The Life of Betty White

Betty White was “a warm and popular presence,” according to People Magazine, whose issue celebrating White’s 100th birthday, was published on December 29, 2021. White passed away peacefully just two days later in her Los Angeles home on December 31, 2021. Set to turn 100 on January 17, 2022, White was one of the few Hollywood actors whose career spanned nearly 70 years. White graced the screens of many TV shows and even radio programs starting in 1939. She lived a life full of successful acting and activism work, her most notable roles being on “The Mary Tyler Moore Show,” and “Golden Girls.”

Early Life

White was born in 1922 in a suburb adjacent to Chicago, Illinois called Oak Park. She was an only child born to an electrical engineer and a stay-at-home mother. At the age of two, White and her family relocated to Los Angeles, California, where she spent the rest of her childhood.

Right out of high school, White started an internship at her local radio station. Later, along with George Tibbles, White produced her own television show called “Life With Elizabeth,” making her one of the first female producers in Hollywood. Before her graduation from Beverly Hills High School in 1939, White took part in many productions put on by her school. For her senior year, she wrote the graduation play for her class and eventually starred in it. Out of high school, she volunteered with World War II efforts by driving a “PX Truck” and delivering supplies such as toothpaste, candy, and soap to soldiers in charge of the gun emplacements in the hills of Santa Monica, CA. In the midst of these efforts, she met her first husband, Dick Barker, with the marriage lasting less than a year. 

A few years later, White became involved with a local theater called the “Bliss-Hayden Little Theatre,” (now known as the “Beverly Hills Playhouse”) with a mission to encourage participation in the performing arts amongst the younger generation.  Her first show was “Dear Ruth,” a comedy about a young girl who poses as her sister while writing to a young World War II soldier, in hopes to find love. That performance led to her being discovered by Lane Allen, an actor turned talent agent. He encouraged her to pursue a career in acting. The two later married, but that marriage also ended in divorce.

Start of Her Television Career

In 1949, after a few years of starring on radio shows and working her way up, White began a career in on-screen acting. At the start of her career, she made frequent appearances on the “Tonight Show” with Jack Paar. White landed her first major television role on the “Mary Tyler Moore Show,” playing the beautiful, yet witty, Sue Ann Nivens. Her character was the co-worker and best friend of the protagonist, Mary Richards. White was the comedic relief that the show needed to succeed, leading White to win two Emmys for her dedication to her role. 

Perhaps the most controversial decision White ever made was on her own show “The Betty White Show,” when she invited black tap dancer Arthur Duncan to perform in front of her viewers. Despite many threats to cancel production on the show if White continued to let Duncan perform, she decided to stick with her gut and encourage his career. White continued to have Duncan on the show for the course of it’s one season run, before the show’s ultimate cancellation in 1954.

In the 1980s, White began her most remembered role as Rose Nylund in the series, “The Golden Girls.” Rose was the complete opposite of her previous role in “The Mary Tyler Moore Show,” allowing White to improve on her character development skills throughout the show’s seven year run. The show itself focused on a group of elderly friends sharing a home in Miami. White was able to pull off Rose’s younger age of 55, while she herself was 63. The show’s success proved to the world that even sitcoms that featured older actors can attract a large audience. 

White took a hiatus from sitcoms, but she did guest star in a handful of different shows. She became a regular on “The John Larroquette Show,” portraying herself, which led to her winning another Emmy for her performances. In 2009, she enjoyed a supporting role in Anne Fletcher’s “The Proposal,” and in 2010, she appeared in a candy bar Super Bowl ad, which allowed her career to take off once again. Due to that commercial, White was given the opportunity to host “Saturday Night Live,” that May. That same year, she returned to sitcom acting by signing onto “Hot in Cleveland.” From 2012-2017, she hosted “Betty White’s off Their Rockers,” a hidden camera show that featured pranks from an older generation unto those of the younger generation. White snagged an Emmy for her work in both the acting and the production of her successful run. As of recently, White participated in recurring roles on both “The Bold and The Beautiful,” and “Boston Legal.”


In White’s personal life, she was very involved with the Los Angeles Zoo and the Morris Animal Foundation, serving both for over 40 years. She stated, “I’m actually the luckiest old broad alive. Half my life is working in a profession I love and the other half is working with animals.” In 1974, she joined the Board of Trustees and Greater Los Angeles Zoo Association (GLAZA), and further encouraged donations and activism for animal rights. In 2012 as a nod to White’s efforts, the zoo named their newborn orangutan Elka, after her “Hot in Cleveland ” character. Eventually, the Los Angeles chapter of the American Association of Zoo Keepers named White one of their honorary zookeepers. In an interview with People, she said, “I always wanted to be a zookeeper when I was growing up, and I’ve wound up a zookeeper!” 

In 2011, after the release of her book “Betty & Friends: My Life at the Zoo,” White said, “Lots of people have the impression they don’t like zoos because animals shouldn’t be kept in captivity; they should be in their natural habitat. But what they don’t realize is that the zoos not only exhibit animals, but they work in that natural habitat to save small populations of endangered species. They save many animals from going extinct,” wrote People Magazine.

White received the James Smithson Bicentennial Medal, for her continued activism and assistance toward animal conservation, in 2017. Up until the day she died, she was extremely active in the zoo associations assisting hurt and endangered animals. Her activism shaped her life and her career, resulting in White being very well known for her efforts. In honor of White, many donation pages for animal shelters, zoos, and other animal facilities opened. On January 17, many participated in the “Betty White Donation Day,” by donating to their local animal shelters. 

Personal Life

In 1963, White married her third and final husband, Allen Ludden. White often described Luden as the love of her life. After denying his proposal at first, Ludden wore the engagement ring he bought for White around his neck. He was insistent on marrying her, she just wasn’t ready to marry again after two failed marriages. Eventually, she gave in and the two wed on June 14, 1963. They were together almost 18 years, but unfortunately, Ludden passed away in 1981, four days before their wedding anniversary. 

White decided to not marry again. She loved Ludden so much and she felt that she had found her soulmate, therefore there was no point in marrying again. In 2011, White told Anderson Cooper “I had the love of my life. I sure did. Allen Ludden… If you’ve had the best, who needs the rest?” 

Betty White was a beloved wife, actress, comedian, and animal rights activist. She was America’s queen of comedy, bringing many smiles to audiences throughout her life. Rest in peace, Ms. White.

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