"A lot of people really find Betty White inspiring — I mean, she's been working as an actor in an industry for more than six decades in a business that doesn't exactly value getting older. There's a lot to admire. Me, I find Betty White annoying. I'm sorry, it's true. Betty, you make me feel bad about myself, you make me feel like a slacker."
The grand dame of American TV comedy, Betty White is currently 93 years young and has been at work in the entertainment industry since 1939, when she began her career on the radio. She then got in on the ground floor of the newfangled medium of television, with her first IMDb credit for TV dating to 1949. By 1953, she had her first starring role (the sitcom Life With Elizabeth). First nominated for an Emmy in 1951, she was nominated a further 19 times and so far has won seven times.
White is notable for the number of times she has rebuilt her career based on playing against her previous image:
- In her initial phase, lasting from the 1950s until the early 1970s, she became known to the public through her various sitcoms and her appearances on Password and other game shows hosted by her third husband, Allen Ludden. This Betty was a sweet and charming woman, the classic sitcom mother.
- Then she landed the role of Sue Ann Nivens in The Mary Tyler Moore Show, a parody of this sort of character to the point that the creators originally wanted to cast a "Betty White type" in the part. Sue Ann pretended to be that sort of nice person on her TV program, but offscreen she was greedy, bitchy, and man-hungry. This set the tenor of her appearances for the next decade or so...
- ...until she was cast on The Golden Girls, which became probably her most iconic role. She was originally suggested for the role of Blanche, a character more in line with Sue Ann and the character she played on Mama's Family, but she ended up as Rose Nylund, The Ditz of the group.
- White's career since the end of The Golden Girls in 1992 has been playing against her image as Rose. Thus, when she shows up today, expect her to be a Racist Grandma or some other subversion of Rose's affable ditziness.
White has undergone something of a late-career renaissance in the last year or so. In 2009, she had a supporting role in the successful romantic comedy The Proposal starring Sandra Bullock. She appeared in a famous Snickers ad for the 2010 Super Bowl (which also happened to include Abe Vigoda), which inspired an originally semi-ironic Facebook campaign to get her to host the long-running sketch show Saturday Night Live during Season 35. The campaign was a big hit, and Lorne Michaels brought her on the show, making White the oldest host in the show's history at age 88 and a half (and beat out the only non-celebrity host — Miskel Spillman, who was 80 at the time, helmed the 1977 Christmas show after winning the "Anyone Can Host" contest in Season 3). She also had numerous high-profile guest appearances, like a recurring professor on Community, and received the Screen Actors Guild's Life Achievement Award in 2010. She recently contributed to TV Land's Network Decay by starring in Hot in Cleveland, although that's hardly a bad thing. In 2012, she began hosting a new prank show on NBC, Betty White's Off Their Rockers, featuring old people pranking youngsters.
She has her own clothing line, and t-shirts with her face on them are, at the moment, huge in Tokyo.
Tropes associated with Betty White:
- Cool Old Lady: Very much her image these days.
- The Danza: A number of times.
- D.C. Follies: Betty was the special guest in an episode of the 1980s series.
- Deadpan Snarker: Many of her recent roles have her do this. She's extremely good at it.
- She's prone to the snark in real life too.
- The Ditz: As Rose Nylund on The Golden Girls and its spinoff The Golden Palace.
- Friend to All Living Things: Her love of animals is well-known.
- Game Show Host: Of Just Men!, for which she won her only daytime Emmy despite NBC canning it after 13 weeks. Due to the way the Emmy nomination period worked at the time, she was actually nominated for it a second time.
- Happily Married: To Allen Ludden before he passed away.
- Older Than They Look: She looks like she's in her 60s, but she's actually 93.
- Playing Against Type: As discussed, she has done this several times.
- Racist Grandma: In Everwood, among other places, though that specific example was only latently racist.
- Self-Deprecation: She's frequently made jokes at her own expense. When she was on Jimmy Kimmel recently, he asked her about first moving to Hollywood, and she mentioned that she wasn't sure if California was a state yet at the time.
- Signature Style: Not so much her, just the people around her. Since Hollywood doesn't exactly value age, most writers aren't sure what to do with her, so a few of her appearances have her play a sweet old lady saying crass and bizarre things (such as her appearances on The Late Late Show and Saturday Night Live).