to recruit her to the show. In fact, she was reportedly the biggest advocate of adding White to the cast. This would prove to be no small feat.

Betty White joined the show in 1973, three seasons after the initial episode of The Mary Tyler Moore Show had debuted. Nonetheless, the groundbreaking actress starred as Sue Ann Nivens for four years until the final season came to a close.

Cloris Leachman Claims She Brought Betty White to the “Mary Tyler Moore Show”

During an interview with Jenny Stewart, Cloris Leachman shared her take on why Betty White joined the Mary Tyler Moore Show. She even acknowledges that there is some controversy surrounding the reasons why Betty White joined the show. Nonetheless, she is adamant that she is the main reason why Betty White began playing Sue Ann Nivens.

Leachman is asked about what co-stars she didn’t like on the show. But, another co-star quickly tells her to choose her words carefully. “You and Betty are doing an interview together on Monday, so choose your words carefully!”

“I’m friends with Betty. Well, I feel like I’m responsible for her being on The Mary Tyler Moore Show.  Apparently, I’m not, but I thought I was. After the first season of Mary was a huge hit – and I was in The Last Picture Show, and Young Frankenstein, we asked if I could only be in the episodes where I was heavy in the show.”

As Leachman explains, she wasn’t on every episode, so there was a spot to be had on the Mary Tyler Moore Show. At the time, White was the hottest actress on the planet. So, who better to fill that opening than Betty White?

“You know, so I could be free the rest of the time to do other work. I suggested to them that they use Betty in the episodes when I wasn’t on, so I could go on shooting other things. And they did, so I thought I had a lot to do with that. But I think she and Mary were friends anyway, which is possible.”

Without Betty White on the Mary Tyler Moore Show, the last four seasons would have been much different.

Cloris Leachman sadly passed away on January 27, 2021.