Really, if you think about it, if life were some kind of game show, then Betty White might very well be the winner. Hear me out, Betty won the hearts and admiration of millions of fans across the globe as the star of beloved shows like The Mary Tyler Moore Show and The Golden Girls.
And ever since that 2010 Super Bowl Snickers commercial, her career has experienced a massive resurgence and a whole new generation has been introduced to the legendary actress-turned-cultural icon. After winning over a new legion of devoted fans, she went on to make history by becoming the oldest Saturday Night Live host in the show’s 45-year run. She even won an Emmy for said performance.
White’s illustrious career and impressive portfolio of works aren’t the only reasons why so many people have been so enamored by her. Betty’s personality is also uncannily magnetic. She’s kind-hearted, fun-loving, witty as can be, and sharp as a whip.
Betty’s now 98 and her professional career has spanned more than 80 years – and just in case your wondering, No, retirement is still something that she considers to be totally off the table. She’ll probably still be acting right up until the day she takes her last breath – and that’s exactly what she wants.
She told Parade magazine back in 2018 that she feels ‘so lucky to have the career’ that she’s had and that she’s ‘loved every minute of it!’.
Before she was everyone’s favorite Golden Girl, Betty proved that she was more than just a talented actress. Most people aren’t aware of it but White is actually quite the skilled game show contestant. Now that might not be the biggest revelation in Hollywood history, but it is an unexpectedly integral component of her story.
You’ll see what we mean in a minute, so make sure you keep watching to find out the Betty White history that often is overlooked by those who tell her tale.
Betty’s First Appearance On TV Was A Fluke
Betty Marion White was born on January 17, 1922. She was the only child of Christine Tess and Horace Logan White.
While she was still yet a child, White already knew what she wanted to do with her life. At first, she wanted to be a writer but after she wrote herself into the lead role of her High School graduation play at Horace Mann Grammar School in the Bronx, she knew that she wanted to be an actress. She had contracted what she called ‘showbiz fever’ and there proved to be no cure for that affliction.
The first time Betty White appeared on television was actually the result of sheer chance. After she finished singing at her high school graduation, she was chosen to be one of just two students to take part in some kind of experimental television transmission in 1939. She never volunteered, it just kind of happened. The transmission was a success but it certainly wasn’t far-reaching. The feed was only transmitted through six floors of a single building. It might not sound all that exciting but it was White’s first taste at being on screen.
Ten years later, in 1949, after spending several years brushing up on her radio skills, White landed her first paid job in television. After making an appearance on The Dick Haynes Show, he secured for herself a recurring guest spot on the Tom, Dick, and Harry comedy variety show. Even though that show was pretty short-lived, it helped White land another job at the same TV station. Working there proved to be one of the most influential chapters of her early career.
A Producer Told White Not To Reveal Her Salary
The station White worked for was developing a new game show concept called Grab Your Phone. Four girls were put on a panel and each one was given a telephone that sat on the counter in front of them. Wes Battersea, the show’s host, would ask the audience a question, and then the girls would pick up the phone as viewers at home would call in with their answers.
White described the show as looking something like some kind of miniature telethon. But instead of taking pledges, they were giving lucky callers five dollars for each correct answer.
Before the pilot was even filmed, White was pulled aside by one of the producers and told not to tell the other girls what she was being paid. She was getting 20 dollars a week while the other girls were only receiving 10 – but that’s because White sat on the end of the panel and ad-libbed with West. She stood out from the rest of the girls because of her sense of humor and charm.
White decided that it was in her best interest to keep her mouth shut about her salary, even though in the back of her mind she wondered whether all of the girls were told not to disclose their salaries as well. Maybe she was the one being paid less than the rest. Regardless, when the cameras started rolling it became real clear that White was destined for show business. She had a natural knack for being on game shows and that was just the beginning of it.
White’s Love For Games Started Early On
Competing on live television game shows seemed to come naturally for White and she attributes that to the fact that she grew up playing board games with her family. And since she’s always had the innate instinct to deliver witty commentary when the moments right, she seemed destined to be the perfect game show contestant.
White would regularly play games with her mother and father when she was a child. Her family loved making up games to play as well. It didn’t matter where they were or what they were doing, games were a constant part of her formidable years. Whether they were playing road games cruising down the highway or playing tabletop games in the kitchen – it was one constant in White’s childhood that she looks back on particularly fondly. So when she got the opportunity to go on TV and spend a couple of hours every week playing games with pleasant people, she considered the fact that she got paid to do it just an added bonus.
After participating in the panel for Grab Your Phone, Betty White developed a lifelong obsession with the genre. For the next several decades she would become the reigning queen of television game shows.
Hey, don’t mean to get too side-tracked, but if you’re enjoying this video so far, make sure you give it a like and subscribe to our channel – And keep watching to learn how Betty White went from being a guest-panelist on an obscure local game show to the highly celebrated cultural icon that she is today.
Appearing On Grab Your Phone Opened Several Doors For Her
LA DJ Al Jarvis caught a couple of episodes of the local Grab Your Phone game show while he was developing a daytime TV show called Hollywood on Television. He was running out of time and desperately needed a girl Friday – or an assistant as it would be called today = ASAP.
He offered the job to White and she replied that she would not only be his ‘girl Friday’ but she was also willing to be his girl Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday. She knew that Jarvis had plans to make his show a daily thing and thought that she would be perfect for the position.
Jarvis was impressed by her witty reply and commended her for the way she vibed with Wes Battersea on Grab Your Phone. He extended to her an offer of $50 a week to join the show and of course, she promptly accepted. Little did she know at the time that she had just started a lifelong love affair with television that would span over 8 decades.
White Met Her Husband On A Game Show
After finding success in Hollywood on Television, Betty would go on to co-found Bandy Productions. She quickly got started developing her own projects which included producing and starring in the groundbreaking sitcom Life With Elizabeth in 1953.
From there, she went on to star on Date With Angels in 1957, The Mary Tyler Moore Show In 1973, and of course The Golden Girls in 1985.
But all throughout that journey, she maintained her love for game shows. In fact, Betty has appeared in over 50 of them including, To Tell The Truth, What’s My Line, You Don’t Say, and The $25,000 Pyramid. She even hosted 65 episodes of her own game show in 1983 called Just Men!. She won an Emmy award for her work on that show as well. In case you’re wondering, in total, White has won 5 Primetime Emmys, 2 Daytime Emmys, and an Emmy Lifetime achievement award – and she deserves every last one of them.
Game shows have given Betty far more than just fun and games. White actually met her husband while she a contestant on Password. When she met host Allen Ludden, the two immediately hit it off. They got married in 1963.
After White and Ludden got married, they didn’t even have time to take a honeymoon because of Ludden’s obligations to Password. But as a wedding present, Jack Paar came on the show as a guest. They had always wanted him on the program but he kept turning down the offer. When he finally agreed to pay a visit, he ended up playing the opposing player.
While it was her love of performing that drew her to pursue a career as a thespian, it was her adoration for television – and specifically game shows – that brought White to some of the most pivotal moments of her career and personal life alike.
With the longest television career of any living performer, Betty White has proved time and time again that she is one of a kind. And hopefully, she’ll keep on kickin’ for quite some time. It’s baffling to think that she has appeared on screen in nine different decades – but just think about how many lives she’s touched in the process.
We could talk about Betty White all day but alas we’ve reached the end of another facts-tastic video. We’d love to hear from you though! Who’s your favorite Betty White role, Sue Ann Nivens on The Mary Tyler Moore Show or Roese Nylund on The Golden Girls? Leave your opinion in the comments section below – and don’t be afraid to post your favorite Betty White memories while you’re at it.
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