Betty Marion White (born January 17, 1922) is an American actress, comedian, presenter, singer, author and television personality. In 2013, the Guinness World Records awarded White with having the longest television career for a female entertainer. To contemporary audiences, White is best known for her television roles as Sue Ann Nivens on The Mary Tyler Moore Show and Rose Nylund on The Golden Girls. Since the death of co-star Rue McClanahan in 2010, she is the only surviving Golden Girl. She currently stars as Elka Ostrovsky in the TV Land sitcom Hot in Cleveland for which she has won two consecutive Screen Actors Guild Awards. She also hosted NBCs practical-joke show Betty White's Off Their Rockers which resulted in two Emmy nominations.
Regarded as a television pioneer for being one of the first women in television to have creative control in front of and behind the camera, White has gone on to win six Emmy Awards (five for acting), receiving 20 Emmy nominations over her career, including being the first woman to receive an Emmy for game show hosting (for the short-lived Just Men!) and is the only woman to have won an Emmy in all performing comedic categories. In May 2010, White became the oldest person to guest-host Saturday Night Live, for which she received a Primetime Emmy Award. White also holds the record for longest span between Emmy nominations for performances - her first was in 1951 and her most recent was in 2012, a span of 61 years - and has become the oldest nominee as of 2013, aged 91. The actress is also the oldest winner of a competitive Grammy Award, which she won in 2012.
Due to her legacy and continued success within the entertainment industry The American Comedy Awards, The Screen Actor Guild and the British Academy of Film and Television Arts have all awarded White with Lifetime achievement awards recognizing her contribution to television.
She has made regular appearances on the game shows Password and Match Game and played recurring roles on Mama's Family, Boston Legal, The Bold and the Beautiful, That '70s Show, and Community.
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 Beverly Hills 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.
White began her radio 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 as co-host with Al Jarvis on his daily, live variety show Hollywood on Television on KLAC in Los Angeles. White began hosting the show by herself in 1952 after Jarvis' departure, spanning five and a half hours of live ad-lib television six days per week over a contiguous four-year span altogether. In all of her various variety series over the years, White would sing at least a couple of songs during each broadcast. In 1950, Betty was nominated for her first Emmy Award as "Best Actress" on television, competing with such legendary stars as Judith Anderson, Helen Hayes, and Imogene Coca (the award went to Gertrude Berg). This was the very first award and category in the new Emmy history designated for women on television.
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. 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. Although several sources state White won an Emmy for the show this appears to be incorrect, and may be a matter of confusing the 1950 nomination with a win.
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 & Consent. It would be her only big-screen appearance for decades.
Betty White's greatest fame during the 1960s and early 1970s with the general public was likely from her long stint as hostess and commentator on the annual Tournament of Roses Parade broadcast on NBC, often co-hosting with Lorne Greene. White began a nineteen-year run as host on the program in 1956; NBC replaced her in 1975, feeling she was too identified with rival network CBS due to her new-found success on The Mary Tyler Moore Show. White admitted to People magazine it was difficult "watching someone else do my parade", although she soon would start a ten-year run as hostess of the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade for CBS.
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 celebrity guest 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 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 Starring Johnny Carson appearing in many sketches, and began guest-starring in a number of television movies and television miniseries, including With This Ring, The Best Place to Be, Before and After, and The Gossip Columnist.
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".
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 and the biggest hit of her career 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 Bea 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." 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.
White's career has been in revival throughout the first decades 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 was 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 at her side on the beach at Paradise Cove.
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 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.
A Betty White calendar for 2011 was published in late 2010. The calendar 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.
White has published 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, If You Ask Me (And of Course You Won't), was released in 2011. In December 2011, White received her first ever Grammy Award ("Best Spoken Word Recording") for the audio recording of the book.
A special Betty White's 90th Birthday Party aired on NBC a day before the star's birthday on January 16, 2012. The show featured appearances of many stars with whom White has worked over the years. Betty White's Off Their Rockers aired following the celebratory event, and returned in April 2012 as a recurring show which resulted in an Emmy nomination for Outstanding Host for a Reality or Reality-Competition Program. White’s success continued in 2012 with her first Grammy Award for a spoken word recording for her best seller If You Ask Me. She also won the UCLA Jack Benny Award for Comedy, recognizing her significant contribution to comedy in television, and was roasted at the New York Friars' Club. Hot In Cleveland continued its rating success, with White receiving her third consecutive Screen Actor's Guild Award nomination. In January 2013 NBC once again celebrated Betty White's birthday with a TV special featuring celebrity friends, including former president Bill Clinton; the special aired on February 5th.
White 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.
Betty White served as a presenter at the 2011 American Humane Association Hero Dog Awards ceremony at The Beverly Hilton Hotel on October 1, 2011 in Los Angeles.
In 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 1949.
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 her legal name was changed to 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 1974, 1975, and 1980.
Allen Ludden died from stomach cancer on June 9, 1981, in Los Angeles. They had no children together, though she is stepmother to his three children from his first marriage. White has not remarried since Ludden's death.
When asked about her real-life heroes, White told Vanity Fair, "Charles Darwin".
White is a practicing member of the Unity Church.
She is also a registered Democrat.
White has won six 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 Bea 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 January 2011, White received a SAG Award for Outstanding Performance by a Female Actor in a Comedy Series for her role as Elka Ostrovsky in Hot in Cleveland. The show itself was also nominated for an award as Outstanding Performance by an Ensemble in a Comedy Series, but lost to the cast of Modern Family. She won the same award again in 2012, and has received a third nomination.
A 2011 poll conducted by Reuters and Ipsos revealed that White was considered to be the most popular and most trusted celebrity among Americans, beating out the likes of Denzel Washington, Sandra Bullock, and Tom Hanks.
In October 2011, White was awarded an honorary degree and white doctors coat by Washington State University at the Washington State Veterinary Medical Association’s centennial gala in Yakima, Washington.
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