January 17, 2022 would have marked the 100 year birthday of actress and media personality Betty White. The actress, who was affectionately known as “America’s Grandmother“, passed away last month on December 31. Only two and a half weeks away from her landmark birthday.
As we mourn her passing, we want to tell you that Betty White wasn’t only a star on movie and TV screens. But she lived a love story worth telling on a screen as well.
While best known for her role in The Golden Girls and, more recently, Hot In Cleveland, White appeared in more than 120 different productions over her life. One of her earlier appearances was on the game show Password in 1961. White appeared in the 3rd episode of the show’s first season alongside fellow actor Don Ameche. But while White’s bright smile charmed the hearts of thousands of Americans that night; the most important impression she made was on the show host Allen Ludden. From that day onward, Ludden would love Betty White until his dying breath.
Join Facts Verse as we go through the history of White’s and Ludden’s iconic marriage. Watch until the end to hear about their entire story as well as what White said about Ludden at the end of her life!
Allen Ludden was born in 1917 and served during World War II before beginning his media career with CBS radio. Ludden’s first game show was G.E. College Bowl which he hosted from 1959 to 1962. His main claim to fame was the next game show,Password; which was on air between 1961 and 1967 for its original version. In each episode two celebrities would compete to guess the titular “password” through one-word clues. He would go on to host multiple versions of Password and other shows. He also release books and a musical album. And win an Emmy Award for “Outstanding Host or Hostess” in the “Game or Audience Participation Show” category. And be awarded a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.
As we mentioned in the intro, Allen Ludden and Betty White first met on the set of Password when she was a guest on its first season in 1961. While the full episode is not available on any streaming services; a documentary series Betty White: The First Lady of Television shows a bit of Ludden and White’s interactions during that first taping. Their chemistry shines through as White laughs and smiles at Ludden’s jokes. And he flirts with her, asking playfully what she was planning to do for the summer.
However, by the time White appeared on Ludden’s show, he had already been married. His first wife was Margaret McGloin, who he married while in the army in 1943. The couple had three children, Sarah, Martha, and David. They were married for nearly 20 years until McGloin died from cancer in 1961.
Soon after their meeting, Ludden began pursuing Betty White. He proposed to her multiple times, reportedly more than twice, before she said yes a year later. White explained her initial hesitation with a few reasons. First, she was already in a relationship at the time. Second, she didn’t want to move to New York to live with Ludden, as the city was where he hosted his show. And third, White had already been married twice before, and both of those marriages were not particularly happy or successful ones, so she wasn’t particularly inclined to try again.
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Betty White’s first marriage was to an army pilot Dick Barker, whom she married and divorced within the same year in 1945 when she realized that she didn’t want to live on a farm and allegedly ran to Los Angeles. She then stayed within her industry and married Hollywood agent Lane Allen in 1947, but their marriage also didn’t last. The couple divorced in 1949 over a difference in priorities: Allen wished to have children, while White wanted to focus on her career.
Given that history, it’s understandable why White didn’t want to immediately accept Ludden’s proposal especially since he had just recently lost his first wife. And she might have worried about the sincerity of his intentions. In hindsight, the actress referred to her previous marriages as “two mistakes” and “rehearsals”. She seems to regret rejecting Ludden’s initial proposal; saying that she “wasted a whole year” that they could have spent together. In a 2012 CNN interview White thought back to the moment she changed her mind, saying that she wondered to herself “Am I going to live the rest of my life without this man?”.
When White said yes in 1962, the couple quickly began performing together. That year, they played ina Critic’s Choice performance for a summer stock theater and starred in a romantic comedy play Janus. They married in June 1963 and taped an episode of Password together as a married couple that same month.
White considered Ludden the love of her life. She described falling in love with Ludden’s contagious passion and curiosity, saying that he “was interested in everything”. According to an interview for PBS, she thought that he was “very attractive” from the first time she saw him on the set of Password.
In fact, for White, Ludden was not only a loving husband and a close friend. But he made up for the disappointment of her previous two marriages. While he was an army veteran like her first husband; by the time they met Ludden was already an entertainment industry professional and so shared a lot in common with White. The actress also never felt pressured to have biological children in her third marriage. She never regretted choosing not to be a mother, telling CBS in 2012 that if she had “ever gotten pregnant”. Then she would have become “compulsive” about it and motherhood “would have been” her “whole focus”.
Because Ludden was already a single father to his three kids; he didn’t pressure White to have any more and was happy with her focus on professional success. Instead, White found fulfillment helping raise her stepchildren. As a stepmom, she got to have the best of both worlds, getting both a personal life and a career. While the three kids all lead private lives, when they have spoken about their family life they’ve only expressed positive feelings. On her side, White expresses love for all three of them.
As for her professional life, White was as successful as she ever hoped to be. She and Ludden were both in the same industry, feeding into each other’s success through their mutual work and appearances. White spent her life dedicated to her craft, and in the end her long career spanned 82 years. Bringing over 120 credits to her name. Betty was one of the main figures of classic Hollywood and continued delighting many generations of audiences from behind the screen until her death in 2021. She’s the first American woman to produce a sitcom when working on Life with Elizabeth and was sometimes called the “First Lady of Television”. Betty White even held the Guinness World Record title for “Longest TV career by an entertainer (female)” in 2014 and 2018.
In all ways, Ludden and White were perfect for each other and madly in love. But their bliss had an end-date. In the late 70s, Ludden got diagnose with stomach cancer. While he survived for a few more years he died shortly after he and White completed building their home in 1981. “He slept there two nights,” White said in a 1999 interview. At the time of his death, Ludden was 63 years old.
White remembered the agony of living in the empty house after her husband’s passing. In an interview for People magazine she recalled breaking down on the floor together with the family dogs.
For the rest of her life, White never interested in marrying again. She told CNN in 2011 that she “had the love of [her] life. If you’ve had the best, who needs the rest?”. It seems that the entire world agrees that those two truly were soulmates. Their relationship has been the subject of many articles and interviews over multiple decades. And even recognized by the Hollywood Walk of Fame as in 1988 White accepted Ludden’s posthumous star on the Walk of Fame which, to this day, is next to her own.
She continued loving Allen until her very last day. According to fellow actress and close friend Carol Burnett, White’s last word was “Allen”. Her agent Jeff Witjas has also mentioned in an interview with People Magazine that White always “believed she would be with” her husband Allen again after her death. .
“The love of your life doesn’t come along in every life,” White said in an interview with Daily Mail in 2011. And she lived on with no regrets, knowing that she was lucky enough to find hers and spend 18 years with him.
All of us may only hope to fall in love as deeply as Betty White and Allen Ludden. Did you know about their love story before watching this video? What was your favorite fact about their relationship: that White’s last word was her husband’s name or that their stars on the Hollywood Walk of Fame are next to each other? Let us know in the comments below!
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