Hand color tinted photo of Betty White
Betty White Ludden (born January 17, 1922), better known as Betty White, is an American actress, comedian, author, and former game show host. She is best known to modern audiences for her television roles as Sue Ann Nivens on The Mary Tyler Moore Show and Rose Nylund on The Golden Girls. As of 2010, she is currently starring as Elka Ostrovsky in the TV Land sitcom Hot in Cleveland. She has also released several books over the span of her career. In August 2010, she entered a deal with G.P. Putnam Sons to produce two more books, the first of which is scheduled for release in 2011.
White has won seven Emmy awards and received 20 Emmy nominations over the course of her career, including being the first woman ever to receive an Emmy for game show hosting (for the short-lived Just Men!). In May 2010, White became the oldest person to guest-host Saturday Night Live, for which she also received a Primetime Emmy Award. She made regular appearances on the game shows Password and Match Game and played recurring roles on Mama’s Family, Boston Legal, and The Bold and the Beautiful.
She is recognized for her affiliation with animal charities such as Actors and Others for Animals and the Morris Animal Foundation. As of the death of Rue McClanahan in June 2010, White is the last surviving Golden Girl.
Early lifeBorn Betty Marion White in Oak Park, Illinois, on January 17, 1922, she is the daughter of Tess Curtis (née Cachikis), a homemaker, and Horace Lawrence White, a traveling salesman and electrical engineer. Her mother was of Greek, English, and Welsh descent, and her father was of Danish and English ancestry. White’s family moved to Los Angeles, California during the Great Depression. She attended Horace Mann School in Beverly Hills, California, and Beverly Hills High School. Hoping to become a writer, she wrote and played the lead in a graduation play at Horace Mann School and discovered her interest in performing.
1939–1979White began her television career in 1939, three months after high school graduation, when she and a classmate sang songs from The Merry Widow on an experimental Los Angeles channel. White found work modeling, and her first professional acting job was at the Bliss Hayden Little Theatre. White’s career was disrupted immediately, as World War II broke out, causing her to join the American Women’s Voluntary Services. In the 1940s, she worked in radio appearing on shows such as Blondie, The Great Gildersleeve and This Is Your FBI. She then got her own radio show, called The Betty White Show. In 1949 she began appearing with Al Jarvis on his daily, live variety show Hollywood on Television on KLAC in Los Angeles. White began hosting the show in 1952 after Jarvis’ departure.
In 1952, the same year she began hosting Hollywood on Television, White co-founded Bandy Productions with writer George Tibbles and Don Fedderson, a producer. The trio worked to create new shows using existing characters from sketches shown on Hollywood on Television. White, Fedderson and Tibbles created the television comedy Life With Elizabeth, based on a Hollywood on Television sketch. White portrayed the title character on the sitcom from 1952 to 1955, which effectively boosted her career. The show, which she co-produced, garnered White her first Emmy Award. Life With Elizabeth was nationally syndicated by the mid-1950s, allowing White to become one of the few women in television with full creative control in front of and behind the camera at the time.
In 1954, she briefly hosted and produced her own daily talk show, The Betty White Show, on NBC (not to be confused with her 1970s sitcom of the same name). Following Life with Elizabeth, she appeared as Vicki Angel on the sitcom Date with the Angels from 1957 to 1958. The show later became another variety series before going off the air. White performed in commercials seen on live television in Los Angeles, including a spirited rendition of the “Dr. Ross Dog Food” advertisement at KTLA during the 1950s.
She made her feature film debut as Kansas Senator Elizabeth Ames Adams in the 1962 drama, Advise and Consent.
Throughout the 1950s and 1960s, White appeared on a number of late night talkshows and daytime game shows, including Password. White made many appearances on the hit game show Password as a guest celebrity from 1961 through 1975. She married the show’s host, Allen Ludden, in 1963. She subsequently appeared on the show’s three updated versions Password Plus, Super Password, and Million Dollar Password, having been on versions of the game with five different hosts (Allen Ludden, Bill Cullen, Tom Kennedy, Bert Convy, and Regis Philbin). White made frequent game show appearances on What’s My Line? (starting in 1955), To Tell the Truth (in 1961 and in 1990), I’ve Got a Secret (in 1972–73), Match Game (1973–1982) and Pyramid (starting in 1982). Both Password and Pyramid were created by White’s friend, Bob Stewart. In 1983, she became the first woman to win a Daytime Emmy Award in the category of Outstanding Game Show Host, for the NBC entry Just Men!. Due to the amount of work she has done on them, she has been deemed the “First Lady of Game Shows.”
In 1973, White made a guest appearance in season four of The Mary Tyler Moore Show as The Happy Homemaker. As a result of her guest appearance, White landed her most significant role at that point as the sardonic, man-hungry Sue Ann Nivens, The Happy Homemaker, on The Mary Tyler Moore Show as a full time cast member. The running gag was that Sue Ann’s hard-edged private personality was the complete opposite of how she presented herself on her show. “We need somebody who can play sickeningly sweet, like Betty White,” Moore herself suggested at a production meeting, which resulted in casting White herself. White won two back-to-back Emmy Awards for her role in the hugely popular series.
Following that show’s end in 1977, she was given her own sitcom on CBS, The Betty White Show, during the 1977–78 season, in which she co-starred with John Hillerman and former Mary Tyler Moore co-star Georgia Engel. It was canceled after one season. White appeared several times on the Tonight Show With Johnny Carson appearing in many sketches, and began guest-starring in a number of television movies and television miniseries, including With This Ring, The Place to Be, Before and After, and The Gossip Columnist.
From 1983 through 1985, she had a recurring role playing Ellen Harper Jackson on the series Mama’s Family, along with future Golden Girls co-star Rue McClanahan. White had originated this character in a series of sketches on The Carol Burnett Show in the 1970s. When Mama’s Family was picked up in syndication after being canceled by NBC in 1985, White left the show (with the exception of one final appearance in the show’s syndicated version in 1986).
In 1985, she scored her second signature role as the St. Olaf, Minnesota-native Rose Nylund on The Golden Girls. The series chronicled the lives of four widowed or divorced women in their “golden years” who shared a home in Miami. The Golden Girls, which also starred Beatrice Arthur, Estelle Getty, and Rue McClanahan, was immensely successful and ran from 1985 through 1992. White won one Emmy Award, for Outstanding Actress in a Comedy Series, for the first season of The Golden Girls and was nominated in that category every year of the show’s run (the only cast member to receive that distinction — Getty was also nominated every year, but in the supporting actress category). When Beatrice Arthur left in 1992, White, McClanahan, and Getty reprised their roles Rose, Blanche, and Sophia in the spin-off The Golden Palace. The series was short-lived, lasting only one season. In addition, White reprised her Rose Nylund character in guest appearances on the NBC shows Empty Nest and Nurses, both of which were set in Miami.
White was originally offered the role of Blanche in The Golden Girls, and Rue McClanahan was offered the role of Rose (the two characters being similar to roles they had played in Mary Tyler Moore and Maude, respectively). Jay Sandrich, the director of the pilot, suggested that since they had played similar roles in the past, they should switch roles, Rue McClanahan later said in a documentary on the series. White was originally scared to play Rose, feeling that she would not be able to play the role—until the show’s creator took her aside and told her not to play Rose as stupid but to play her as someone “terminally naive, a person who always believed the first explanation of something.” Following the death of McClanahan, and despite being the eldest of the four women, White is the only surviving regular cast member, following the deaths of Estelle Getty in July 2008, Bea Arthur in April 2009, and Rue McClanahan in June 2010.
After The Golden Girls ended, White guest-starred on a number of television programs including Ally McBeal, The Ellen Show, My Wife and Kids, That ’70s Show, Everwood, Joey, and Malcolm in the Middle. She received Emmy Award nominations for her appearances on Suddenly Susan, Yes, Dear and The Practice. She won an Emmy in 1996 for Outstanding Guest Actress in a Comedy Series, appearing as herself on an episode of The John Larroquette Show. In that episode, titled “Here We Go Again”, a spoof on Sunset Boulevard, a diva-like White convinces Larroquette to help write her memoirs. In one bit, Golden Girls co-stars McClanahan and Getty appear as themselves. Larroquette is forced to dress in drag as Beatrice Arthur, when all four appear in public as the “original” cast members. White comically envisions her Rose as the central character with the other cast members as mere supporting players.
The actress has lent her voice to several animated shows, including The Simpsons, King of the Hill, The Wild Thornberrys, Family Guy and Father of the Pride. In 1999, she had a supporting role in the monster film Lake Placid, as a widow who later is revealed to have raised the giant crocodile (which accidentally ate her husband).
White’s career has been in revival throughout the first decade of the 2000s, and her continuing cultural relevance is reflected in the numerous television and film projects she has been a part of. In December 2006, White joined the soap opera The Bold and the Beautiful in the role of Ann Douglas, the long-lost mother of the show’s matriarch Stephanie Forrester, who is played by Susan Flannery. In February 2007, White returned as Ann, who had an intent to move to Los Angeles to be near her daughters. The characters of Ann and Pamela Douglas (Alley Mills) disappeared after their March 27, 2007, appearance and were not mentioned again until October 19, 2007, when Ann appeared briefly. White would go on to appear in three more episodes following that, one on December 10, 2007; August 28, 2008; and October 28, 2008. She returned to the show on November 18, 2009 and in the November 19, 2009 episode her character revealed that she was dying of advanced pancreatic cancer. To date she has made 22 appearances as Ann Douglas. In the November 23, 2009 episode Ann passes away due to complications from her illness, with both of her daughters next to her on the beach at Paradise Cove.
In the broadcast of the 2007 TV Land Awards, White starred in a parody of Ugly Betty, aptly titled Ugly Betty White, in which she played America Ferrera’s title character, with Charo playing White’s sister Hilda, and Erik Estrada playing her father Ignacio. Her performance earned her a part on Ugly Betty as herself, the victim of Wilhelmina Slater’s temper as they vie for a cab in the episode “Bananas for Betty”, which aired December 6, 2007.
White had a recurring role in ABC’s Boston Legal from 2005 to 2008 as the calculating, blackmailing gossip-monger Catherine Piper, a role she originally portrayed as a guest star on The Practice in 2004.
White appeared as a roaster on the Comedy Central Roast of William Shatner in 2006. On May 19, 2008, White appeared on The Oprah Winfrey Show, taking part in the host’s Mary Tyler Moore Show reunion special alongside every surviving cast member of the series.
She was honored at the Sixth Annual TV Land Awards with the Pop Culture Award on June 8, 2008. She accepted it along with co-stars Bea Arthur and Rue McClanahan.
White returned to Password in its latest incarnation, Million Dollar Password, on June 12, 2008, (episode #3), participating in the Million Dollar challenge at the end of the show. Her quick correct responses helped the contestant win $100,000. White returned to the show again on December 28, 2008 (episode #9), helping the contestants win $25,000 each. White has made a number of appearances in skits on The Late Late Show with Craig Ferguson, playing the part of an Exxon representative, a Girl Scout, an accountant with a briefcase full of cocaine, a nurse who just got her medical license from El Salvador, a newspaper delivery girl, a prison guard, and an Apple representative. She appeared as herself with a shoe box full of receipts, explaining that she was doing her taxes. She appeared as herself to promote Together: A Story of Shared Vision by her and Tom Sullivan. On July 18, 2008, she appeared on The Tonight Show with Jay Leno in a skit entitled “Can You Make Betty White Flinch.”
White guest starred as the “Witch Lady” on an episode of My Name is Earl, and starred on Chelsea Handler’s late night show Chelsea Lately. Some of her other most recent television credits in the 2000s include Stealing Christmas, Annie’s Point and The Retrievers. Her film credits in the late 1990s and early 2000s included Hard Rain, Dennis the Menace Strikes Again and Bringing Down the House, in which she co-starred with Steve Martin and Queen Latifah.
White appeared in the 2009 motion picture The Proposal with Sandra Bullock and Ryan Reynolds. White provided the English-language voice of Yoshie in the anime film Ponyo, which was released in Japan in 2008 and in the United States and Canada on August 14, 2009. She co-starred with Kristen Bell in the 2010 film, You Again.
White appeared alongside Abe Vigoda in an advertisement for Snickers during the 2010 Super Bowl XLIV. The ad won the top spot on the USA Today Super Bowl Ad Meter.
A grassroots campaign on Facebook called “Betty White to Host SNL (Please)” began in January 2010. The group was approaching 500,000 members when NBC confirmed on March 11, 2010 that White would in fact host Saturday Night Live on May 8. The appearance made her, at age 88, the oldest person to host the show, beating out Miskel Spillman, the winner of SNL’s “Anybody Can Host” contest, who was 80 when she hosted in 1977. The May 8 SNL episode garnered the show’s highest ratings since November 1, 2008, when Ben Affleck hosted. In her opening monologue, White thanked Facebook and joked that she “didn’t know what Facebook was, and now that I do know what it is, I have to say, it sounds like a huge waste of time.” The appearance earned her a 2010 Primetime Emmy Award for Outstanding Guest Actress In A Comedy Series, her seventh Emmy win overall.
In June 2010, White took on the role of Elka Ostrovsky the house caretaker on TV Land’s original sitcom Hot in Cleveland, now in its second season.
In July 2010, it was announced that she posed for her own calendar for the year 2011; the calendar also features photos from her career and her pictured with various animals. She also debuted her own clothing line on July 22, 2010, which features shirts with her face on them. All proceeds will also go to various animal charities she supports.
She guest-starred in the second-season premiere of NBC’s Community as an anthropology professor. In 2010 she also guest starred in The Middle & 30 Rock. She also will have a role in Operation Secret Santa, the sequel to Prep & Landing and the second installment in Disney’s “Lanny and Wayne” franchise.
Betty also starred in the Hallmark Hall of fame presentation of The Lost Valentine on January 30, 2011. This presentation garnered the highest rating for a Hallmark Hall of Fame presentation in the last four years and according to the Nielsen Media Research TV rating service won first place in the prime time slot for that date.
CharityWhite is a pet enthusiast and animal health advocate who works with a number of animal organizations, including the Los Angeles Zoo Commission, the Morris Animal Foundation, and Actors & Others for Animals. Her interest in animal rights and welfare began in the early 1970s while she was both producing and hosting the syndicated series, The Pet Set, which spotlighted celebrities and their pets.
As of 2009, White is the president emerita of the Morris Animal Foundation, where she has served as a trustee of the organization since 1971. She has been a member of the board of directors of the Greater Los Angeles Zoo Association since 1974. Additionally, White served the zoo association as a Zoo Commissioner for eight years.
According to the Los Angeles Zoo & Botanical Garden’s “ZooScape” Member Newsletter, White hosted “History on Film” from 2000 to 2002. White donated nearly $100,000 to the Zoo in the month of April 2008 alone.
Personal lifeIn 1945, White married Dick Barker, a U.S. Army Air Corps pilot. The marriage was short-lived. In 1947, she married Lane Allen, a Hollywood agent. This marriage ended in divorce in 1953.
On June 14, 1963, White married television host and personality Allen Ludden, whom she had met on his game show Password as a celebrity guest in 1961, and is legally known as Betty White Ludden. He proposed to White at least twice before she accepted. The couple appeared together in an episode of The Odd Couple featuring Felix’s and Oscar’s appearance on Password. Ludden appeared as a guest panelist on Match Game, with White sitting in the audience. (She was prompted to criticize one of Ludden’s wrong answers on camera during an episode of Match Game ’74). The two appeared together on the Match Game panel in 1975.
Ludden died from stomach cancer on June 9, 1981, in Los Angeles. They had no children together. White has not remarried since Ludden’s death.
When asked about her real-life heroes White told Vanity Fair, “Charles Darwin.”
Awards, honors and nominations
White has won seven Emmy Awards, three American Comedy Awards (including a Lifetime Achievement Award in 1990), and two Viewers For Quality Television Awards. She was inducted into the Television Hall of Fame in 1995 and has a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame at 6747 Hollywood Boulevard alongside the star of her late husband Allen Ludden.
White was the recipient of the Pacific Pioneer Broadcasters Golden Ike Award and the Genii Award from the American Women in Radio and Television in 1976. The American Comedy Awards awarded her the award for Funniest Female in 1987 as well as the Lifetime Achievement Award in 1990. She was formally inducted into the Academy of Television Arts & Sciences Hall of Fame in 1995. In 2009, White received the Career Achievement Award from the Television Critics Association.
The American Veterinary Medical Association awarded White with its Humane Award in 1987 for her charitable work with animals. The City of Los Angeles further honored her for her philanthropic work with animals in 2006 with a bronze plaque near the Gorilla Exhibit at the Los Angeles Zoo. The City of Los Angeles named her “Ambassador to the Animals” at the dedication ceremony.
In September 2009, the Screen Actors Guild (SAG) announced plans to honor White with the Screen Actors Guild Life Achievement Award at the 16th Screen Actors Guild Awards. Sandra Bullock presented White with the award on January 23, 2010, at the ceremony, which took place at the Shrine Auditorium in Los Angeles. She is a Kentucky Colonel. In 2009, White and her now deceased Golden Girls cast mates Beatrice Arthur, Rue McClanahan and Estelle Getty were awarded honorary Disney Legend awards. Betty was inducted into the California Hall of Fame in December 2010. In 2010 she was chosen as the Associated Press’s Entertainer of the Year.
On November 9, 2010, the USDA Forest Service along with Smokey Bear made actress Betty White an honorary forest ranger, fulfilling her lifelong dream. White said in previous interviews that she wanted to be a forest ranger as a little girl but that women were not allowed to do that then. Today’s United States Forest Service is 38 percent female, including rangers, scientists and leaders at every level.
In December 2010, White received a SAG Award nomination for Outstanding Performance by a Female Actor in a Comedy Series for her role as Elka Ostrovsky in Hot In Cleveland and the show itself also received a nomination for Outstanding Performance by an Ensemble in a Comedy Series.
People’s Choice Awards2011 – Favorite TV Guest Star – Community
2011 – Favorite Web Celeb
Golden Globe Award1985-8 – Best Performance by an Actress in a Television Series Musical or comedy – The Golden Girls (nominated)
SAG Awards2010 – Screen Actors Guild Life Achievement Award
2011 – Outstanding Performance by a Female Actor in a Comedy Series (Hot in Cleveland as Elka Ostrovsky)
Emmy Award1951 – Best Actress (KLAC)
1975-6 – Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Comedy Series – The Mary Tyler Moore Show
1984 – Outstanding Game Show Host – Just Men!
1986 – Outstanding Lead Actress in a Comedy Series – The Golden Girls
1987-1992 – Outstanding Lead Actress in a Comedy Series – The Golden Girls (nominated)
1996 – Outstanding Guest Actress in a Comedy Series – The John Larroquette Show
2003 – Outstanding Guest Actress in a Comedy Series – Yes, Dear(nominated)
2004 – Outstanding Guest Actress in a Drama Series – The Practice(nominated)
2009 – Outstanding Guest Actress in a Comedy Series – My Name Is Earl (nominated)
2010 – Outstanding Guest Actress in a Comedy Series – Saturday Night Live
MTV Movie Awards2010 – Best Comedic Performance – The Proposal (nominated)
2010 – Best WTF Moment – The Proposal (nominated)