Betty White was a national treasure. Her spunky personality and feisty comebacks have helped her remain a household name for eight decades - and her talents in Hollywood only scratch the surface of the wonder she was.
In her almost century of life, White accomplished some great feats in both her professional and personal life. And learning more about her only made us love her more.
She Volunteered To Deliver Military Supplies During WWII
In addition to being a Hollywood hero of sorts, White was also a help in WWII. During the early days in her career when she was struggling somewhat to find work, she decided to put her aspirations of stardom on hold when the US officially entered the war.
White volunteered for the American Women's Voluntary Services, where she transported military supplies throughout California. She may have even lent her talents as a comedian and aspiring host to the cause by performing for soldiers before they were deployed.
Of her time volunteering, White said, "It was a strange time and out of balance with everything."
She Holds The Record For Longest TV Career Of Any Actress
At just 17 years old, White's career in the entertainment business started. She was fresh out of high school when she landed her first gig as an assistant at a local TV station in 1939, but she got her big break when she starred in Life With Elizabeth - which she acted in and produced. She then went on to star in The Mary Tyler Moore Show and later in the hit sitcom The Golden Girls. Her acting career continued for decades, with one of her most recent roles being a voice actor in 2019's Toy Story 4.
Since first coming to the scene in the late 1930s, White was been a force. And with such a long career, it's no wonder holds the Guinness Book of World Records record for the longest TV career in history. Only one actor came close to her 82-year career, and that's Bruce Forsyth, whose career also started in 1939 but came to an end in 2015.
She Was Nominated For An Emmy In Six Different Decades
Over the course of her eight decades in Hollywood, it comes as no surprise that White has received some of the highest accolades any actor can win. In fact, she's been nominated for a total of 21 Emmys and one honor. Throughout her career, she's been nominated for her roles as a supporting actress, lead actress, guest actress, and host for many of the projects she's been involved with.
Of these 21 Emmy nominations, White won 5 for her work on The Mary Tyler Moore Show, The Golden Girls, The John Larroquette Show, and Saturday Night Live. As an absolute powerhouse in the comedy entertainment business, she was also inducted into the Comedy Hall of Fame in 1995. Clearly White has had a long and fruitful career, but receiving this number of nominations has put her in a league of her own. She's actually received nominations for an Emmy in six different decades, starting with her first in 1951.
She Started A Clothing Line To Donate The Proceeds
At 88 years old, White ventured into a new field by creating a clothing line with Jerry Leigh Apparel. The line of T-shirts and hooded sweatshirts donned her likeness - she wasn't exactly designing any of the clothing herself. Whatever her involvement in the process, White made sure a portion of the proceeds were put to good use: they were donated to her favorite charity, the Morris Animal Foundation.
She Was Older Than Sliced Bread And Mickey Mouse
White is truly a national treasure, and her old age hasn't slowed down her Hollywood career in the slightest. Since her success boomed again during The Golden Girls, White made numerous guest visits on hit TV shows; she also starred alongside some of the greatest actors of the age in films over the past few decades. And while she played the "grandma figure" in many of these appearances, it can be difficult to remember just how long the icon was around.
She was born in January of 1922, which made her her older than both Mickey Mouse and sliced bread. Mickey Mouse first debuted in May of 1928 in cartoon form. Both of these initial screenings were complete duds, but Walt Disney and his cartoon mouse went on to dominate the market - and still do to this day.
A few months after Mickey, sliced bread was first sold in stores. Using a newfound contraption to precut a loaf, a bakery in Missouri put the first bag of sliced bread on the counters. Also, like Mickey, sliced bread has become exceedingly popular, and is even used as a point of reference for how ground-breaking a new invention is.
Nonetheless, White was six years old when both of these staples first came to be.
She Sacrificed Her Show To Invite A Black Guest Star
With her career taking off in the 1950s, White was given her own TV show: Life With Elizabeth, or perhaps better known as The Betty White Show. This short-lived sitcom aired alongside other beloved shows like I Love Lucy, but its run was cut short when criticism came pouring in after the show welcomed Arthur Duncan, a Black tap dancer and entertainer. He appeared on three episodes of the sitcom, which were heavily criticized by viewers in the South.
When White was asked about the issue some viewers were having with Duncan's presence on the show, she simply stated, "I'm sorry. Live with it." The show unfortunately sided with the backlash and was canceled after only two years.
She Has A Handwritten Copy Of John Steinbeck's Nobel Prize Acceptance Speech
John Steinbeck was an American author who penned many stories still read in high school classrooms around the country, including Of Mice and Men and The Grapes of Wrath. The famed author received the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1962 "for his realistic and imaginative writings, combining as they do sympathetic humour and keen social perception."
When an author wins a Nobel Prize, they are asked to give an acceptance speech. White happens to have Steinbeck's handwritten first draft of that very speech. White and Steinbeck were friends through their spouses Allen and Elaine, respectively, who attended Yale University together and had remained friends through the years, with that friendship extending to their significant others. White notes, "He gave [the speech] to Allen one year for his birthday. I have it framed and hanging in my house."
She Originally Wanted To Be A Zookeeper
To most who follow the beloved White, it's no secret that she was an avid animal lover. Her favorite charity is the Morris Animal Foundation, and she rarely missed an opportunity to visit the local zoo - wherever she was . She continued to be an advocate for zoos over the years, when many have heartily debated on their morality.
She stated: "Humans have already taken their habitat; many species have no wild habitat anymore. So what the zoos do... is work not only with the captive animals but also with the dwindling populations in the wild... In many cases, species are still around that would not be without zoos." Her love of animals even lead the US Forest Service to make her an honorary forest ranger.
She Had A Pretty Funny Meeting With The Queen Mother
Queen Elizabeth II and Betty White had a lot in common when it came to extraordinary lives. They both made being successful well into their 90s look easy. And while fans may wish the two powerhouses were girlfriends, it doesn't appear to be the case. However, they did have a tender moment in the 1980s.
During the height of The Golden Girls' popularity, Queen Elizabeth II's mother was a huge fan of the show. And being the Queen Mother comes with perks, so the gang was invited across the pond for a special performance; it aired on BBC and was a short set consisting of two conversations from the hit sitcom. Bea Arthur, who portrayed Dorothy Zbornak to White's Rose Nylund, claimed the ladies had to "censor a few things for the queen."
Nonetheless, the queen and her mother seemed to thoroughly enjoy the show. White recalled, "It was very exciting. Queen [Mother] was lovely. We were told not to address her unless we were addressed. She was up in a box and she came down on stage after with Princess Anne. She said, ‘Lovely, pretty girls,’ and I said, ‘Not bad bodies,’ and she said ‘Oh, no, not bad bodies!'"
She Was Honorary Mayor Of Hollywood In 1955
Some celebrities have had the privilege of serving as honorary mayors of Hollywood, which was a popular gimmick in the 1930s and '40s. While serving in this position, whoever was elected would advocate for public services, shedding light on issues in the Hollywood spotlight that may have otherwise fallen to the wayside.
In the 1950s, White was the lucky winner of this honor, joining the ranks of Will Rogers, Hugh Herbert, and Johnny Grant. Some of the stars held the position for years, while others were only mayor for a day. Regardless, the people spoke and White came out to do her due diligence to the city of Los Angeles, even if only for a short while.
She Was Married Three Times
One fact that may be lost to the younger generation of White's fans is that she wasn't always a single lady. In fact, she was married three times. Her first marriage was to US Army pilot Dick Barker, whom she met while volunteering during WWII. Shortly after the war, the two tied the knot and moved to Ohio, but White still had dreams of stardom and quickly realized she wasn't cut out to be a farm wife. Their marriage only lasted about eight months.
Less than two years later, White walked down the aisle again with Lane Allen, a Hollywood talent agent. And while the couple had two "very good years," Allen eventually asked White to abandon her dreams of working in Hollywood, which she refused. The two divorced in 1949 - just before her career truly took off.
But the legendary actress finally met her match when she was on the game show Password. Years later, the widowed Allen Ludden began fervently courting White, and after a year of denying her feelings, she finally caved and accepted his proposal. She attributed this "wasted" time to her wariness after already being involved in two failed marriages. The two were happily married for 18 years, some of her most successful, until Ludden passed due to stomach cancer in 1981. White said of their marriage, "I made two mistakes before Allen, but the love of your life doesn't come along in every life, so I am very grateful that I found him."
She And Bea Arthur Feuded Basically The Whole Time On 'The Golden Girls'
While White reflected fondly on The Golden Girls, being on the show wasn't all fun times. Sometimes the women on the show really went after each other, and it appears that no feud was quite like the one that sparked occasionally between Bea Arthur and White. The two, who apparently had vastly different acting philosophies, butted heads over a variety of habits during their long hours of filming, including White's tendency to chat with the live audience during filming breaks. White even said, "She found me a pain in the neck sometimes. It was my positive attitude - and that made Bea mad sometimes. Sometimes if I was happy, she'd be furious!"
Arthur's son commented on behalf of his late mother during an interview that Arthur "unknowingly carried the attitude that it was fun to have somebody to be angry at." He also shared insight into what might have begun the rift: White's Emmy win for her role on the show. While all the women went on to win an Emmy for their part in The Golden Girls, Arthur's son said, "My mom was the real deal. I think she felt she was more of an actress than Betty. Mom came from Broadway. Betty starred on a game show at one point."