Classic Movie Travels: Betty White
Betty White was an American actress and comedian who has worked across many different mediums and is a beloved icon today. He career has spanned over nine decades within the entertainment industry, with her having the distinction of being one of the first women to produce a sitcom and executing creative control both in front of the camera and behind it. White was to turn 100 on January 17, 2022; sadly, she passed away on December 31, 2021. While her wit and joyful presence will sorely be missed, there is still much to celebrate regarding White’s career.
Betty Marion White was born in Oak Park, Illinois, on January 17, 1922, to homemaker Christine Tess and salesman Horace Logan White. When she was one year old, her family moved to Alhambra, California, followed by Los Angeles, California. White graduated from Beverly Hills High School in 1939 and dreamed of becoming a forest ranger, though women were not allowed to serve in that profession. Instead, she realized an interest in performing, idolizing Jeanette MacDonald and Nelson Eddy. As a result, she turned to acting.
Prior to this realization, White had already had some experience with performance. In the early 1930s, she appeared on a radio program. Following her graduation, she and a classmate sang songs from The Merry Widow on a television program. She also found work in modeling, though she put her career on hold with the start of World War II, serving with the American Women’s Voluntary Services.
White struggled to find film roles, so she instead appeared in radio programs to execute bit parts or participate in commercials. Eventually, she was offered her own radio show, The Betty White Show, soon followed by co-hosting Hollywood on Television with Al Jarvis on television. When Jarvis left, she hosted the show on her own, receiving a nomination for the Best Actress Emmy Award. In the same year, she co-founded the production company Bandy Productions. White and co-founders George Tibbles and Don Fedderson developed Life with Elizabeth, a sitcom with White portraying the title role. As a result, White became one of the first few women of television.
As the years went on, White became a staple in game shows as well as continued work in television shows. She appeared on The Mary Tyler Moore Show, The Carol Burnett Show, Mama’s Family, and played the signature role of Rose Nylund in the hit show The Golden Girls. White won the Emmy Award for Outstanding Actress in a Comedy Series for the first season of The Golden Girls and was nominated in that category for each subsequent year of the show’s run. Once the show ended, White also appeared in The Golden Palace, The Bold and the Beautiful, and more.
White also carried out various supporting roles in films, including The Proposal (2009) and voiceover work in Toy Story 4 (2019), and hosted an episode of Saturday Night Live in 2010.
In 2012, White won a Grammy Award in the spoken word category for her recording of her best-selling book, If You Ask Me. She was also awarded the UCLA Jack Benny Award for Comedy. Her career was explored in the PBS documentary Betty White: First Lady of Television.
White’s 100th birthday is slated to be celebrated across theaters throughout the United States, with the showing of a documentary-style film celebrating White’s life and career. The film is titled Betty White: 100 Years Young—A Birthday Celebration. The event will still go on in her honor.
White was a devoted animal health advocate and humanitarian. She worked with the Los Angeles Zoo Commission (having been a board member), Morris Animal Foundation (as president emerita), African Wildlife Foundation, and more. She regularly donated as well as raised funds for various organizations.
Throughout her career, White was lauded with a vast array of performing and humanitarian awards. White is the only woman to have won an Emmy in all of the performing comedic categories. She was inducted into the Television Hall of Fame in 1995. Moreover, White’s lifelong dream of becoming a forest ranger was fulfilled; she was made an honorary forest ranger in 2010 by the USDA Forest Service.
Presently, there are various points of interest to White’s life and career that remain.
In 1930, White’s family resided at 454 N. Harper Ave., Los Angeles, California. The home remains today.
By 1940, they resided at 11444 Ayrshire Rd., Los Angeles, California. This home also stands.
White’s alma mater, Beverly Hills High School, is located at 241 S. Moreno Dr., Beverly Hills, California.
Additionally, White is celebrated at the Los Angeles Zoo with an honorary plaque near the gorilla exhibit. The zoo is located at 5333 Zoo Dr., Los Angeles, California.
White’s handprints are also featured in the Disney Legends Plaza in Disney’s Burbank, California, studios.
White also has a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame on the Northside of the 6700 block on Hollywood Blvd., Los Angeles, California.
White’s work in radio, television, and films continues to be enjoyed by fans across multiple generations all over the world.
–Annette Bochenek for Classic Movie Hub
Annette Bochenek pens our monthly Classic Movie Travels column. You can read all of Annette’s Classic Movie Travel articles here.
Annette Bochenek of Chicago, Illinois, is a PhD student at Dominican University and an independent scholar of Hollywood’s Golden Age. She manages the Hometowns to Hollywood blog, in which she writes about her trips exploring the legacies and hometowns of Golden Age stars. Annette also hosts the “Hometowns to Hollywood” film series throughout the Chicago area. She has been featured on Turner Classic Movies and is the president of TCM Backlot’s Chicago chapter. In addition to writing for Classic Movie Hub, she also writes for Silent Film Quarterly, Nostalgia Digest, and Chicago Art Deco SocietyMagazine.