- Kevin Winter / Getty Images
She made a name for herself on “The Mary Tyler Moore Show” and “Golden Girls.” In the past few years, White has made a huge TV comeback with cameos on “Community” and “The Middle” before shattering ratings on “Saturday Night Live.”
Today, our favorite “Golden Girl” turns 97, and she’s still a powerhouse in Hollywood.
Her TV Land show “Hot in Cleveland” completed five seasons in 2015. And despite her NBC comedy show “Off Their Rockers” getting axed in 2013, White has kept busy since then with appearances on shows like “Crowded,” “Bones,” “Young & Hungry,” and “Fireside Chat With Esther.”
But how much do you really know about White?
We dug through LIFE’s illustrated biography of Betty White to learn what you don’t know about the funny woman.
Betty’s first work in Hollywood was in a Parkay margarine commercial.
White hung around in producer Fran Van Hartesveldt office until he decided to offer her a job in the commercial.
This led to her appearance on radio show “The Great Gildersleeve,” also headed by Hartesveldt.
White has never had acting lessons.
- Hulton Archive/Getty Images
The actress said they were never her thing.
“I just want to bring as much natural as I can,” said White. “I’m not saying that people who take acting lessons are false. They’re much better than I am, but it doesn’t work for me.”
She originally wanted to be an opera singer.
White opened up to the Canadian Press while discussing her role in the animated film “The Lorax,” which had the actress sing a few bars.
“When I was a youngster, I wanted to be an opera singer, so I took very serious singing lessons.”
White may never have appeared alongside Al Jarvis on “Hollywood on Television” – and later become host in 1952 – if she passed up an unpaid gig.
- Earl Leaf/Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images
Before joining “Hollywood on Television,” White was asked if she’d be interested in a television special with then-radio disc jockey, Dick Haynes. The free gig led to a call from Jarvis, another disc jockey, to have Betty as his sidekick on “Hollywood on Television.”
White earned $300 a week when “Hollywood on Television” was expanded to six days a week with five-and-a-half hour days.
- Wikimedia Commons
White once performed 58 live advertisements in a day.
- Kevin Winter/Getty Images
She and “Hollywood on Television” co-host Al Jarvis had to do numerous live ads for their sponsors.
White’s first Emmy nod was for her role in the comedy she created, “Life with Elizabeth” in 1952.
You can watch a scene from the movie here.
White’s showbiz career could have been cut short if she stayed with second husband Lane Allan.
Allan wanted White to stop working and focus on a traditional family life, but the actress chose her career over her husband.
“He didn’t want me to be in show business,” said White. “When you have a calling you have to follow it, so I made the choice, blew the marriage and I’ve never regretted it.” White married the love of her life, TV host, Allen Ludden in 1963. The two met while White was a celebrity guest on “Password” in 1961 and remained married until his passing in ’81.
White was never a fan of the short-lived TV show “Date With the Angels.”
In her 1997 book “Here We Go Again,” White described her experience with the ABC show as unhappy. She didn’t see her co-star Bill Williams as someone who thought funny.
“I think I can honestly say that that was the only time I have ever wanted to get out of a show,” said White.
Betty hosted a show called “The Pet Set” in 1971 featuring celebrities and their pets.
The show, produced by her husband, ended after one season when Carnation pulled its advertising.
Watch a scene from the show here.
White wasn’t supposed to play Sue Ann on “The Mary Tyler Moore Show.”
The part was originally for a “Betty White-type.”
It was thought Betty and Mary’s friendship may not work out on screen.
White prefers animals to humans.
- Brian To/Getty Images
“Animals don’t lie. Animals don’t criticize,” said White in 2012 book “If You Ask Me.” “If animals have moody days, they handle them better than humans do.”
She loved animals so much, that her first production company, Bandy Productions, was named after her Pekingese, Bandit.
White was originally offered the role of Blanche on “The Golden Girls.”
Rue McClanahan was offered the role of naïve Rose Nylund while Betty was asked to play Blanche.
Pilot director Jay Sandrich suggested the two switch roles since they played similar ones in the past, and it was the best decision ever. White won the Emmy for outstanding actress in a comedy series for her portrayal. After the show’s end, she reprised her role as Rose in the short-lived spin-off, “The Golden Palace.”
White’s appearance on TV Land’s “Hot in Cleveland” was only supposed to be a one-time guest role.
- TV Land
However, producers loved her and quickly gave her a full-time role.
White is “Saturday Night Live’s” oldest guest-host.
She received a Primetime Emmy Award for her performance, which caused us to never look at a muffin the same way again.
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