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Betty White: 60 Years of Television Gold

by Jason Hughes, posted May 8th 2010 10:01AM
Betty WhiteThere's nobody quite like Betty White. She's been a part of entertainment longer than most of us have been alive, and you could argue that she's never been hotter than she is right now.

An Internet push convinced Lorne Michaels to extend another offer to the 88-year old comedienne to host 'Saturday Night Live.' She'll follow up her appearance this weekend on one of NBC's longest running comedies by starring in TV Land's first ever. It will be her eleventh series where she was either a star or had a major recurring role.

Whether you remember her best as Sue Ann Nivens from 'The Mary Tyler Moore Show,' Rose Nylund from 'The Golden Girls,' or as the kooky old broad who felt up Sandra Bullock in 'The Proposal,' White has had an impact on fans of television and film for generations. In a career with no low points, we could have gone on for pages about White. Instead, we'll hit ten highlights of her more than 60 years in the spotlight.

Betty White, 'Life With Elizabeth'1) Elizabeth

After a successful career through the 1940s in radio, Betty White got her start in television in 1949. She joined Al Jarvis on 'Hollywood on Television,' a local live variety show broadcast on KLAC-TV in Los Angeles.

In 1952, she took over sole hosting duties, and spun off 'Life With Elizabeth,' a comedy series based on a recurring sketch in the show. She earned her first of six Emmy Awards for her portrayal of the title role.

By the mid-'50s, 'Elizabeth' was being syndicated nationally, and Betty White was becoming a household name.

2) The First Lady of Game Shows

For three decades, White was a staple on America's game shows. She appeared frequently on 'Password,' and even married the show's original host Allen Ludden. Her quick wit and intelligence made her a great partner for contestants. In 2008, she returned to the latest incarnation of 'Million Dollar Password,' hosted by Regis Philbin, and proved she hadn't skipped a beat.

She appeared frequently on game shows like 'What's My Line?,' Match Game,' and 'Pyramid' into the 1980s, making these appearances alongside her acclaimed work in prime time. In 1983, she took home a Daytime Emmy Award for hosting work on 'Just Men!,' the first woman to be so honored.

Betty White, 'The Mary Tyler Moore Show'3) Sue Ann Nivens

1973 launched a new era for White, starting with a guest appearance on 'The Mary Tyler Moore Show' as the under-sexed "Happy Homemaker" Sue Ann Nivens. Due to the popularity of the character, White was quickly elevated to a full-time cast member. She would go on to earn two more Emmy Awards for the role.

She was able to play both sides of the character due to Sue Ann being the host of a women's show, not dissimilar to what Martha Stewart does today. On her show, Sue Ann was as sweet as can be, but when the cameras were off, her snide, narcissistic cruel side would show.

4) Rose Nylund

Rue McClanahan and Betty White both shifted from 'The Carol Burnett Show' spin-off, 'Mama's Family,' to co-star in 'The Golden Girls from 1985-1992. It would go on to become White's longest and most successful role;White was nominated for an Emmy Award for her performance as Rose Nylund every season the show was on the air, and won it after the first season.

Rose was sweet and naive to the point of seeming idiotic at times. Kind to a fault, Rose quickly became the heart of the show and won over a whole new generation of fans.

Betty White, 'My Name Is Earl'5) Guest Who?

After 'Girls' spin-off 'The Golden Palace' was canceled, White was still a mainstay on television, making frequent guest appearances on talk shows, dramas and comedies. She received Emmy nominations for her work on 'Suddenly Susan,' 'The Practice,' 'Yes, Dear,' and 'My Name Is Earl.' She took home the prize for portraying a diva-like version of herself on 'The John Larroquette Show' in 1996.

White tackled another genre when she took on the recurring role of Ann Douglas on 'The Bold and the Beautiful.' She appeared multiple times from 2006-2009 in the role, until the character died of pancreatic cancer. She's also become a staple on 'The Late Late Show With Craig Ferguson,' where she often appears in various guises, including a Girl Scout, a prison guard, and an Exxon representative.

6) Lake Placid

Arguably the most memorable thing about the 1999 comic thriller 'Lake Placid' was White's turn as a seemingly sweet widow with a shockingly foul mouth and a dark connection to the giant crocodile.

By stepping so far out of the clean and sweet demeanor she'd established so definitively on 'The Golden Girls,' White endeared herself to yet another generation. Suddenly, she found even more opportunities to diversify the type of work she was doing, taking on even darker and more complex roles.

Betty White, 'Boston Legal'7) William Shatner

The role White established on 'The Practice' became a recurring thorn in the side of the team at 'Boston Legal.' As Catherine Piper, she was a scheming, blackmailing, cold-hearted woman who became more and more psychologically unhinged as the years passed.

Because of her role working with William Shatner on 'Legal,' she was invited as a guest on 'The Comedy Central Roast of William Shatner' in 2006. Her raunchy, hilarious and brilliant set brought the house down and proved that no matter her age, White can hang with anyone from any generation.

8) Sandra Bullock

2009 proved to be a huge year for White's career. Her performance with Sandra Bullock in 'The Proposal' was widely praised for its comic timing and the chemistry between the two women. They struck a friendship that continued when Bullock presented White with a lifetime achievement award at 'The 16th Screen Actors Guild Awards' in September 2009.

The two shot barbs at one another, and White gave a scathing, funny, humble and touching speech that brought the room to their feet. At 88-years old, White was as genius as ever, and proved that she had no interest in quitting the industry that had grown with her for the past 60 years.

Betty White, 'Saturday Night Live'9) Saturday Night Live

Alongside Abe Vigoda, White featured in a Snickers ad that quickly became the top-rated commercial of 'Super Bowl XLIV.' At this point, the fans took matters into their own hands and launched a Facebook campaign to convince White to host 'Saturday Night Live.'

Intimidated to take the gig because it was driven by the fans and she didn't want to disappoint them, White ultimately agreed. When she appears tonight, she will be the oldest person ever to have hosted the show.

10) Hot in Cleveland

Despite nearing her 90th year, Betty White isn't done yet. She had so much fun in what was supposed to be only a recurring role on TV Land's forthcoming comedy 'Hot in Cleveland,' that she signed on to the cast full-time. She's working alongside comedy veterans Valerie Bertinelli, Jane Leeves and Wendie Malick.

White plays the judgmental, sassy caretaker of the property the three women have rented. The role allows her to work as little or as much as she wants without impacting the direction of the show. 'Hot in Cleveland' kicks off its ten-episode debut season in June 2010. It doesn't look like White's white-hot career in television is going to end anytime soon.

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Betty White is a national treasure. I hope she sticks around for many years to come!

May 09 2010 at 12:35 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

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