The Profile Dossier: Betty White, Hollywood’s Beloved Golden Girl
“You’re never too old for anything.”
Betty White died just three weeks short of her 100th birthday.
At age 99, White was still a firecracker — just like she’d always been. A six-time Emmy winner, she had worked in the show business consistently for more than 75 years, which makes hers the longest television career of any female entertainer in history.
But even more so, she had a long, happy life. White said she was born a “cockeyed optimist,” a trait she inherited from her mom.
When asked what the secret to her longevity was, she answered in typical Betty White fashion: “Enjoy life. Accentuate the positive, not the negative. It sounds so trite, but a lot of people will pick out something to complain about, rather than say, ‘Hey, that was great!’ It’s not hard to find great stuff if you look.”
As for her diet, she said, "I try to avoid anything green. I think it's working.” And of course, vodka and hot dogs help too — “probably in that order.”
White got her start in radio, but was determined to find her way into acting. She was repeatedly turned down for being “unphotogenic,” but that wasn’t enough to stop her. “You just keep plugging away,” she said. “You don’t give up.”
Her persistence paid off in spades. She landed her first big role as Sue Ann Nivens on “The Mary Tyler Moore Show” in 1973, but her career-defining moment came when she was cast as Rose Nylund on the hit sitcom “The Golden Girls.”
It was easy to fall in love with White’s quick wit and spunky style. She charmed producers, viewers, and one special guy named Allen Ludden. Ludden, one of TV's most popular game show hosts from the 1950s through the '70s, met White in 1961.
It was love at first sight — for him.
White rejected several of his proposals, and it took quite a bit of persistence for Ludden to win her over. He didn’t give up, and began wearing the engagement ring on a chain around his neck when they were together to remind her that he was still patiently waiting for her to say yes. One year since he first asked, she finally agreed to marry him.
White would later admit that he was the love of her life, and they were married for 18 years before he passed away from cancer in 1981. She never remarried.
“Once you’ve had the best, who needs the rest,” she said. “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.”
White’s assistant, who was with her in her last moments, said White uttered one last word before passing.
Here’s what we can learn from the long and exuberant life of America’s beloved comedienne.
On becoming TV’s first lady: White’s love for film began early. At Beverly Hills High School, from which she graduated in 1939, she appeared in several student productions and even wrote her class’s graduation play, in which she had the lead role. It took her 10 years to break into television, but once she did, she was unstoppable.
On seven decades in Hollywood: In her memoir, White discusses topics like friendship, romantic love, aging, television, fans, her love for animals, and the brave new world of celebrity. Her memoir showcases her wit and mixes her thoughtful observations with humorous stories from a seven-decade career in Hollywood.
On living a full life: In her 99 years, White had done it all — she did comedies, dramas, soap operas, talk shows, and game shows. She wrote books, she hosted the Thanksgiving Day parade, she went on SNL, and raised money for animal welfare charities. This podcast recounts the full (and spicy) life she led.
On her inimitable wit: After people on the internet led a campaign to have Betty White host Saturday Night Live, their wishes came true on May 8, 2019. Her hilarious performance perfectly showcases her wit, humor, and intelligence. This is a must-watch.
On refusing to slow down: In this video profile, White explained why she rarely turns down new projects. Her age has opened doors and opportunities because she had always been willing to give them a shot. “You’re never too old to do anything,” she said.
On being a trailblazer: White was one of television’s first female producers — not by choice, but by necessity. “You did whatever the job was and whatever job you could get,” she said. The PBS documentary, Betty White: First Lady of Television, is a beautiful tribute on a life well lived.
Remember that the soul remains the same: When I interviewed my great-grandmother, she told me this: “When you’re young and beautiful like we were, falling in love is easy. But you have to fall in love with someone’s soul — because you will get old, but the soul will never change.” Similarly, White said that the best thing about being your 90s is that everyone spoils you and treats you with respect because “you’re so old.” She said, “Little do they know, you haven’t changed. You haven’t changed in [the brain]. You’re just 90 every place else … Now that I’m 91, as opposed to being 90, I’m much wiser. I’m much more aware and I’m much sexier.” As cliché as it sounds, you are only as old as you let yourself feel.
Reconsider your priorities: What makes you happy? Are you putting things on hold because you assume you have all the time in the world? The truth is that we’re all in a race against time — and Father Time always wins. White was madly in love with Allen Ludden, but she refused his proposal several times because she was concerned about leaving California and nervous about the optics of being married a third time. “I spent a whole year ... wasted a whole year that Allen and I could have had together, saying, 'No, I wouldn't marry him,'" she said. "No, I won't leave California. No, I won't move to New York. I wasted a whole year we could have had together, but we made it. We finally did.” Don’t wait. Spending more time with our loved ones is time we will never regret.
Get through life’s tragedies one day at a time: After losing Ludden, White was absolutely heartbroken. But death is part of life, and all of us will lose partners, parents, and friends. White has simple but powerful advice on dealing with the grief of losing a loved one: "One day at a time. You don't look ahead, and you try not to look back.”
QUOTES TO REMEMBER.
“You’re never too old for anything.”
“I consider myself to be the luckiest old broad on two feet.”
“Everybody needs a passion. That’s what keeps life interesting. If you live without passion, you can go through life without leaving any footprints.”
“I just make it my business to get along with people so I can have fun. It’s that simple.”
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