Betty White: The Untold Truth

On Jan. 17, 2021, the luminous Betty White turned 99 years old. Unlike many older stars who might go into a quiet retirement after a certain age, White hasn't shown any signs of wanting to slow down. Between her acting career and her charitable work with animals, White always seems to have something interesting and exciting on her plate. Her active life might be why she's lived so long! She's currently the only surviving cast member of her hit show, The Golden Girls, and she's outlived many other old colleagues from past TV shows. 

White has truly been one of the major pioneers of television, having helped pave the way for women to take the lead in television — not just as actors but as producers and directors as well. She's a force to be reckoned with, but she's also known for her sunny optimism and caring heart. Currently the woman with the longest lasting career in television, White is truly a wonder to behold. This is the untold truth of Betty White. 

Betty White is naturally talented

Betty Marion White was born Jan. 17, 1922, in Oak Park, Ill., but Betty has always been a California girl at heart — and for most of her life. She may have been born in the midwest, but her father, Horace White, an electrical engineer, moved the family to Los Angeles when Betty was only about 2 years old. From an early age, the young Betty was able to get a good feel for show business given where she lived. Already living in Los Angeles certainly gave her a solid edge in building a career in television. And one of the best things about Betty is that she had raw, natural talent in front of the camera (and behind the scenes as well). 

Although she's an award-winning actress, Betty has actually never taken an acting class in her life. Many of the most talented and revered Hollywood actors have usually taken a few acting lessons in their lives, but Betty's acting chops all come from within. According to Insider, she simply didn't feel at ease with acting lessons.

"I just want to bring as much natural as I can. I'm not saying that people who take acting lessons are false. They're much better than I am, but it doesn't work for me."

Betty White's career could have been very different

While known as a brilliant television actress and producer, Betty White's career could have taken a very different turn if things had worked out differently. When she was a teenager, White had a keen interest in opera, and she did take singing lessons in earnest. In fact, she sang "Spirit Flower" at her high school graduation. Even though she can still sing, she decided to trade a singing career for acting — and she's never regretted it.

And there was another career path White could have taken if she had been able — at one point, she wanted to be either a zookeeper or a park ranger. White has always been a passionate animal lover and might have liked to have a job in service to them. However, according to Insider, White said that women weren't allowed to be forest rangers when she was young, so she devoted herself to her acting career. But in 2010, at the age of 88, White, much to her delight, received an honorary park ranger title. She said her parents would have been thrilled to see her receive this particular honor.

"They would be more proud of this than of any other award I have won."

Betty White helped the war effort

As talented as she was, Betty White did struggle in the early years of her acting career. She faced rejection from several studios who told her that she wasn't "photogenic enough." And then World War II came, which made it even harder to find work. Once the United States became fully involved in the war, White decided to put aside her acting and help the American effort by signing up for the American Women's Volunteer Service. According to We Are The Mighty, her job was to drive a PX truck, handling the transportation of military supplies throughout California. In addition to this, White would also host events for the troops, helping to boost morale before they were sent overseas for their deployments. 

In an interview with Cleveland Magazine in 2010, White recalled her time with the volunteer service and the country's state during a tumultuous time. "It was a strange time and out of balance with everything, which I'm sure the young people are going through now."

Betty White was one of the first female producers

Betty White had more career success after World War II. As noted by We Are The Mighty, she turned to radio work for a while, which eventually led her to co-host the show Hollywood on Television (and later she became the sole host), where she earned her first Emmy nomination in 1951. Then, White was able to land the coveted job of her own TV show in the starring role and as the producer. According to PBS, she had total creative control over her show, Life with Elizabeth – both in front of the camera and behind it.

This was highly unusual for the 1950s as few women in Hollywood held such positions — making White one of the first female TV producers. While Life with Elizabeth only lasted a few seasons, the show was very popular, even at its cancellation (you can find the old episodes on YouTube).

Betty White could have hosted The Today Show

Betty White was such a popular star that NBC desperately wanted to bring her on-board to co-host The Today Show. According to Insider, White declined as she didn't want to relocate to the east coast. NBC, anxious to bring her on board, sweetened the deal, telling her she didn't necessarily have to move. The studio offered White her own apartment at the St. Regis Hotel — the studio would fly her in to do the show during the week, and they would fly her back to California on the weekends. 

In an interview, White said she did give serious consideration to NBC's offer, but she ultimately turned it down again. Calculating the amount of time that would be spent traveling (this was the time before jets, making White's weekly cross-country plane trips almost eight hours long), "that's not gonna be terribly practical. ... The life you live is more important than the job you do."

Ultimately, The Today Show co-host spot went to none other than Barbara Walters. Walters should probably send White a thank-you note if she hasn't already.

Betty White's second husband could have sabotaged her career

Betty White has been married three times, according to Biography — she married her first husband, a World War II fighter pilot named Dick Barker when she was 23, but that marriage was quite brief. Her second marriage was to theatrical agent, Lane Allen. You would assume that when each half of a couple works in show business, there would be some understanding of and support for the other's career. But White would find that was not the case with her second husband. According to Insider, Allen wanted White to quit show business and start having kids — that she would stay home and raise. Allen married a brilliant TV star but actually only wanted a regular housewife and traditional family. Fine for him, but that wasn't who White was at all. White told Allen to forget it and quit the marriage instead. 

White said in an interview of her second marriage, "He [Allen] didn't want me to be in show business. When you have a calling, you have to follow it, so I made the choice, blew the marriage, and I've never regretted it."

After two divorces, White was sure that she wouldn't marry again — but then she met TV personality and game show host Allen Ludden. White was initially hesitant as she was already a two-time divorcée, but she eventually realized that Ludden was the love of her life. They stayed married for 18 years until Ludden's death — White always said her biggest regret was not marrying him sooner.

Betty White's holds a world record

Betty White is currently a Guinness World Record holder. As of the book's 2014 edition, she carries the title for "Longest TV Career for A Female Entertainer." She made her television debut in 1939, and she's been going ever since. When she was first named for the record, White's career was 74 years long — and it's only gotten longer as of 2021. No one's broken it yet. According to The Huffington Post, White was absolutely thrilled when Guinness contacted her with the news.

"I was astounded when [Guinness World Records] called to tell me. Who? Me!?! It's such an honor. The book has always been fascinating to me. I can't believe I'm now associated with it."

In her interview with Guinness World Records, White recalled her very first television appearance in 1939. "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. Later, Al Jarvis (a disc jockey) asked me to sit in as his girl Friday (5 1/2 hours a day, six days a week.). Four years later, I inherited the show."

And to all aspiring performers out there, White had this piece of advice — "I would advise actors to do their homework and take the time to appreciate their profession. It is a privilege to do what we do."

Betty White is a passionate animal lover

As Betty White once said, if she weren't an actress, she would have liked to have been a zookeeper. She may have taken a different career route, but that hasn't stopped White from using her star power to help animals. She has worked with the Morris Animal Foundation and the Los Angeles Zoo for more than four decades (she also served as a trustee of the Greater Los Angeles Zoo Association, and she shows no signs of slowing down). 

According to Smithsonian Magazine, White strongly advocates for zoos and the important work they do for animals — educating the public and helping to preserve endangered species. In fact, as noted by Biography, one of the reasons she continues to act is so she can continue to further her causes for animals. "I have to keep acting so that I can afford to keep doing my charity work!" she said.

According to Insider, White has even admitted (in her biography, If You Ask Me) that she often prefers the company of animals rather than humans. "Animals don't lie. Animals don't criticize. If animals have moody days, they handle them better than humans do."

But White ultimately feels that she's been very lucky that she's been able to fulfill and contribute to both her greatest passions in life — acting and animals. "I'm actually the luckiest old broad alive. Half my life is working in a profession I love and the other half is working with animals."

Betty White could have played Blanche on The Golden Girls

Betty White is known best as the sweet, naive Rose Nylund on her hit show, The Golden Girls, but she was initially offered the role of sexy Blanche Devereaux. Her co-star, Rue McClanahan, was supposed to play the part of Rose. But White had played the vamp character before, both as the maneater happy homemaker, Sue Ann Nivens, on The Mary Tyler Moore Show and the snobby, southern sophisticate, Ellen Harper-Jackson, on Mama's Family. Likewise, McClanahan had played mousy characters in the past as well — Vivian from Maude and Fran on Mama's Family. There was some concern that the two talented actresses might be getting typecast. According to Insider, the show's pilot director, Jay Sandrich, suggested that White and McClanahan switch roles.

It turned out to be the best decision The Golden Girls could have made. Both White and McClanahan absolutely glowed and thrived in those roles. At this point, it's hard to imagine either of them playing their original parts — White and McClanahan owned the roles of Rose and Blanche, respectively. White herself even won an Emmy for "Outstanding Actress in a Comedy Series."

A snickers commercial made Betty White even more popular

Betty White was still a great success in her 80s, but what made her even more popular was actually a Snickers commercial that was broadcast during the 2010 Superbowl. This was the beginning of Snickers' latest ad campaign, "You're Not You When You're Hungry." According to Campaign Live, from 2007-2009, Snickers was falling behind other big-name global chocolate brands — it was losing market share. Snickers needed a fresh new ad campaign that would get people's attention and stick in their minds. And that's where White's famous commercial came in.

For the Snickers Superbowl commercial, 88-year-old White acted the part of a tough football player — even getting tackled into the mud. White's character eats a Snickers bar, and he's back to being himself again. Abe Vigoda had a brief appearance at the end of the commercial, but everyone agrees that White was the real star. It was so strange, yet so hilarious — people of all ages loved the commercial and loved White. Not only was the Snickers campaign a success, but White's commercial topped polls as the number one ad at the time. And people wanted more of her.

Betty White is SNL's oldest host

Back in late 2009, a Facebook campaign was started lobbying for Saturday Night Live to have Betty White host the show. It started off small, but by March 2010, almost half a million fans joined the campaign. Some speculate that White's 2010 Snickers Superbowl commercial may have spurred more fans to campaign for her appearance on SNL. According to History, SNL's creator and executive producer, Lorne Michaels, admitted that they had tried to get White on the show at least three times over the last few decades, but they weren't able to make the timing work with her schedule.

But 2010 was a different year. This time, White and Saturday Night Live made it happen. On May 8, 2010, White made TV history as the oldest Saturday Night Live host at the age of 88. And viewers loved her. According to Entertainment Weekly, White's night of hosting SNL brought huge ratings for the show. And even better, as noted by Insider, White earned a well-deserved Primetime Emmy Award for her performance.

Betty White starred in a sitcom well into her 90s

At 89, Betty White was set to guest star on the new TV Land show, Hot In Cleveland. It was a new sitcom about three older women from California who move to Cleveland and share a house together — very Golden Girls-ish. White was to play their elderly house caretaker. According to Closer Weekly, the plan was for White to do one episode only — that was exactly what she had requested. But White had to go and be her amazing self, and everyone adored her. Recognizing White's impeccable comedic timing and her flawless chemistry with her co-stars, the producers begged her to become a regular cast member. Luckily for them, White had already fallen in love with the show, so she relented and agreed to stay on.

Hot In Cleveland lasted a total of six seasons, and White was there for all of them. When the show ended in 2015, White was 93 years old. In an interview with USA Today, when White was asked if she thought the show boosted her career, she responded, "I don't know about it helping my career. It's just that the public can't get rid of me! But I love it that way."