‘Golden Girls’: Why Betty White Said Her First Real TV Job Was Like ‘Television College’

by Courtney Blackann
'Golden Girls': Why Betty White Said Her First Real TV Job was Like 'Television College'
(Original Caption) Betty White, star of DuMont's Life with Elizabeth show.

We all know and love Betty White for her sweet nature and hilarious antics. She’s the kind of person we all strive to be at her age. However, before the “Golden Girls” actress was winning over the nation, she was thrown into the water with the sharks. It was sink to swim – metaphorically speaking.

When Betty White was getting into acting, she wasn’t coached about silly things like scripts. Mainly because there wasn’t one. In 1949, the actress was hired alongside Al Jarvis for a variety show titled “Hollywood on Television” with Al Jarvis. It wasn’t any regular variety show, however. It aired five hours a day, six days a week. But here’s the kicker – there was no script. White really had to cut her teeth there – but she’s grateful for it.

“Al was a great one to work with. He’d throw something at me, and I’d try to be there to bat it back. It was like going to television college. You don’t get that kind of experience today,” White said, according to a 2010 Cleveland Magazine interview.

“Golden Girls” Betty White Appears on SNL

White’s experience really helped prepare her to tackle improv. Perhaps that’s why her humor comes across so naturally. In 2010, she even became the oldest person to host “Saturday Night Live.” Though she practiced for the live show all week, White still got a bout of stage fright while appearing on the show.

Her agent made it a point to say he wouldn’t subject her to that kind of thing again during a 2018 PBS special Betty White: First Lady of Television.

The “Golden Girls” actress admitted it wasn’t necessarily a bad thing, however.

“It’s a lifesaver because the panic that sets in, you have to [counteract] and you have to get a handle on it in order to do what you’re doing. So the stage fright is what puts the edge, I think, on a performance,” White said.

White Says TV is Still Magical

While the actress recently celebrated her 99th birthday, she hasn’t lost her love of television acting. Though she’s been working more than half a century, White loves the simplicity of TV acting.

“I love it. The reason I love television so much is you’re not playing to a big audience, you’re not playing to thousands of people,” she said, adding that “You’re playing to two or three people at a time. So, that camera represents two or three people and I think that’s what keeps me fascinated with it. You feel like you really know those people and when you meet those people on the street, they really feel like they know you. I love it.”