New Year in a World at War

The First World War was an unprecedented catastrophe that shaped our modern world. Erik Sass is covering the events of the war exactly 100 years after they happened. This is the 161st installment in the series.

December 31, 1914-January 1, 1915: New Year in a World at War

“What does this New Year which rises before us, veiled like Isis and as enigmatic as the Sphinx, hold concealed in its cloak? Of what are our great military chiefs and politicians thinking? What decisions will they come to about us?” This entry from a Frenchwoman’s diary captured the sense of anxiety and helplessness felt by ordinary Europeans as the year 1914 drew to a close, bringing down the curtain on a world in upheaval. Elsewhere the young British poet Roland Leighton described the scene in London’s Piccadilly Circus in a letter to his girlfriend Vera Brittain:

"There was very little demonstration; two Frenchmen standing up in a cab singing the ‘Marseillaise’; a few women and some soldiers behind me holding hands and softly humming ‘Auld Lang Syne.’ When twelve o’clock struck there was only a little shudder among the crowd and a distant muffled cheer and then everyone seemed to melt away again, leaving me standing there with tears in my eyes and feeling absolutely wretched."

Indeed, as 1914 drew to a close there was nothing to celebrate. In just five months the worst manmade catastrophe ever to befall Europe had undone centuries of progress, stripping away illusory notions of reason, honor, and glory as it tore up treaties, targeted civilians, desecrated cultural heritage, and tested new methods of anonymous mass destruction. When the war began many believed it would be over by Christmas, but now that seemed like a bad joke. A German soldier, Herbert Sulzbach, wrote in his diary: “This terrible war goes on and on, and whereas you thought at the start that it would be over in a few weeks, there is now no end in sight. Your feelings harden, you become increasingly indifferent, you don’t think about the next day any more…”

Sulzbach and Leighton were just two among millions of young men wrenched from their ordinary day-to-day lives and plunged into the cauldron of war. On the Allied side, by December 1914 France had mobilized 4.8 million men, Russia 6.6 million men, and Britain 1.4 million men, for a total of around 13.8 million troops under arms (when Serbian, Belgian, and Montenegrin forces are included). Opposing them in the Central Powers, Germany had mobilized 4.4 million men, Austria-Hungary 3.4 million men, and the Ottoman Empire 500,000 men, for a total of around 8.3 million troops under arms.

The casualties inflicted in the opening war of maneuver and the first months of trench warfare, culminating on the Western Front in the inferno of Ypres, were nothing short of mindboggling. On the Allied side, Britain’s total losses of around 100,000 men, including 16,374 dead, were only the tip of the iceberg. While estimates vary, by the end of December 1914 France may have suffered almost a million casualties, including 306,000 killed, 220,000 taken prisoner, and 490,000 wounded, and Russian losses were even worse. At Tannenberg alone the Russians lost 30,000 killed and missing, 50,000 wounded, and 90,000 taken prisoner; by the end of December 1914 total Russian casualties came to around 1.8 million – half its prewar strength – including 396,000 dead, 485,000 taken prisoner, and countless wounded.

The Central Powers suffered comparable losses. German casualties also came to about a million, including 241,000 dead, 155,000 taken prisoner, and 540,000 wounded, while Austria-Hungary – its pre-war army all but destroyed by multiple debacles on the Eastern Front and in the Balkans – suffered over 1.3 million casualties, including around 145,000 killed, 485,000 wounded, 412,000 missing or taken prisoner, and 283,000 sick or injured (the last figure reflecting the looming menace of typhus, one of the war’s worst nonhuman killers).

Tallying these figures, across Europe over 1.1 million young men had already died by the end of December 1914, roughly twice the number killed on both sides in the four years of the American Civil War. Shocked by the magnitude of losses produced by modern warfare, all the belligerent governments were frantically recruiting or drafting more young men to fill the gaps.

Financing the Fighting

While leftwing conspiracy theorists accused Europe’s financial and industrial elites of somehow engineering the war for private gain, in fact it was generally a disaster for business interests (on top of its obvious human costs). On that note the Welsh Liberal politician David Lloyd George, hardly a conservative plutocrat, later dismissed the idea that bankers and businessmen wanted war, recalling:

"I was Chancellor of the Exchequer and, as such, I saw Money before the war; I saw it immediately after the outbreak of war; I lived with it for days, and did my best to steady its nerve, for I knew how much depended on restoring its confidence; and I say that Money was a frightened and trembling thing: Money shivered at the prospect. It is a foolish and ignorant libel to call this a financiers’ war."

For governments accustomed to (mostly) sound fiscal management, the massive expense meant a sudden free fall into staggering debt. By early October the French Finance Ministry announced it had already advanced over two billion francs, or around $420 million in contemporary U.S. dollars, for the war effort, which it estimated was costing $7 million per day. A little over a month later, in mid-November, British Prime Minister Herbert Asquith told Parliament the war was costing Britain around £1 million or $5 million per day, and Lloyd George, asking Parliament to approve a budget with an initial loan of $1.75 billion, estimated the first year of war would cost $2.25 billion. By the end of the year the first British war loan, financed by selling bonds to ordinary Britons, was “oversubscribed” to the tune of $3 billion, reflecting the country’s patriotic fervor.

Meanwhile by mid-November the Russian Finance Ministry estimated that the war had cost Russia around 43 billion rubles, or nearly $900 million, and a first loan for $250 million was floated on November 1; the ministry also proposed a new income tax to offset borrowing. In Germany, on October 22 the regional parliament of Prussia, the largest German state, voted an initial war credit of around $375 million, and on December 1 the German Reichstag voted an additional war credit of $100 million – notably with the support of most of the leftwing Social Democrats, abandoning their traditional pacifism.

Bank of America

This was only the beginning: as the war went on, all the belligerent nations would accumulate mountains of debt by borrowing from their own people as well as foreign banks and governments. Predictably Paris and St. Petersburg immediately tapped London, the world financial capital, for loans, but it wasn’t long before all three Allies were turning to the world’s new economic powerhouse, the United States, for financing. (Germany and Austria-Hungary were effectively cut off from American trade and finance by the Allied blockade.)

As early as August, France was approaching American bankers in New York for loans, although the pacifist Secretary of State William Jennings Bryan, concerned to preserve U.S. neutrality, voiced his disapproval when J.P. Morgan asked him Washington’s position on lending to belligerents. On October 18 Russian finance minister Sergei Witte officially notified U.S. ambassador Charles Wilson that he would be traveling to the U.S. to arrange loans; London banks, backed by the British government, also helped secure loans from New York on behalf of the Allies.

At the same time, British and French governments were forced to sell overseas assets (and compelled their own banks and businesses to do the same) to secure currency, especially U.S. dollars, for purchases of foreign goods. Thus Britain’s total stock of foreign direct investment around the world fell from around £4.3 billion in 1914 to £3.1 billion by 1919, and British interests liquidated about $2 billion of American securities to buy U.S. products (mostly weapons). Over the same period the total stock of French FDI around the world fell by a third, from around 45 billion francs in 1914 to 30 billion francs in 1918.

These retreats translated into less leverage for Britain and France financial interests and more leverage for their American counterparts, which in many cases benefited by picking up British and French assets on advantageous terms. As total foreign-controlled FDI in the U.S. fell from around $7.2 billion in 1914 to $4 billion in 1919, American private FDI abroad almost doubled from $3.5 billion to $6.1 billion. In other words, the First World War converted the United States from a net recipient of investment to a net investor in other countries – foreshadowing its role as a leader in globalization.

Meanwhile the New York Stock Exchange, closed in the early days of the war, reopened for limited trading on December 12, 1914, with no evidence of panic selling (European counterparts were also opening their doors again, led by the Paris Bourse on December 7 and the London Stock Exchange on January 4). Although foreign trade was disrupted in the short term, far-sighted American investors were already anticipating huge gains as the Allies turned to America for food, fuel, and armaments – paid for, as often as not, with American loans.

Already in September 1914 the French government had placed a huge contract with Chicago-based meatpackers Armour & Co., calling for the delivery of one million pounds of meat per day for a year, and in October the French Army ordered 600 trucks from a Cleveland firm. That same month the British government ordered two million army blankets from a company in West Virginia, followed by another four million in November. In early December the Allies placed additional food contracts worth $32.5 million in Chicago, and towards the end of the month France and Russia placed orders for 65,000 tons of steel with American manufacturers.

U.S., Britain Clash over Blockade

Even as American firms benefited from Allied contracts, diplomatic tensions were rising between Washington and London over the de facto British blockade of the Central Powers, which saw the Royal Navy stopping and searching American ships and occasionally seizing cargoes deemed contraband. As early as August 6, 1914, the U.S. demanded that both sides abide by the 1909 Declaration of London concerning the Laws of Naval War, which defined contraband and protected neutral shipping – but the treaty had never been ratified by any of its signatories, so the British brushed off the suggestion.

Conflict arose almost immediately when the British diverted a cargo of grain in August 1914, prompting American exporters to stop all wheat shipments and complain to the U.S. government. On September 26, 1914 (the same day Congress established the Federal Trade Commission) the U.S. lodged a formal complaint with the British about their refusal to abide by the Declaration of London and their open-ended policy on contraband; four days later the U.S. Senate demanded to know why British ships were intercepting shipments of American copper destined for the Netherlands.

Leery of offending the world’s most powerful neutral state, in early October the British responded with vague offers of compromise – but they remained determined to interdict anything which could aid the German war effort, and the situation was bound to get worse as the war dragged on.

On October 21 the U.S. protested Britain’s seizure of three oil tankers, again demanding the Allies respect the rights of neutral countries; instead, on October 29 the British declared copper, oil, and rubber contraband and on November 2 announced the doctrine of “continuous voyage,” giving themselves the right to seize neutral ships headed for neutral ports if their cargo was ultimately intended for one of the Central Powers (a doctrine which had helped stoke tensions leading up to the War of 1812, although the Union was later happy to employ it during the Civil War).

Adding insult to injury, on November 7 the French revoked their earlier acceptance of the Declaration of London, and on November 23 the State Department sternly warned all sides (but especially the Allies) that it would protect its rights under international maritime law, hinting at the use of force. Then at the end of December 1914 Washington delivered its strongest protest yet condemning Allied interference with American shipping, forcing the British cabinet to hold an emergency meeting on December 30 to discuss their strained relations.

As the New Year began there was scarcely any prospect of this conflict being resolved, but the British were about to get some help from an unexpected quarter: in February 1915 the Germans decided to retaliate for the British blockade with their own “counter-blockade” using a shocking new method of warfare – U-boat attacks against unarmed merchant shipping. Although tension persisted between Britain and the U.S., unrestricted submarine warfare was even more outrageous to American public opinion, making British actions look relatively inoffensive by comparison.

Shortages and Economic Control

It’s worth noting that Americans weren’t just pursuing profit. When Germany proved unable to feed the Belgian civilian population in the fall of 1914, American philanthropic impulses won the world’s admiration with the establishment of the Committee for Relief in Belgium, led by chairman Herbert Hoover, an American engineer with boundless energy and a genius for organization. Altogether the CRB delivered 5.7 million tons of food during the course of the war, feeding 9.5 million Belgian civilians.

Although Belgium was suffering the worst shortages during this period, in fact all the belligerent nations were struggling to provide for their civilian populations while sustaining colossal military efforts. As the war settled into deadlock on the Western Front, governments on both sides began taking control of key industries and regulating the production and distribution of necessities like food, clothing, and fuel, eventually instituting rationing and price controls. Not coincidentally, some of these measures also gave them more control over the civilian workforce.  

In Britain, on September 17 Parliament gave the Board of Trade the right to seize any item deemed necessary for the war effort if it was being withheld from the market, and on November 27 it passed the Defence of the Realm Consolidation Act, giving the military the right to take over factories producing a range of war-related products; these moves foreshadowed even greater government involvement in industry following the “Shell Crisis” in the spring of 1915, when newspapers accused the government and industry of massive inefficiency resulting in needless loss of British lives.

Meanwhile on September 8 the French government created a new Civil Food Supply Service, a precursor to rationing, followed in October by a new Office of Chemical and Pharmaceutical Products to oversee production of key chemicals, including explosives. In Russia, during October the Tsar’s Council of Ministers passed industrial regulations enabling police and factory owners to suppress labor unrest – although this didn’t stop workers from carrying out a brief stoppage on January 22, 1915 to commemorate the tenth anniversary of “Bloody Sunday” in the Revolution of 1905.

The Central Powers employed similar measures. On September 26 Germany’s new Office of Industrial Mobilization began regulating chemical manufacturing, which would soon include fixing atmospheric nitrogen on an industrial scale using the Haber-Bosch Process. In October the German government introduced “Kriegsbrot,” bread made with artificial ingredients that was soon widely loathed by the German public, and in November formed the War Wheat Corporation to regulate the grain trade, while fixing the prices of staples like potatoes and flour. For its part on October 29 the Austrian Parliament passed the War Precautions Act, empowering the government to direct commercial activity whenever necessary during wartime.

Loss of the Formidable

In 1914 the Germans had already been employing U-boats to devastating effect against British warships, and the New Year brought yet another submarine triumph with the sinking of HMS Formidable by U-24 in the English Channel in the early morning of January 1, 1915. Another humiliating loss for the Royal Navy, the Formidable took 547 officers and men to a watery grave, out of a full complement of 780 crewmembers.

The tragedy is associated with an unusual piece of trivia: the fictional canine hero “Lassie” was supposedly inspired by a dog of the same name who helped save a British sailor, John Cowman, pulled out of the ocean after the sinking of the Formidable. The human rescuers believed Cowman to be dead, but Lassie, the denizen of a local pub in Lyme Regis, licked his face and lay down next to him, apparently helping revive him with her body heat.

Germans Shift Focus to Eastern Front

On January 1, 1915, the German high command made a momentous decision: with the war on the Western Front deadlocked following the failure of the Schlieffen Plan, they would shift their focus to the Eastern Front in an attempt to defeat Russia and end the war.

This decision was a victory for Paul von Hindenburg and Erich Ludendorff, the heroes of Tannenberg, who led the “Eastern” faction in the German Army, so-called because its adherents believed that the war in the east should take priority. They were supported by Austrian chief of staff Conrad von Hötzendorf, who was understandably alarmed by Russian gains in the northeastern Austrian province of Galicia.  It also represented a defeat for the “Western” faction, which wanted to continue the effort in the Western Front, and which included Kaiser Wilhelm II and chief of staff Erich von Falkenhayn.

The Easterners argued that the disorganized Russian armies were ripe for destruction, and that the Russians could be forced to abandon the Western Allies and make a separate peace, or risk internal revolution. After much wrangling, Ludendorff and Conrad forced Falkenhayn to agree to the formation of a new hybrid army composed of German and Austrian troops, the Südarmee or “South Army,” under General Alexander von Linsingen, to spearhead the new campaign in the south (see map above). They also created a new Tenth Army to drive the Russian Tenth Army out of East Prussia, where it was holding on to a substantial slice of German territory. Meanwhile the Russians were also forming a new force, the Twelfth Army, to renew their own attack on East Prussia.

Misery in the Trenches

Of course for ordinary soldiers all these grand strategic matters had little apparent relevance to their day-to-day lives in the trenches, which remained unspeakably miserable as the winter of 1915 unfolded. Inclement weather, frostbite, hunger and body lice were constant companions for troops on both sides – and now, after several months of fighting, death was ubiquitous and routine. On the Western Front a German soldier from Alsace, Dominik Richert, encountered a terrible sight after his unit occupied former British trenches:

"The bottoms of these trenches were full of dead Englishmen. We had to bury the dead who were lying in the positions. We removed some earth at the rear wall of the trench, laid down the dead, and covered them with earth. As there was no other place to sit in the trench, these little hills were used as seats. It started to rain again. The trenches soon filled up with water and mud, and soon we were so filthy that you could see nothing of us but the whites of our eyes, there was so much dirt. Then I was sent to collect ammunition; everywhere I saw the toes of boots, clutching hands, and hair stuck together by mud sticking out of the earth. It was a gruesome sight, which nearly made me despair. It put me off so much that I did not want anything more from life."

See the previous installment or all entries.

7 Weird Super Bowl Halftime Acts

Al Bello, Getty Images
Al Bello, Getty Images

Shakira and Jennifer Lopez seem like natural choices to perform the halftime show at this year’s Super Bowl, but the event didn’t always feature musical acts from major pop stars. Michael Jackson kicked off the trend at Super Bowl XXVII in 1993, but prior to that, halftime shows weren’t a platform for the hottest celebrities of the time. They centered around themes instead, and may have featured appearances from Peanuts characters, Jazzercisers, or a magician dressed like Elvis. In honor of Super Bowl LIV on February 2, we’ve rounded up some of the weirdest acts in halftime show history.

1. Return of the Mickey Mouse Club

The era of Super Bowl halftimes before wardrobe malfunctions, illuminati conspiracy theories, and Left Shark was a more innocent time. For 1977’s event, the Walt Disney Company produced a show that doubled as a squeaky-clean promotion of its brand. Themed “Peace, Joy, and Love,” the Super Bowl XI halftime show opened with a 250-piece band rendition of “It’s a Small World (After All).” Disney also used the platform to showcase its recently revamped Mickey Mouse Club.

2. 88 Grand Pianos and 300 Jazzercisers

The theme of the halftime show at Super Bowl XXII in 1988 was “Something Grand.” Naturally, it featured 88 tuxedoed pianists playing 88 grand pianos. Rounding out the program were 400 swing band performers, 300 Jazzercisers, 44 Rockettes, two marching bands, and Chubby Checker telling everyone to “Twist Again."

3. Elvis Impersonator Performs the World’s Largest Card Trick

Many of the music industry's most successful pop stars—like Prince, Madonna, and, uh, Milli Vanilli—were at the height of their fame in 1989, but none of them appeared at Super Bowl XXIII. Instead, the NFL hired an Elvis Presley-impersonating magician to perform. The show, titled “BeBop Bamboozled,” was a tribute to the 1950s, and it featured Elvis Presto performing “the world’s largest card trick.” It also may have included the world's largest eye exam: The show boasted 3D effects, and viewers were urged to pick up special glasses before the game. If the visuals didn't pop like they were supposed to, people were told to see an eye doctor.

4. The Peanuts Salute New Orleans

Super Bowl XXIV featured one of the last halftime acts that was completely devoid of any musical megastars. The biggest celebrity at the 1990 halftime show was Snoopy. Part of the show’s theme was the “40th Anniversary of 'Peanuts,'” and to celebrate the milestone, performers dressed as Peanuts characters and danced on stage. The other half of the theme was “Salute to New Orleans”—not necessarily the first thing that comes to mind when you think of the comic strip.

5. A Tribute to the Winter Olympics

Super Bowl XXVI preceded the 1992 Winter Olympics—a fact that was made very clear by the event’s halftime. The show was titled “Winter Magic” and it paid tribute to the winter games with ice skaters, snowmobiles, and a cameo from the 1980 U.S. hockey team. Other acts, like a group of parachute-pants-wearing children performing the “Frosty the Snowman Rap,” were more generally winter-themed than specific to the Olympics. About 22 million viewers changed the channel during halftime to watch In Living Color’s Super Bowl special, which may have convinced the NFL to hire Michael Jackson the following year.

6. Indiana Jones and the Temple of the Forbidden Eye

“Peace, Joy, and Love” wasn’t the only Disney-helmed Super Bowl halftime. In 1995, Disney produced a halftime show called “Indiana Jones and the Temple of the Forbidden Eye” to tease the new Disneyland ride of the same name. It centered around a skit in which actors playing Indiana Jones and Marion Ravenwood stole the Vince Lombardi Trophy from an exotic temple, and it included choreographed stunts, fiery special effects, and a snake. Patti LaBelle and Tony Bennett were also there.

7. The Blues Brothers, Minus John Belushi

The 1990s marked an odd period for halftime shows as they moved from schlocky themed variety shows to major music events. Super Bowl XXXI in 1997 perfectly encapsulates this transition period. James Brown and ZZ Top performed, but the headliners were the Blues Brothers. John Belushi had been dead for more than a decade by that point, so Jim Belushi took his place beside Dan Aykroyd. John Goodman was also there to promote the upcoming movie Blues Brother 2000. The flashy advertisement didn’t have the impact they had hoped for and the film was a massive flop when it premiered.

15 Fun Facts About Betty White

Frederick M. Brown, Getty Images
Frederick M. Brown, Getty Images

Happy birthday, Betty White! In honor of the ever-sassy star of The Mary Tyler Moore Show and The Golden Girls's 98th birthday, let's celebrate with a collection of fun facts about her life and legacy. 

1. Her name is Betty, not Elizabeth.

On January 17th, 1922, in Oak Park, Illinois, the future television icon was born Betty Marion White, the only child of homemaker Christine Tess (née Cachikis) and lighting company executive Horace Logan White. In her autobiography If You Ask Me (And of Course You Won't), White explained her parents named her "Betty" specifically because they didn't like many of the nicknames derived from "Elizabeth." Forget your Beths, your Lizas, your Ellies. She's Betty.

2. She's a Guinness World Record holder.

In the 2014 edition of the record-keeping tome, White was awarded the title of Longest TV Career for an Entertainer (Female) for her more than 70 years (and counting) in show business. The year before, Guinness gave out Longest TV Career for an Entertainer (Male) to long-time British TV host Bruce Forsyth. As both began their careers in 1939, they'd be neck-and-neck for the title, were they not separated by gender.

3. Her first television appearance is lost to history.

A photo of Betty White
Getty Images

Even White can't remember the name of the show she made her screen debut on in 1939. But in an interview with Guinness Book of World Records, she recounted the life-changing event, saying, "I danced on an experimental TV show, the first on the west coast, in downtown Los Angeles. I wore my high school graduation dress and our Beverly Hills High student body president, Harry Bennett, and I danced the 'Merry Widow Waltz.'" 

4. White's initial rise to stardom was derailed by World War II.

Before she took off on television, White was working in theater, on radio, and as a model. But with WWII, she shelved her ambitions and joined the American Women's Voluntary Services. Her days were devoted to delivering supplies via PX truck throughout the Hollywood Hills, but her nights were spent at rousing dances thrown to give grand send-offs to soldiers set to ship out. Of that era, she told Cleveland Magazine, "It was a strange time and out of balance with everything." 

5. Her first sitcom hit was in the early 1950s.

A photo of actress Betty White
Getty Images

Co-hosting the Al Jarvis show Hollywood on Television led to White producing her own vehicle, Life With Elizabeth. As a rare female producer, she developed the show alongside emerging writer-producer George Tibbles, who'd go on to work on such beloved shows as Dennis The Menace, Leave It To Beaver, and The Munsters. Though the show is not remembered much today, in 1951 it did earn White her first Emmy nomination of 21 (so far). Of these, she has won five times.

6. White loves a parade.

From 1962 to 1971, White hosted NBC's Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade alongside Bonanza's Lorne Greene. But that's not all. For 20 years (1956-1976), she was also a color commentator for NBC’s annual Tournament of Roses Parade. However, as her fame grew on CBS's The Mary Tyler Moore Show, NBC decided they should pull White (and all the rival promotion that came with her) from their parade. It was a decision that was heartbreaking for White, who told People, "On New Year's Day I just sat home feeling wretched, watching someone else do my parade."

7. She has been married three times.


Getty Images

White and her first husband, Dick Barker, were married and divorced in the same year, 1945. After four months on Barker's rural Ohio chicken farm, White fled back to Los Angeles and her career as an entertainer. Soon after, she met agent Lane Allen, who became her husband in 1947, and her ex-husband in 1949 after he pushed her to quit show biz. She wouldn’t marry again until 1963, after she fell for widower/father of three/game show host Allen Ludden.

8. Her meet-cute with husband number three happened on Password.

Bubbly Betty was a regular on the game show circuit, but she met her match in 1961 when she was a celebrity guest on Password, hosted by Allen Ludden. Though White initially rebuffed Ludden's engagement ring (he wore it around his neck until she changed her mind), the pair stayed together until his death in 1981. Today, their stars on the Hollywood Walk Of Fame sit side-by-side.

9. White originally auditioned for the role of Blanche on The Golden Girls.

A photo of actress Betty White
Getty Images

Producers of the series thought of White for the role of the ensemble's promiscuous party girl because she'd long played the lusty Sue Ann Nivens on The Mary Tyler Moore Show. Meanwhile, they eyed Rue McClanahan for the part of naive country bumpkin Rose Nylund because of her work as the sweet but dopey Vivian Harmon on Maude. Director Jay Sandrich was worried about typecasting, so he asked the two to switch roles in the audition. And just like that, The Golden Girls history was made.

10. If she hadn't been an actor, she'd have been a zookeeper.

"Hands down," she confessed in a 2014 interview. This should come as little surprise to those aware of White's reputation as an avid animal lover and activist. Not only does she try to visit the local zoo of wherever she may travel, but also she's a supporter of the Farm Animal Reform Movement and Friends of Animals group, as well as a Los Angeles Zoo board member, who has donated "tens of thousands of dollars" over the past 40 years. In 2010, White founded a T-shirt line whose profits go to the Morris Animal Foundation.

11. She passed on a role in As Good as It Gets because of an animal cruelty scene.

A photo of actress Betty White
Getty Images

White was offered the part of Beverly Connelly, onscreen mother to Helen Hunt, in the Oscar-winning movie As Good as It Gets. But the devoted animal lover was horrified by the scene where Jack Nicholson's curmudgeonly anti-hero pitches a small dog down the trash chute of his apartment building. On The Joy Behar Show White explained, "All I could think of was all the people out there watching that movie … and if there's a dog in the building that's barking or they don't like—boom! They do it." She complained to director James L. Brooks in hopes of having the scene cut. Instead, he kept it and cast Shirley Knight in the role.

12. A Facebook campaign made White the oldest person to ever host Saturday Night Live.

In 2010, a Facebook group called Betty White To Host SNL … Please? gathered so many fans (nearly a million) and so much media attention that SNL executive producer Lorne Michaels was happy to make it happen. At 88 years old, White set a new record. Her episode, for which many of the show's female alums returned, also won rave reviews, and gave the show's highest ratings in 18 months. White won her fifth Emmy for this performance.

13. She is the oldest person to earn an Emmy nomination.


Getty Images

In 2014, White earned an Emmy nod for Outstanding Host for a Reality or Reality-Competition Program for the senior citizen-centric prank show Betty White's Off Their Rockers. She was 92. She also holds the record for the longest span between Emmy nominations, between her first (1951) and last (so far).  

14. She loves junk food.

The key to aging gracefully has nothing to do with health food as far as White is concerned. In 2011, her Hot in Cleveland co-star Jane Leeves dished on White's snacking habits, "She eats Red Vines, hot dogs, French fries, and Diet Coke. If that's key, maybe she's preserved because of all the preservatives." Fellow co-star Wendie Malick concurred, "She eats red licorice, like, ridiculously a lot. She seems to exist on hot dogs and French fries." 

15. She wants Robert Redford.

A photo of actor Robert Redford
Getty Images

White once gave this cheeky confession: “My answer to anything under the sun, like ‘What have you not done in the business that you’ve always wanted to do?’ is ‘Robert Redford.'” Though she has more than 110 film and television credits on her filmography, White has never worked with the Out of Africa star, who is 14 years her junior.

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