You know her from The Golden Girls, Mary Tyler Moore, and Hot in Cleveland. You know she loves animals. Now, celebrate her 97th birthday with these lesser-knows facts about Betty White and her career, which spans nine – nine! – decades.
From our partner station MeTV:
1. In 1949 she was on a game show called ‘Grab Your Phone’ and paid twice as much as other panelists.
A local Los Angeles broadcast on KLAC, ‘Grab Your Phone’ featured host Wes Battersea, who would pose questions to the audience. The audience would then call in their answers. A panel of four young women answered the phone. White, the best at witty banter with the emcee, was in the pole position. For her ad lib skills, she was paid twice as much as the others — $20 per week to their $10 — and asked to keep the bonus quiet, as she explained in her memoir Here We Go Again.
2. She was a nominee for the first ever Best Actress Emmy award in 1951, and won her first Emmy in 1952.
The 3rd Primetime Emmy Awards was the first ceremony to hand out a trophy for Best Actress. White was one of five women honored. She lost to Gertrude Berg of The Goldbergs. However, she would not have to wait long to pick up some mantelpiece decor. She nabbed a Regional Los Angeles Emmy in 1952 for Life with Elizabeth, which began as a local comedy. The sitcom went national that same year.
3. White co-produced ‘Life with Elizabeth’ while still living with her parents.
The 28-year-old was a rarity in the 1950s, with creative control of her own sitcom. The animal lover’s production company was called Bandy Productions, named after one of her pets. According to the book Women Pioneers in Television: Biographies of Fifteen Industry Leaders, the crew of Elizabeth included Sam Peckinpah, who would become an iconic director of westerns. You catch watch free episodes of Life with Elizabeth on MeTV.com.
4. The bandleader of her 1954 talk show wrote ‘The Brady Bunch’ theme and many others.
The Betty White Show earned its star $750 per week. Her bandleader was Frank DeVol, who composed TV themes for Family Affair, Gidget, The Brady Bunch and My Three Sons. He also appeared in front of the camera, acting in I’m Dickens, He’s Fenster, I Dream of Jeannie, Bonanza, Petticoat Junction and more. White would sing on the daytime chat and variety show for NBC, belting tunes like “Getting to Know You.”
5. The 1962 film ‘Advise & Consent’ would be her only big screen role until 1998.
White always considered herself a television actress, first and foremost. She has appeared in a few movies, starting with a role as a Senator in the Otto Preminger politics flick Advise & Consent. Her next significant role on the silver screen would be the 1998 Christian Slater thriller Hard Rain.
6. She appeared in no more than a third of ‘Mary Tyler Moore’ episodes per season.
White’s role as the “The Happy Homemaker” was intended as a one-off in season four. Though the character was not written specifically for her, the script called for an “icky sweet Betty White type.” The performance was such a hit that the show added her to the regular cast. Though White would become identified with Sue Ann Nivens, a randy character that played off her previous typecasting, the most appearances she had in a season was 12 out of 26 episodes.
7. The 1977 sitcom ‘The Betty White Show’ competed against ‘Monday Night Football.’
Some failed sitcoms never got a fair shot. The cast of The Betty White Show was great — Georgia Engel followed from Mary Tyler Moore to play her best friend. However, the comedy was slotted opposite Monday Night Football. That’s a difficult game to win for any series.
8. She was the first and only woman to win the Emmy for Game Show Host until 2005.
Though Just Men! ran for mere months, the gender divided twist on Match Game earned White a Daytime Emmy. She was the first woman to nab the trophy since it began in 1974. Just one other woman has won it since — Meredith Vieira.
9. She was originally cast as Blanche on ‘Golden Girls’.
Because audiences had become so accustomed to White as a man-crazy character on The Mary Tyler Moore show — the polar opposite of her early pigeonhole — the producers of Golden Girls figured the actress was ideal for Blanche Devereaux. Rue McClanahan, because of her own typecasting post-Maude, was pegged as the ditzy Rose. At the last minute, the roles were brilliantly reversed.