“Even though Betty was about to turn 100, I thought she would live forever,” Witjas said. “I will miss her terribly, just like the animal world she loved so much. I don’t think Betty was ever afraid of dying because she always wanted to be with her most beloved husband Allen Ludden. that she would be with him again. “
CNN has reached out to Witjas for comment.
For the first half of her career – ultimately honored by Guinness World Records as the longest television career by a female artist – White was a regular, but little-noticed presence on radio and television.
There were 1950s sitcoms, a 1954 talk show, and even a role in the 1962 movie “Advise and Consent”. She appeared occasionally on game shows, in particular “Password”, hosted by her third husband, Allen Ludden.
But from her performance as acerbic kitchen diva Sue Ann Nivens on the 1970s sitcom “The Mary Tyler Moore Show” – from age 51 – White developed a knack for portraying the seemingly pure-hearted elder. , full of sincerity from the Midwest, who had an exciting inner life. In doing so, she created a new generation of fans, a base that only grew as she turned 90.
She was the sexually experienced, though otherwise naïve, Rose Nylund in “The Golden Girls.”
White also played a flinty and sometimes violent secretary on “Boston Legal”. She had a guest spot on “The Simpsons,” hosted “Saturday Night Live” – the oldest person to ever do this – and even appeared in a self-deprecating commercial for Snickers candy bars.
Through it all, she took her success – if not her job – lightly.
Betty White was supposed to be on TV.
When she was only 17, in 1939 she was on an experimental television show. The technology was still in its infancy, having made its public debut at the New York World’s Fair in 1939.
“I danced on an experimental TV show, the first on the West Coast, in downtown Los Angeles,” she told Guinness World Records. “I was wearing my graduation gown and our Beverly Hills High Student Body president Harry Bennett and I danced the ‘Merry Widow Waltz’.”
White was a native of the Midwest, born in Oak Park, Illinois, January 17, 1922. (Her name was officially Betty, not Elizabeth.) Her mother was a housewife and her father was an executive in an electrical company.
When she was 2 years old, her family moved to the Los Angeles area, where her father started making radios. During the Depression, business got so tight that at one point he traded it for dogs, hoping it would turn out to be a business. White recalled that his family had around 20 dogs at one time. She has become an animal lover forever.
White became a model after the television appearance, although her career was cut short by World War II, during which she served in the American Women’s Voluntary Services.
After the war she worked in the theater and eventually began to land radio roles in shows such as “The Great Gildersleeve” and “Blondie”. In 1949, a Los Angeles radio host, Al Jarvis, asked her to be his “Friday Girl” for a 5.5-hour live TV show that was supposed to be his TV radio show but s’ is quickly transformed into a loose variety. talk show, “Hollywood on TV”.
“It was like going to college for television,” she recalls. After a little over two years, White became the sole host.
She has embarked on other programs: a syndicated show, “Life with Elizabeth”; an NBC sitcom, “Date with the Angels”; the first of four programs called “The Betty White Show”; organize parades – “it happened in such a way that if a signal turned red and six cars lined up, I would announce them,” she said; and a variety of advertisements and appearances. White even had his own production company, a rarity for a woman at the time.
She also did game shows, which eventually led to meeting Ludden, her third husband.
Ludden was the host of “Password,” and White was a panelist in the show’s third week in 1961. Later, the two worked together in the summer stock and became good friends. Ludden, a widower, became an ardent pursuer, and in fact bought White – a two-time divorced woman reluctant to remarry – an alliance, wooing her in Los Angeles on transcontinental trips from her home in New York.
She finally agreed a year later when he bought her earrings and a stuffed bunny for Easter, the latter appealing to her love of animals.
“I came to the point of regretting that year that I wasted saying ‘no’. I would have given anything to get it back,” she said of her love affair with Ludden. .
They were married for 18 years until Ludden died of cancer in 1981. White never remarried.
Through much of the ’60s and into the’ 70s, White worked steadily but quietly, with frequent appearances on talk shows and game shows and the occasional guest slit. (At one point, she was asked to be part of the “Today Show” team.) In the early 1970s, she hosted “The Pet Set” syndicate, which featured celebrities and their pets.
White and Ludden had many friends, including Mary Tyler Moore and her producer husband, Grant Tinker. At the request of “MTM” casting director, Ethel Winant, White was cast to play Sue Ann Nivens, the “Happy Homemaker,” Sweet and Light while doing her cooking show, but a man-hungry harridan. off camera.
Originally intended to be unique – Nivens was having an affair with another character’s husband – by the end of the episode the chemistry was so strong that White had become a regular.
She won two Emmy Awards for the role.
White enjoyed working with actors but observed that “the magic of the show was the writing … It was a wonderful combination.”
White hit Paydirt again a decade later when she was cast as Rose on “The Golden Girls,” the 1985-92 show about four senior women sharing a house in Miami.
The script was “dynamite,” White recalls. She was originally selected for the role of Blanche, the lustful widow played by Rue McClanahan, but director Jay Sandrich – who had worked with White on “MTM” – didn’t want her to repeat herself and suggested Rose.
The actors hit it off, White recalls.
“It’s like four points on a compass,” she recalls. “That’s why we get along so well together.”
The show has won a number of Emmys over its seven seasons, including one for White.
White has never really been out of the public eye. After the release of “The Golden Girls” she was still working, whether as a spokesperson for animal welfare – she was a trustee of the Morris Animal Foundation for over 40 years – or as a guest in various television shows.
But even she was not prepared for the surge in popularity that accompanied her appearance in the 2009 film “The Proposal”, in which she played Ryan Reynolds’ grandmother.
At the 2010 Screen Actors Guild Awards, she received a Lifetime Achievement Honor, cheekily presented by “Proposal” co-star Sandra Bullock as “a seriously annoying person.”
After receiving a long ovation, she gave the best she received.
“Isn’t it heartwarming to see how far a girl as simple as she can go?” she said of Bullock.
Later, she added: “I am still, to this day, amazed. I look at this audience and I see so many famous faces. But what really amazes me is that I know a lot of you, and I’ve worked with a number. Maybe, “she added,” had a couple. And you know who you are. ”
And then she got serious.
“This is the highlight of my professional life,” she said. “Thank you from the heart.”
Years later, she still wondered why she had suddenly started to gain attention again.
“I don’t know where (where) the ‘comeback’ story came from,” she told Oprah Winfrey in 2015. “I’ve been working steadily for 70 years!”
But it never stopped for Betty White. There was the Snickers ad. The “SNL” appearance. Another series, “Hot in Cleveland”, and appearances on “Community”, “Save Me” (as God) and even “WWF Raw”. She had a Twitter account with over a million followers.
She never took anything for granted, remaining the same down-to-earth, slightly mischievous and endearing woman audiences had first seen decades ago.
“I’m the luckiest old lady on two feet,” she told CNN in 2017. “I can still find a job, at this age. I’ll go to my grave saying ‘May I come in and read for that tomorrow? ‘”