AP Photo: Chris Pizzello

99 years of Betty White

February 2, 2022

Actress Betty White died at the close of 2021, age 99, and was active almost to the end. She would have turned 100 on January 17 and was looking forward to a big party to celebrate her life and the film “Betty White: 100 Years Young—a Birthday Celebration.”

I’ve been watching Betty White my whole life, beginning with “The Mary Tyler Moore Show,” in which she played the devious Happy Homemaker Sue Ann Nivens on the TV news. But I didn’t know that much about her life. In learning some of her story since her death and watching hilarious videos, I’ve been inspired by the following ways Betty White approached her life and her work.

1. Betty laughed. She was a brilliant comic actress and was funny in interviews too. She was able to laugh at herself and others, though not in a mean way.

2. Betty loved. After two early failed marriages, she waited until she was in her late 30s to marry TV game show host Allen Ludden. He was the love of her life. After his death in 1981, she never remarried. She also had many lifelong friends. She loved animals as much as people and put her celebrity to work in support of animal rights.

3. Betty kept working. She loved show business. She often said she was a bit starstruck even late in her career.

4. Betty wrote. She wrote several books later in her life, but she started writing at a young age. In a Johnny Carson interview after the 1987 publication of her second book, “Betty White in Person,” she shared a “screenplay” she had written at the age of eleven. Her books are funny and positive, going for laughs rather than for the Hollywood exposé.

I’ve found watching funny videos a tremendous help throughout this pandemic. Rediscovering Betty White has been another gift of laughter.

5. Betty went with serendipity. She got her first radio role when she was mixed up with another actress named Betty White at the audition. She met her husband when he was the host of the game show “Password” and she was a guest. (It did take him three proposals to get her to say yes and move to Los Angeles from New York.)

6. Betty persisted. Her career lasted eight decades, starting in 1939 with an experimental television show at the New York World’s Fair. She was never really out of the public eye from the 1950s until her death. In a male-dominated industry, she produced her own show in the ’50s. In an industry that also famously worships the young and the beautiful, she kept working for decades. She hosted “Saturday Night Live” at the age of 88, the oldest person ever to do so, due to a clamor from fans.

7. Betty appreciated what she had. She called herself “the luckiest old broad on two feet.”

If you haven’t watched Betty White, or you want a refresher, there are many clips on YouTube. Also “The Mary Tyler Moore Show” and “The Golden Girls” are streaming on Hulu. Click here to find a list of where to find some of her other movie and TV appearances.

I’ve found watching funny videos a tremendous help throughout this pandemic. Rediscovering Betty White has been another gift of laughter.

Rev. Margaret Marcuson helps ministers do their work without wearing out or burning out, through ministry coaching, presentations, and online resources.

The views expressed are those of the author and not necessarily those of American Baptist Home Mission Societies.

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