Roles & Role Model: Why We Loved Betty White

As the people of Earth were preparing to say goodbye to a trying 2021 and leap ahead into (a hopefully better) 2022, they got one last bit of sad news: One of their most beloved fellow planetary passengers would not be making the trip with them, as Betty White died on New Year’s Eve at the age of 99. It certainly came as a shock to many. White, still entertaining and effervescent at her advanced age, had big plans for hitting the century mark, with a People magazine cover story and a big party planned in theaters across the country to celebrate 100 years of her life. But while we’ve entered the new year without her, we’ll still have plenty of memories of White, as well as the characters she played.

White’s career began in radio, but she quickly made her way onto television as the new medium began to blossom in the early 1950s. She was a renaissance woman at a time when nobody even knew what that would mean — on television, she was an actor, a talk show host, a parade commentator, and a frequent guest on game shows and talk shows; behind the scenes, she was the first woman ever to produce a TV sitcom (1951’s Life with Elizabeth). But her best-known roles didn’t come until White was already in the second half of her life — the character of Sue Ann Nivens didn’t appear on The Mary Tyler Moore Show until the sitcom’s fourth season in 1973, when White was 51 years old. And her most popular character, Rose Nylund on The Golden Girls, didn’t come until she was 63. Those two iconic roles are invariably the first ones people think about when talking about White (between the two series, she had 10 Emmy Award nominations, including three wins), and it’s difficult for fans to choose a favorite. But when White spoke to us about it, she revealed she had a clear preference between the two. (Click on the media bar below to hear Betty White)

One of the things White loved most about her time on “The Golden Girls” was a recurring gag about the time Rose spent growing up in the small town of St. Olaf, Minnesota. Her stories of the town and its characters may have been hysterical to watch, but as White told us, they weren’t always easy to tell. (Click on the media bar below to hear Betty White)

Over the course of her career, White was credited on well over 100 different television shows, as well as more than 30 films. This work ethic is one of the things that made her a Hollywood fixture, but she also admitted to us that her work ethic was a byproduct of Hollywood’s notoriously fickle nature when it came to casting. (Click on the media bar below to hear Betty White)

  The film celebration of White’s life, Betty White: 100 Years Young, will play in selected theaters on what would have been her 100th birthday, January 17.

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