Anya Wassenberg
August 08, 2013

Amazing Women: Betty White

She’s been on iconic TV series, has appeared in films and on stage, has voiced animated characters and written books too. After a staggering 65 years in show biz, feisty funny lady Betty White shows few signs of letting up. A short bio can’t do justice to a six and a half decade career, but here’s a look at some of the highlights.

Born Betty Marion White 91 years ago, according to her autobiography (Betty White in Person, 1987), her parents deliberately named her “Betty” to avoid Liz, Beth and all those other variations of Elizabeth.

Betty White as Sue Ann Nivens

Betty White as Sue Ann Nivens

She began her long career in entertainment in 1930, at the age of 8, playing an adopted orphan on a radio soap opera called Empire Builders. Her first appearance on screen was the role of Lou’s Girl in Time to Kill in 1945. In 1952, She nabbed her own TV series called Life with Elizabeth but her breakout role came as the sexy and outspoken Sue Ann Niven on the Mary Tyler More Show from 1973 to 1977. It’s hard to imagine that a show about a single career woman was groundbreaking for its day but it was a first. The sex-crazy Sue Ann character was a daring notch up from Mary’s sweet girl-next-door persona.

For years Betty was a fan favorite guest on classic game shows, including Password (1961), The Hollywood Squares (1965) and The $10,000 Pyramid (1973), among others. She also had other regular roles on TV series, including Mama’s Family.

From Sue Ann Nivens, she went to the lovable but slightly odd Rose Nylund in The Golden Girls, which ran from 1985 to 1992. The show, about four older women who lived together, doesn’t sound promising on the face of it but was made memorable by the talented cast of veteran actors, which also included Bea Arthur, Rue McClanahan and Estelle Getty. The oldest of the four women, Betty is now also the only living member of the cast.

Betty turns her energies toward animals rights and is often involved in events and causes on their behalf. It’s not just something she takes on when it’s convenient either; she puts her money where her mouth is. Betty was offered the role of Helen Hunt‘s mother in the hit movie As Good as It Gets (1997) but turned it down because she objected to the treatment of the dog in the film.

Still Going Strong

Despite being born in an era when stay-at-home moms were the social norm, Betty’s carved a unique place for herself in entertainment history and has been recognized for it. She’s won seven Emmy Awards, has been inducted into the Television Hall of Fame and received the Women’s International Center Living Legacy Award in 1988. In 2010, she received the Screen Actors Guild Life Achievement Award.

Still outspoken and amazingly energetic, Betty has enjoyed a career renaissance in recent years; she even became the oldest host of Saturday Night Live in 2010. She’s currently the host of Betty White’s Off Their Rocker on NBC, where senior citizens prank people across America. She also stars in Hot in Cleveland as the lively foil to to over the hill celebs played by Valerie Bertinbelli, Jane Leeves and Wendie Malick.

Thanks for making even older old age look cool, Betty. Live long and prosper.