Although she is probably best known for her iconic role as Sue Ann Nivens on the Mary Tyler Moore Show and as Rose on the classic The Golden Girls, the actress Betty White has led a long and illustrious career in both film and television. Although she is the last surviving original cast member of the original show, she shows no signs of stopping, continuing to act and maintain her status as a vocal advocate for the rights of animals.
White was born in 1922 in Oak Park Illinois. Her parents deliberately named her “Betty” rather than Elizabeth so as to avoid the numerous nicknames that go along with the latter name. Her family moved to the city of Los Angeles when she was young. Always a fan of acting and the imagination, White began her career in television in the 1950s, acting in a variety of local programs. She even managed to land her own series Life with Elizabeth in 1952, and went on to continue acting in numerous television series throughout the 1950s and 1960s. She was particularly well-known for her ability to do well on several game shows. In fact, she would end up marrying Allen Ludden, the host of Password (he was her third and final husband. Although her earlier marriages ended in divorce, she remained married to Ludden until his death in 1981.) She has never remarried since his death.
Although she had been a staple of the television industry since the 1950s, Betty White landed her famous role as Sue Ann Nivens, the lusty and conniving homemaker on the Mary Tyler Moore Show in the 1970s and would remain on the show until its final episode. This would go on to become one of her most famous role, overshadowed only by her success on the later The Golden Girls.
After the Mary Tyler Moore Show left the air, White took on the role of Ellen in the comedy Mama’s Family, where she would act with her Golden Girls co-star Rue McClanahan. After that series was canceled, she quickly became famous as the hopelessly naïve Minnesotan farm girl Rose Nylund on The Golden Girls.
Originally, the creators of the show had hoped to cast White in the role of Blanche, the southern sexpot, but during the casting process decided to have McClanahan and White switch roles. The chemistry was immediately seen to be phenomenal, and so the two women occupied the roles for which they would become so famous. In fact, White would reprise the character of Rose for several other series, including Empty Nest, Nurses, and The Golden Palace.
After her success in the 1980s, White continued acting throughout the 1990s and 2000s, appearing in numerous series and films including Lake Placid, Boston Legal, and Bringing Down the House. Throughout this time, she continued her tireless advocacy for the rights of animals, a role she continues to play to the present day.
In 2010, White’s career, which had never flagged, nevertheless received a boost when she appeared in a Snickers commercial during the Superbowl. This spawned a movement on Facebook to have her host Saturday Night Live, which was ultimately successful. Furthermore, she was also awarded the 46th Annual Screen Actor’s Guild Lifetime Achievement Award, which she accepted in January 2010. Her next series, Hot in Cleveland, is set to begin in Summer 2010.
Clearly, this extraordinary woman has had a diverse and eclectic career, and she is one of the the most long-lasting actresses in Hollywood. Although she is almost ninety, she has stated many times that acting is what she loves, and she will continue doing it for as long as she is able.
Sources and Further Information
The Biography Channel Entry on Betty White.
The IMDB Page on Betty White.