Guinness recognized White as the female entertainer with the longest television career in history, over 75 years in the making. That was 2013. It’s been three years. White turned 95 years old this week, which means she still holds this championship belt high. If you consider how many stars we lost in 2016, White is doing well.
Most folks know White for her role on The Golden Girls, a comedy that ran for seven years, but that show was the tip of the proverbial iceberg for this sassy senior.
Betty White may have started on the bottom rung, but rung by rung she’s amassed an impressive resume from game shows and television shows to movies and super bowl commercials. She even picked up a few awards on the way.
Betty had a face for radio or so they told her. She wasn’t photogenic, so she started with voice performance. It didn’t hurt that the White family lived in Los Angeles, which put Betty in a good place to chase her performance dreams.
White attended Beverly Hills High School, where she aspired to work as a park ranger. Women were not allowed to be rangers at the time, so she took up writing. That led to writing plays, which led to her interest in performance.
When she went out into the big world of Hollywood, White did anything to build her résumé. She worked in radio, sometimes working for free just to get exposure. She even had her own radio show for a time, called The Betty White Show.
From there, she made the leap to television.
First Lady of Game Shows
White would go on to work on the Mary Tyler Moore show and several television shows, but she clocked so many hours on game shows she earned the title First Lady of Game Shows.
She spent a lot of time on the Password game shows, the original Password, but also Password Plus, Super Password, and Million Dollar Password. She even married Allen Ludden, the host of Password, in 1963.
She was a host, co-host, and celebrity guest on these shows and others. Those hosting skills also worked for hosting The Tournament of Roses Parade, and the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade, which was her domain for ten years.
Finally on Film
It was 1962 before the world saw White on the big screen, in the drama Advise & Consent. It wasn’t her best work, but she’d broken the seal.
After over twenty years of radio and television, she’d made it to the big screen. The success didn’t go to her head. She still hosted parades, appeared on game shows as host or celebrity guest. She wouldn’t get back to the silver screen until 1971, then 1980 after that.
There were a few movies in the 90s, but after 2000, White’s roles took flight. From 2000 to today she’s been in 18 movies, almost twice the number she was in earlier in life.
Most of her movie appearances have been small parts or parts where she was playing herself. In fairness, the character White has molded over the years, is the person one expects her to be in real life; sweet, ditzy (or devious), and fearless.
The TV Years
In the ‘50s, White made it on a couple of sitcoms, but it was her time on the Mary Tyler Moore Show in ’73 that set her up for the next level. From there she picked up a role on The Happy Homemaker.
For a few years following ’77, she hosted her own sitcom. She appeared on The Carol Burnett Show, The Tonight Show, and guest starred on many television series. In 1983 she picked up a recurring role on Mama’s Family, playing a character she’d developed on Carol Burnett’s show.
Then, in 1985, she landed the role of Rose Nylund on The Golden Girls, the show about four aging women, divorced or widowed, living together in Miami. After the Golden Girls, White returned to doing guest appearances. She even did some daytime work in the early 2000s
The first award White won was in 1951, an Emmy for “Best Actress” on TV, for her work hosting Make-Believe Ballroom. At the time the Emmy’s weren’t quite the award show they are today, but even then women received little recognition. White’s, was the first time they awarded that category.
She also won eight Emmy Awards and three American Comedy Awards. In ’95, The Academy of Television Arts & Sciences Hall of Fame inducted White. The Screen Actors Guild game her the Lifetime Achievement Award in 2009.
She even became a ranger, finally. In 2010 the USDA Forest Service made her an honorary ranger.
There are actors who will go down in history as better than White, but it’s going to be awhile before anyone will take her crown of the longest career in television.
For an aspiring actor to achieve ten percent of what White was able to accomplish in her life, would be a blessing. She is the icon of what a working actor wants to be. Happy Birthday, Betty White.