The grand dame of American TV comedy, Betty Marion White (born January 17, 1922) is currently 96 years old and has been at work in the entertainment industry since 1939, when she began her career on the radio. She then got in on the ground floor of the newfangled medium of television, with her first IMDb credit for TV dating to 1949. By 1953, she had her first starring role (the sitcom Life With Elizabeth). First nominated for an Emmy in 1951, she was nominated a further 20 times and so far has won seven times.
White is notable for the number of times she has rebuilt her career based on playing against her previous image:
- In her initial phase, lasting from the 1950s until the early 1970s, she became known to the public through her various sitcoms and her appearances on Password (hosted by her third husband, Allen Ludden), Match Game and other game shows. This Betty was a sweet and charming woman, the classic sitcom mother. (One exception to this was her small role as a United States Senator in Advise & Consent.)
- Then she landed the role of Sue Ann Nivens in The Mary Tyler Moore Show, a parody of this sort of character to the point that the creators originally wanted to cast a "Betty White type" in the part. Sue Ann pretended to be that sort of nice person on her TV program, but offscreen she was greedy, bitchy, and man-hungry. This set the tenor of her appearances for the next decade or so...
- ...until she was cast on The Golden Girls, which became probably her most iconic role. She was originally suggested for the role of Blanche, a character more in line with Sue Ann and the character she played on Mama's Family, but she ended up as Rose Nylund, The Ditz of the group. White reprised her role for the one-season spinoff The Golden Palace after The Golden Girls ended in 1992.
- White's career since the end of The Golden Palace in 1993 has been playing against her image as Rose. Thus, when she shows up today, expect her to be a Racist Grandma or some other subversion of Rose's affable ditziness.
White has undergone something of a late-career renaissance since 2009. In 2009, she had a supporting role in the successful romantic comedy The Proposal starring Sandra Bullock. She appeared in a famous Snickers ad for the 2010 Super Bowl (which also happened to include Abe Vigoda), which inspired an originally semi-ironic Facebook campaign to get her to host the long-running sketch show Saturday Night Live during Season 35. The campaign was a big hit, and Lorne Michaels brought her on the show, making White the oldest host in the show's history at age 88 and a half (and beat out the only non-celebrity host — Miskel Spillman, who was 80 at the time, helmed the 1977 Christmas show after winning the "Anyone Can Host" contest in Season 3). She also had numerous high-profile guest appearances, like a recurring professor on Community, and received the Screen Actors Guild's Life Achievement Award in 2010. She contributed to TV Land's Network Decay by starring in Hot in Cleveland, although that's hardly a bad thing. In 2012, she began hosting a new prank show on NBC, Betty White's Off Their Rockers, featuring old people pranking youngsters. In August of 2015 she announced that she would guest-star in an episode of Bones.
She has her own clothing line, and t-shirts with her face on them are huge in Tokyo. She's also known for being a huge animal rights activist, and regularly works with various charities, such as the American Humane Association. She is also perfect in every waynote and is also the Queen where American TV is concerned.
Tropes associated with Betty White:
- Adam Westing: On her guest appearance on Ugly Betty
- Biting-the-Hand Humor: When she hosted on SNL (which, really, is a trademark gag on SNL nowadays), she mentioned that her first TV show was broadcast live, because they didn't know how to record TV yet. She's not sure what their excuse at SNL isnote The petition to have her host was on Facebook. So of course Betty decided to call Facebook "a huge waste of time."
- Cool Old Lady: They don't come much cooler than Betty!
- The Ditz: As Rose Nylund on The Golden Girls and its spinoff The Golden Palace.
- Game Show Host: Of Just Men!, for which she won her only daytime Emmy despite NBC canning it after 13 weeks. Due to the way the Emmy nomination period worked at the time, she was actually nominated for it a second time. Also, she was married to Password host Allen Ludden until his death. She's also made appearances on Jimmy Fallon's mini-revival of Password, her 90th Birthday Celebration special featured an edition hosted by Joel McHale, and her Lifetime Achievment Award at the 2015 Daytime Emmys was preceded by an edition of Password Plus hosted by Tom Bergeron.
- Nice Lady: Betty is just sweet as pie.
- Older Than They Look: 96 years old, but could still pass for her late 60s.
- Racist Grandma: She sometimes plays them. In Everwood, among other places, though that specific example was only latently racist.
- Running Gag: On the The Late Late Show, she always needed some cash, as she lost it on (insert name of any incident here).
- Self-Deprecation: She's frequently made jokes at her own expense. When she was on Jimmy Kimmel, he asked her about first moving to Hollywood, and she mentioned that she wasn't sure if California was a state yet at the time.
- Signature Style: Not so much her, just the people around her. Since Hollywood doesn't exactly value age, most writers aren't sure what to do with her, so a few of her appearances have her play a sweet old lady saying crass and bizarre things (such as her appearances on The Late Late Show and Saturday Night Live).