15 Things You Didn't Know About Betty White
Though to us she'll be forever young, Betty White turns 93 on Saturday. We'd like to toast this ever-sassy senior star of The Mary Tyler Moore Show, The Golden Girls and Hot In Cleveland 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 74 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 sex.
3. Her first television appearance is lost to history.
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 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.
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's won five times.
6. White loves a parade.
From 1962 to 1971, she hosted NBC's Macy's Thanksgiving 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's been married three times.
She 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 #3 happened on Password.
The bubbly blond 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 Walk Of Fame sit side-by-side.
9. White originally auditioned for the role of Golden Girls' Blanche.
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 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. And in 2010, she started a t-shirt line whose profits go to the Morris Animal Foundation.
11. She Didn't Do 'As Good As It Gets' Because of an Animal Cruelty Scene
White was offered the part of Beverly Connelly, onscreen mother to Helen Hunt. But the devoted animal lover was horrified by the scene where Jack Nicholson's curmudgeonly anti-hero pitches a small dog down his apartment buildings trash chute. On The Joy Behar Show she 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 Saturday Night Live host ever.
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, which featured many of the show's female alums returning, also won rave reviews, and gave the show's highest ratings in 18 months. White won her fifth Emmy for this performance.
13. She's the oldest person to earn an Emmy nomination.
In 2014, White earned her 21st Emmy nod, and her third in a row 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). With White still tearing it up on Hot In Cleveland, these records become less and less likely to ever be broken.
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 habbits, "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.
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’.” Shockingly, though she has over 113 films and television shows to her credit, White has never worked with the Out of Africa star, who is 14 years her junior. Still, it's a dream the Hot In Cleveland team is working toward. In the summer of 2014, the show's creator Suzanne Martin told The Hollywood Reporter, "We would love to have Robert Redford on the show because he's Betty's ultimate crush." Fingers crossed.