Betty White on ‘The Mary Tyler Moore Show’: Her Best Moments

by Suzanne Halliburton
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Betty White probably is known most for playing the very naive, but loveable Rose Nylund on the Golden Girls. But did you know her a character was a near 180 on The Mary Tyler Moore Show?

Betty White was Sue Ann Nivens, the host of WJM’s Happy Homemaker Show, for four seasons of the series. The part initially was supposed to be for one episode. But Betty White was too brilliant not to keep around. Sue Ann was the perky, perfect housewife on air. Think of her as someone with the mad cooking/crafting skills of an old-school Martha Stewart. Off it, she was an acerbic, catty, man-crazy backstabber. And boy was she hot for Lou Grant. Secretly, Sue Ann also was a bit jealous of Mary. She viewed her as competition for men. And Mary was younger, too.

In a teleconference with reporters before she hosted Saturday Night Live, Betty White talked of her love for Sue Ann and whether the character ever could return. She said:

“And of course I love Sue Ann. She was so rotten. The neighborhood nymphomaniac. I would love to bring her back for a minute, but I don’t know if that would be legally possible.”

Betty White Was Brilliant in Her First Episode

On her very first episode, Betty White immediately established herself as a formidable character. She was a guest at one of Mary’s parties. Phyllis Lindstrom’s never-seen husband Lars gave her a ride home. Phyllis soon realized that Lars returned home with cleaner clothes than when he left.

So Phyllis forced Mary to do some work-place mediation for a non-work problem. Meanwhile, Sue Ann was taping her show. She was carefully baking a chocolate souffle, a desert she called her “baby.” Phyllis told her all of Lars’ crazy shortcomings. And Sue Ann, who doesn’t deny the affair, tells her “nothing you said will ever change my mind about Lars.”

So Mary gives it to her straight, threatening her, “it’s either Lars of the show.” Sue Ann was nothing if not ambitious. She says “if you put it that way, Mary, there are ladies out there who need me.”

Phyllis gets her revenge. She slammed the oven door, which made the souffle fall. Then, she innocently asked Sue Ann “do you know how to remove chocolate stains?” Of course, Sue Ann does. She’s the perfect homemaker. So Phyllis flings chocolate on Sue Ann’s, white apron.

Now that’s a way to introduce a character.

Do Tell: Did Sue Ann Ever Hook Up With Lou Grant?

Here’s another Sue Ann highlight. The episode was called “Once I Had a Secret Love.” And yes, it’s what you think it is. Sue Ann finally landed her man. Lou was all liquored up and no longer immune to Sue Ann’s moves. As the kids say, the two hooked up at Sue Ann’s place. Lou confessed the one-night stand to Mary, but swears her to secrecy. And Mary can’t keep a secret. So she tells Murray. Meanwhile, Sue Ann doesn’t want it to be secret.

Lou was involved with another Sue Ann highlight. It was about that time the two went out on a date. The episode was called “The Happy Homemaker Takes Lou Home.” Sue Ann wants Mary to help make the date happen. But Mary is more worried about her interview with Prince Charles, who then cancels. Sue Ann does get her kiss. The chemistry is real.

In the final season of the series, the TV station canceled The Happy Homemaker. Sue Ann needed to do other work. She did voice overs. She worked as a production assistant to Mary on the nightly news. And then, in the series finale, Sue Ann and a bunch of other characters got a pink slip. But never fear, Sue Ann knew how to land on her feet. She found a job as companion and nurse for a wealthy, older man.

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