Betty White, whose sassy and ready-to-do charm made her a TV mainstay for over 60 years, whether as a crazed TV host on “The Mary Tyler Moore Show” or as a roommate on “The Golden Girls”, is dead. She was 99 years old.
People and the Washington Post reported the news of White’s death on Friday.
She launched her television career in daytime talk shows when the medium was in its infancy and lasted until the era of cable and streaming. Her combination of sweetness and edginess brought a roster of original characters to life on shows from the early 1950s sitcom “Life With Elizabeth” to eccentric Rose Nylund in “The Golden Girls” in the 80s to ” Boston Legal “, which ran from 2004 to 2008.
But it was in 2010 that White’s fame exploded like never before.
In a Snickers commercial that premiered during that year’s Super Bowl airing, she imitated a low-energy dude getting tackled during a backlot football game.
“Mike, you play like Betty White over there,” quipped one of her buddies. White, flat on the ground and covered in mud, retaliated, “That’s not what your girlfriend said!”
The instantly viral video helped spark a Facebook campaign titled “Betty White to Host SNL (Please?)!” this Mother’s Day weekend. This appearance earned him a seventh Emmy Award.
A month later, Cable TV Land premiered “Hot In Cleveland,” the network’s first original scripted series, which starred Valerie Bertinelli, Jane Leeves and Wendie Malick as three show biz veterans who moved to Cleveland to escape the youth. Hollywood obsession. They move into a house attended by an elderly Polish widow – a character, played by White, who was only to appear in the pilot episode.
But White stole the show, and the salty Elka Ostrovsky became a key part of the series, an immediate hit. She was voted Artist of the Year by members of the Associated Press.
“It’s ridiculous,” White said of the honor. “They didn’t understand me, and I hope they never will.”
By then, White had not only become the hottest star in the world, but also a role model for how to age happily.
“Don’t try to be young,” she told the AP. “Just open your mind. Stay interested in things. There are so many things that I won’t live long enough to find out, but I’m still curious about them.
Such was her popularity that even White’s birthday became a national event: In January 2012, NBC aired “Betty White’s 90th Birthday Party” as a prime-time special. She would later appear in shows such as “Bones” and Fireside Chat With Esther “and in 2019 gave voice to one of the toys,” Bitey White “, in” Toy Story 4 “.
White has stayed young in part thanks to his ability to play debauchery or villainy while beaming kindness. The horror parody “Lake Placid” and the comedy “The Proposal” were marked by the surprisingly salty language of its characters. And her character Catherine Piper killed a man with a pan in “Boston Legal”.
But she was hardly chosen to play “Happy Homemaker” Sue Ann Nivens on “The Mary Tyler Moore Show” in 1973. She and her husband, Allen Ludden, were close friends of Moore and her then-husband. , producer Grant Tinker. There were concerns that if White failed on the series, which was already a huge success, it would be embarrassing for the four of them. But CBS casting executive Ethel Winant said White was the logical choice. Originally intended as a one-time appearance, Sue Ann’s role (which humorously foreshadowed Martha Stewart) lasted until Moore ended the series in 1977.
“Although she’s very sweet on her cooking show, Sue is really the piranha type,” White said. The role won her two Emmy Awards as a supporting actress in a comedy series.
In 1985, White starred on NBC with Bea Arthur, Rue McClanahan and Estelle Getty in “The Golden Girls”. Her cast of mature actresses, playing single retired Miami women, pitched a bet in a youth-conscious industry. But it turned out to be a solid success and lasted until 1992.
White played Rose, a sweet, dark widow who managed to misinterpret most situations. She’s driven her roommates crazy with quirky childhood stories in St. Olaf, Minnesota, a quirky version of Lake Wobegon.
The role won her another Emmy, and she reprized it in a short-lived spin-off, “The Golden Palace.”
After the death of her co-star Arthur in 2009, White told Entertainment Tonight, “She showed me how to be very brave in comedy. I will miss that courage.
White’s other television series included “Mama’s Family,” as Vicki Lawrence’s irascible mother; “Just Men,” a game show in which women tried to predict the answers to questions posed to male celebrities; and “Ladies Man”, as Alfred Molina’s catty mother.
“Just Men” earned her a daytime Emmy, while she won a fourth prime-time Emmy in 1996 for a guest shoot on “The John Larroquette Show.”
She has also appeared in numerous mini-series and TV movies and made her film debut as a US Senator in Otto Preminger’s 1962 drama Capitol Hill “Advise and Consent”.
White began her television career as a $ 50-a-week sidekick to a local Los Angeles TV personality in 1949. She was hired for a local daytime show starring Al Jarvis, the disc. – Los Angeles’ most famous jockey.
It was then that she received advice to start lying about her age.
“We’re so age-conscious in this country,” she said in a 2011 interview with The Associated Press. “It’s silly, but that’s how we are. So I was told, ‘Take away four years now. You will bless yourself on the road.
“I was born in 1922. So I thought, ‘I always have to remember that I was born in 1926.’ But then I would have to do the math. Finally, I decided to go with it.
White turned out to be a natural for the new medium. She was bright, pretty, and friendly, with a dimpled smile and narrowed eyes. A 1951 Los Angeles Times headline read: “Betty White Hailed As Busiest Girl On TV.”
“I did this show 5½ hours a day, six days a week, for 4.5 years,” she recalls in 1975. Jarvis was replaced by actor Eddie Albert, and when he went on Europe for the film “Roman Vacances”, she directed the show.
A skit she did with Jarvis turned into a syndicated series, “Life With Elizabeth,” which won its first Emmy. For a while, she did interviews on “The Betty White Show” during the day, filmed the series at night, and was often on a late-night talk show. She has also appeared in commercials and each New Year has narrated the Pasadena Rose Parade.
With the flippant tongue and quick responses nurtured over the Jarvis years, she was a welcome guest on “I’ve Got a Secret”, “To Tell the Truth”, “What’s My Line” and other game shows – until ‘to the 2008’ Million Dollar Password ‘which revived the game once hosted by Ludden, whom she had met when she was a contender on her original’ Password ‘.
It was 1961, and the following year, while touring summer theaters during the television offseason, she starred with Ludden – then a widower with three children – in the comedy “Critic’s Choice”. .
White, who had claimed to be a “single activist” since a 1947-49 marriage, faltered in her resolve.
“I had always said on ‘The Tonight Show’ and everywhere else that I would never get married again,” she told a reporter in 1963. “But Allen outnumbered me. He started and even did. the children came in. And I surrendered – voluntarily.
The marriage lasted from 1963 until her death from cancer in 1981.
Offscreen, White has tirelessly raised funds for animal causes such as the Morris Animal Foundation and the Los Angeles Zoo. In 1970-1971, she wrote, produced, and hosted a syndicated television show, “The Pet Set,” to which celebrities brought their dogs and cats. She wrote a book in 1983 titled “Betty White’s Pet Love: How Pets Take Care of Us” and, in 2011, published “Betty & Friends: My Life at the Zoo”.
Such was her dedication to pets that she turned down a role of plum in the 1997 hit film “As Good As It Gets”. She objected to a scene in which Jack Nicholson drops a small dog into a laundry chute.
In his 2011 book “If You Ask Me (And Of Course You Won’t),” White explained the origins of his love for dogs. During the Depression, his father made radios for sale to earn extra money. But since few people had the money to buy the radios, he voluntarily exchanged them for dogs, which, housed in kennels in the backyard, sometimes numbered 15 and made the childhood happy. from White even happier.
Are there any creatures she doesn’t like?
“No,” White told the AP. “Anything that has a leg on every corner. “
What about snakes?
“Ohhh, I love snakes! “
She was born Betty Marion White in Oak Park, Illinois, and the family moved to Los Angeles when she was very young.
“I’m an only child and had a mom and dad who never drew a straight line: they just thought funny,” she told The Associated Press in 2015. “We were sitting around from the breakfast table and then we start hitting him. My dad was a salesman and he would come home with jokes. He would say, “Honey, you can take him to school. But I wouldn’t take this one. ′ We had such a wonderful time.
Her initial ambition was to be a writer, and she wrote her high school graduation play, giving herself the lead role.
While in Beverly Hills High School, her ambition turned to the theater and she appeared in several plays. Her parents hoped she would go to college, but instead she performed roles in a small theater and played small roles in radio dramas.
Explaining in 2011 how she kept up her hectic pace even as an octogenarian, she explained that she only needed four hours of sleep each night.
And when asked how she had come to be universally loved over the course of her decades-long career, she summed up with a dimpled smile: “I just make a point of getting along with people so that I can mate. ‘have fun. It’s that simple. “
Associated Press editors Lynn Elber and Bob Thomas contributed.
Frazier Moore, The Associated Press
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