If you were to determine who among the many actors or actresses that have graced the small screen should be considered a National Treasure, hands down it’s Betty White. For more than 70 years there has been a connection between her and Classic TV, and we’re not just referring to The Mary Tyler Moore Show, The Golden Girls or Hot in Cleveland.
Pretend you’ve got a time machine. Travel back 10 years, and there’s Betty on Hot in Cleveland. Twenty? She’s co-starring with Bob Newhart, Marie Osmond and Alfred Molina on three different series. Thirty? It’s Golden Girls time. How about 40? The Mary Tyler Moore Show. Admittedly, 50 years ago she wasn’t doing a lot of sitcom acting, but she was the queen of the game shows, including Password, where she met husband Allen Ludden. From there, set your destination for 60 years ago and you’ll find her hosting the daytime variety series The Betty White Show and, in the evenings, on the sitcoms Life With Elizabeth and Date With the Angels. And it was 70 years ago that she made her TV debut — following a successful stint on radio — as cohost of the daily variety show Hollywood on Television.
How’s that for a bit of TV legacy?
“You could make the case that Betty White was the original Madonna,” states TV historian Ed Robertson, host of the TV Confidential podcast/radio show and author of numerous books on a variety of shows. “She knew how to reinvent herself and has done so at least three times over that 70-something year career. I met her once and was not able to talk to her for very long, but I would imagine she would describe herself as a working actor who has been lucky enough to be working virtually nonstop for as long as she has. And that’s all any actor could hope for.”
Adds Mike Pingel, author of Betty White Rules the World, “People adore her, and I think it’s because she’s so real, she doesn’t do any BS and she’s a hoot to talk to, because she just says what she means and what she says is off the top of her head. No apologies, because it’s the truth.”
Recently, Betty White, 97, made headlines just by taking a walk in Santa Monica, California, and the paparazzi went nuts. “When has that ever happened?” laughs Jim Colucci, author of Golden Girls Forever: An Unauthorized Look Behind the Lanai. “First of all, when does anybody reach age 97 let alone get followed around and have their daily activities tracked like that? That’s the Golden Girls effect and all the other great things she’s done. Let’s face it: Betty won our hearts with the role of Rose, and that’s part of her appeal. Second, we all marvel at someone who defies age and, at 88, hosted Saturday Night Live, can talk like a trucker when we want her to for a joke and is also the sweet grandmotherly type. Here’s somebody we saw as a mother figure starting from the ’80s or earlier, and she’s still going strong. How much do we love that? So, when Betty goes out for a walk and the paparazzi get shots of her all made up and looking great at 97, that lifts everyone’s day.”
To continue having your day lifted, please scroll down to take a look back at each of Betty’s TV series.
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