Saying Goodbye To Betty White: America’s National Treasure


Dec. 31 2021, Published 8:09 p.m. ET

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Today we say goodbye to a one-of-a-kind legend, Betty White. She was 99 years old. White was such a cultural icon, that we expected her to live forever. And, she will, within the characters she embodied and our memories of observing her through our screens.

Here is a look back on the trailblazing life she lived.

Early Life

On Jan. 17, 1922, in Oak Park, Illinois, comedic actress, Betty Marion White was born. According to People, White grew up as the only child of Horace, a traveling salesman, and electrical engineer, and Tess Curts White, a homemaker. The article further states, at the age of two, she moved to Los Angeles with her family during the great depression. As a child, she dreamed about becoming a forest ranger or a writer but fell in love with performing after taking the lead in a high school senior play that she wrote.

“I know it sounds corny, but I try to see the funny side and the upside, not the downside. I get bored with people who complain about this or that. It’s such a waste of time.”

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Career Beginnings

White’s career in entertainment began in the 1940s after she graduated from high school, working as an assistant at a local television station, says Biography. Following the ending of her second marriage in 1949, White and an L.A. deejay named Al Jarvis got their feet wet together on local TV. White became co-host with Al Jarvis on his daily variety show Hollywood on Television in Los Angeles. After Jarvis’ departure in 1952, White began hosting by herself, working five and a half hours of live ad-lib television, six days a week, for four years. She was nominated for her first Emmy Award in 1951 as best actress on television. It was the first award and category in the new award show designated specifically for women in television.

While hosting the variety show, White began acting in the television comedy Life with Elizabeth. It became nationally syndicated, making White one of the few women in TV with full creative control in front of and behind the camera. She earned her second and third Emmy nominations while appearing on The Mary Tyler Moore Show in the 1970s and became the first woman to win a Daytime Emmy Award in the category of outstanding game show host for the NBC show Just Men! in 1983.

“Don’t take yourself too seriously. You can lie to others — not that I would — but you cannot lie to yourself.”

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In the years immediately following, White’s work pace accelerated, climaxing with The Golden Girls, on which she embodied the charismatic Rose Nylund during the show’s run from 1985–92.

Prior to the show’s premiere, White confided to The New York Times, “A couple of speeches Rose makes get me by the throat. All I have to do is substitute ‘Allen’ for ‘Charlie,’ Rose’s husband.”After The Golden Girls ended in 1992, White starred in a series of TV shows, including The Golden Palace, Bob, and Maybe This Time, and made cameos in programs including Ally McBeal and That ’70s Show, in which she played Bea Sigurdson, Kitty’s mother.

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Shortly after those appearances, White starred in a series of TV movies in the early 2000s before starring as Catherine Piper in Boston Legal from 2005–08 and later as Ann Douglas in The Bold and the Beautiful from 2006–09. In 2010, she accepted the role of Elka Ostrovsky in Hot in Cleveland, which became the linchpin of a career resurgence.

In Hot in Cleaveland, White starred alongside Valerie Bertinelli, Jane Leeves, and Wendie Malick. Her character, Elka Ostrosky, acted as the homemaker of the three 40-something best friends from Los Angeles who land in Cleveland after attempting to fly to Paris. The arrival of the ladies sparked the character’s life again and thrust her back into the world of dating at 80 years old.

White was nominated three times for the Screen Actors Guild Award for outstanding performance by a female actor in a comedy series in 2011, 2012 and 2013. She won the first two times. Throughout her long career, she was nominated for 21 Primetime Emmys, with five total wins.

“Don’t focus everything on you, that wears out pretty fast. It’s not hard to find things you’re interested in, but enjoy them and indulge them, and I think that can keep you on your toes.”

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Betty White was a talented actress, beloved icon, and trailblazer for women in Hollywood. Though White lived to be 99 years old, a Twitter user @QasimRashid pointed out the following, “On one hand she was 99 years 348 days old when she died. On the other hand, she lived through 24 leap years, i.e. 24 extra days. All I’m saying is mathematically, it arguably checks out that she lived 100 years and 7 days.”

Thank you, Betty, for being our friend.

“Don’t try to be young. Just open your mind. Stay interested in stuff. There are so many things I won’t live long enough to find out about, but I’m still curious about them.”

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By: Desjah Altvater

Through Her Agenda, Desjah aims to interview groundbreaking women and uniquely cover the pop culture and entertainment verticals. When she isn't telling people how to pronounce her name, she can be found watching Abbott Elementary and keeping up with everything but the Kardashians.

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