My mother always used to say, the older you get, the better you get. Unless you’re a banana.Betty White as Rose Nylund on The Golden Girls
Before Betty White died on New Year’s Eve 2021 I had been wracking my brain about what to write in recognition of what was to be her 100th birthday. Tributes to her life and career are ongoing, and I almost feel as though it goes without saying how beloved she is. No matter how old you are Betty was always there. Whether hosting a game show or getting laughs on a sitcom, she has been a constant and comforting presence for so many years. Born on January 17, 1922, Betty was literally older than sliced bread, which was first sold in 1928. So on that note, in commemoration of a life well-lived, I present 100 facts about Betty White!
1. Betty was her legal name, not a shortened form of Elizabeth.
2. She was an only child and remained close with her parents throughout their lives.
3. Betty discovered her love of writing and performing while in high school when she wrote a play and also played the lead.
4. She also made her television debut in 1939 when she was in high school, singing songs with a friend from the operetta The Merry Widow.
5. During World War II Betty volunteered for the American Women’s Voluntary Services, driving a truck of military supplies in the Hollywood Hills.
6. When the war ended Betty started working in radio and hosted The Betty White Show in the late 1940s.
7. She began appearing on television in 1949 as a co-host of the variety show Hollywood on Television and took over hosting it by herself in 1952.
8. In 1951 she was nominated for her first Emmy award.
9. Betty then hosted her own daily television variety show, The Betty White Show, in 1952 until 1954.
10. She was the first woman to produce a sitcom in the United States, Life With Elizabeth, in 1953. The show ran until 1955.
11. ‘He stays’: Betty White refused to remove Black dancer, Arthur Duncan, from her show in 1954.
12. Beginning in 1955 Betty appeared frequently as a member of the celebrity panel on the game show, What’s My Line?.
13. Betty was also named the honorary Mayor of Hollywood in 1955.
14. From 1956 to 1974, she hosted the annual Tournament of Roses Parade for NBC.
15. After Life With Elizabeth ended, Betty starred in another sitcom, Date with the Angels, in 1957.
16. By the 1960s, Betty was a popular fixture on game shows and nighttime talk shows.
17. Betty played fictional Kansas Senator Elizabeth Ames Adams in the 1962 drama Advise & Consent, her feature film debut.
18. Betty married the love her life, Allen Ludden, in 1963 after meeting on the set of Password, one of the game shows he hosted.
19. Beginning in 1963 Betty also became a recurring panelist on the game show Match Game.
20. In 1966 Betty turned down hosting the offer to host NBC’s Today show because she didn’t want to move permanently to New York City.
21. Betty appeared and guest starred on many television shows throughout the 1970s, including The Carol Burnett Show and The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson.
22. In 1971, Betty hosted The Pet Set, a talk show for pets (and their celebrity owners).
23. She also hosted the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade from 1963 until 1972 alongside Lorne Greene of Bonanza fame.
24. From 1973 until 1977, Betty starred as Sue Ann Nivens on The Mary Tyler Moore Show.
25. She won two, back-to-back Emmy Awards in 1975 and 1976 for her role on the show.
26. Known for her work with the Los Angeles Zoo, Betty became a member of their board of trustees in 1974.
27. In 1977, Betty starred in her fourth sitcom, again titled The Betty White Show, alongside John Hillerman and Georgia Engel.
28. In 1978 she starred in the television movie, With This Ring, with John Forsythe.
29. She also appeared in the pilot for Snavely, an American spinoff of the popular British sitcom Fawlty Towers in 1978.
30. Betty and Allen appeared together on five episodes of The Love Boat in 1980.
31. In 1983, Betty became the first and only woman to win a Daytime Emmy Award in the category of Outstanding Game Show Host for the show Just Men!.
32. From 1983 to 1984, Betty had a recurring role playing Ellen Harper Jackson on Mama’s Family.
33. Of course, in 1985, Betty debuted as everyone’s favorite friend from St. Olaf, Rose Nylund, on The Golden Girls.
34. Betty remarked about the pilot: “It was a wonderful script. You read so many bad scripts. … For every good script, you read 10 bad ones, and that one was a knockout. It really was.”
35. She also said that she “didn’t have a clue” about how to play Rose at first.
36. Betty was 63 years old when the series began.
37. Contrary to popular belief, Betty was the oldest of the four actresses on The Golden Girls.
38. On The Merv Griffin Show in 1985, she shared that “if you keep your sense of humor and you try not to keep up with everything that’s young and be ‘hep,’ as they say, but just kind of stay interested in things, I don’t think age becomes a problem.”
39. She won an Emmy Award, for Outstanding Actress in a Comedy Series, for the first season of The Golden Girls, and continued to be nominated in that category every year of the show’s run.
40. Accepting her award wearing a beautiful lavender gown with puffed sleeves and sequin accents, Betty shared that working on The Golden Girls was “the happiest experience, and the most wonderful people it’s ever been my privilege to be with.”
41. Her favorite episode was “A Little Romance,” which also won the Emmy Award for Outstanding Writing in a Comedy Series.
42. Betty published her first book, Betty White In Person, in 1987. She found time to write several other books over the years, too.
43. A 1987 episode of the television show This Is Your Life featured a touching tribute to Betty.
44. In 1988, Betty and the other Golden Girls performed for Queen Elizabeth II and the Queen Mum in the Royal Variety Performance.
45. Betty also received a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame in 1988, right next to Allen’s.
46. She appeared on the game show Super Password in 1988 with her friends Lucille Ball and Carol Channing.
47. Bob Hope appeared in the “You Gotta Have Hope” episode thanks to a call from Betty.
48. She delightfully answered many questions about The Golden Girls and other aspects of her life and career in 1989 on A Conversation with Betty White.
49. Betty visited the campus of Minnesota’s St. Olaf College in 1992.
50. Of her time on The Golden Girls, Betty remarked, “It was just heaven. It was like being with your family every day.”
51. Betty continued her role as Rose Nylund on The Golden Palace and also guest starred as Rose on the Empty Nest and Nurses spinoffs.
52. Following the end of The Golden Palace, she also guest starred on other popular television shows like Suddenly Susan and wracked up more Emmy nominations.
53. Betty was inducted alongside Dick Van Dyke and others to the Television Academy Hall of Fame in 1995.
54. In 1996 she won the Emmy for Outstanding Guest Actress in a Comedy Series for her appearance as herself on an episode of The John Larroquette Show.
55. She starred alongside Marie Osmond and Craig Ferguson in sitcom Maybe This Time.
56. Betty took a turn in the horror film genre as foul-mouthed Mrs. Delores Bickerman in Lake Placid in 1999.
57. In 2000 she was the voice of Aunt Polly in an animated version of Tom Sawyer.
58. Betty appeared with her costars from The Mary Tyler Moore Show in a 2002 CBS special, 25 years after the last episode aired.
59. She shared that her favorite episode was “Sue Ann’s Sister.”
60. In 2003 Betty reunited with Bea Arthur and Rue McClanahan for The Golden Girls: Their Greatest Moments, a 90-minute special celebrating the show.
61. Betty was also profiled on a 2003 episode of Biography on A&E.
62. In 2004 Betty met Koko the gorilla while she was on the board of directors for The Gorilla Foundation.
63. Betty played the role of troublemaker Catherine Piper on The Practice in 2004.
64. She reprised the role on Boston Legal, remarking, “I love playing rotten ladies after all the years of people saying ‘I can’t stand Betty White. She’s so sweet.'”
65. Betty played the role of Ann Douglas on the soap opera The Bold and the Beautiful in 2006.
66. The Los Angeles Zoo honored Betty as an Ambassador to the Animals in 2006 with a bronze plaque at the gorilla exhibit.
67. She also supported the Morris Animal Foundation for over 50 years, “sponsoring more than 30 animal health studies to improve the health of cats, dogs, horses and multiple species of wildlife, including California sea otters and mountain gorillas,” among many other activities.
68. In 2008 the Television Academy honored Betty with an event celebrating her 60 years in television.
69. Betty starred alongside Sandra Bullock and Ryan Reynolds in the 2009 film The Proposal.
70. In press for the film Betty shared, “My life is divided absolutely in half–half is my animal work and half is show business. I have to stay in show business to pay for my animal charity work!”
71. In 2009 Betty attended the first D23 Expo where The Golden Girls were honored as Disney Legends.
72. Betty experienced a resurgence in popularity in 2010 when she starred in a Superbowl commercial for Snickers.
73. When asked by James Lipton on her appearance on Inside the Actors Studio what she would like to hear god say to her at the pearly gates if heaven exists, she answered, “Come on in, Betty. Here’s Allen!”
74. She also shared that “kindness” was her favorite word and “son of a bitch” was her favorite curse word.
75. From 2010 until 2015 Betty starred as Elka Ostrosky on the TV Land series Hot In Cleveland.
76. She won two Screen Actors Guild Awards for her performance on the show.
77. In 2010 at age 88 Betty became the oldest person to host Saturday Night Live thanks to a fan-generated Facebook campaign.
78. She had turned down previous offers to host the show because she was nervous about live TV and working from cue cards.
79. She ended up winning the Emmy Award for Outstanding Guest Actress in a Comedy Series for hosting SNL.
80. She was given the Screen Actors Guild Lifetime Achievement Award in 2010.
81. She was also named an honorary forest ranger by the U.S. Forest Service in 2010.
82. In 2012 Betty celebrated her 90th birthday with a television special on NBC, Betty White’s 90th Birthday: A Tribute to America’s Golden Girl.
83. Betty also returned to her roots in 2012 as the host of Betty White’s Off Their Rockers, a show in which older people pranked the younger generation.
84. She received three Emmy nominations for Outstanding Reality TV host from 2012 to 2014.
85. Betty won the Grammy Award for Best Spoken Word Album in 2012 for her recording of her book, If You Ask Me (And of Course You Won’t).
86. In 2013, the TV star earned the Guinness World Records title for longest TV career for an entertainer (female), spanning over 74 years of work in the industry.
87. The Los Angeles chapter of the American Association of Zoo Keepers made Betty an honorary zookeeper in 2013.
88. Betty was awarded the 2015 Daytime Emmy Award for Lifetime Achievement.
89. In 2015 she returned to SNL in a sketch on the show’s 40th anniversary special.
90. She also hosted Betty White’s Smartest Animals in America in 2015.
91. Betty is the only woman to have received an Emmy in all performing comedic categories, and also holds the record for longest span between Emmy nominations for performances—her first was in 1951 and her last was in 2014, a span of over 60 years.
92. In 2017 at age 95 she was the oldest person invited to become a member of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences.
93. She appeared with other Hollywood nonagenarians in the 2017 documentary If You’re Not In the Obit, Eat Breakfast.
94. Betty’s last public television appearance was in 2018 at the 70th Annual Emmy Awards where she received a standing ovation.
95. Her last film role was as the voice of the character Bitey White in Forky Asks A Question for Disney+.
96. The documentary, Betty White: First Lady of Television, was added to Netflix in 2020 and is now streaming on PeacockTV.
97. The Betty White Wildlife Fund provided $1 million to support the rescue, rehabilitation and release of animals after the devastating 2020 wildfires in Australia.
98. Betty recorded her final interview on December 20, 2021 for the Betty White: A Celebration movie.
99. Her 1977 Cadillac Seville, a gift from Allen and named Parakeet, is currently on view at the Antique Automobile Club of America Museum.
100. The Los Angeles Zoo created a special white rose garden in the Allen Ludden Plaza to honor Betty’s life and commitment to animal advocacy.
Not only was Betty the First Lady of Television, but I think she was most certainly the hardest working woman in showbiz as well! Her devotion to making us all laugh and her tireless work on behalf of animals will continue to be an inspiration. A new television special about her life, Celebrating Betty White: America’s Golden Girl, will air on NBC on January 31, 2022.