Betty White: Great Sluts of History

Cropped screenshot of Betty White from the tel...
Cropped screenshot of Betty White from the 1954 television series Betty White Show. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Start the outrage now, because however rude or crude her language or roles may be, nobody would openly call Betty White a slut. Those twinkling blue eyes, those dimples, that air of innocence… From adorable young woman to everybody’s favorite grandmother, right?

As noted below, “sluts” are generally women who are considered “too” powerful, “too” sexual, and/or “too” outspoken.

And people might think those things about Ms. White, but ain’t nobody gonna take her on.

Once upon a time, Betty Marion White was a baby (January 17, 1922), and a wanna-be writer who discovered a love of performing and never looked back.

Her first television gig came on an experimental Los Angeles channel in 1939, three months after her high school graduation. In the 1940’s she was on radio, and in 1949 she became co-host of a daily live variety show, Hollywood on Television, with Al Jarvis.

In 1952 after he left the show, Betty continued to host it, solo. This show ran six days a week, 5 1/2 hours a day, all live, all ad-libbed. She also sang several songs during each show. Later she hosted her own talk show, The Betty White Show, in 1954, and formed her own production company, at a time when women’s roles were almost exclusively limited to being in front of the camera (and not too many of those).

Betty did commercials, she appeared for almost twenty years as co-host of the Tournament of Roses Parade (with Lorne Greene) and she became the First Lady of Game Shows, with hundreds of appearances, her quick wit making her an audience and contestant favorite. A short list of her shows:

  • To Tell The Truth
  • What’s My Line?
  • The Match Game
  • Password (and its successor versions)
  • and a couple dozen more

She even hosted her own game show, briefly, called Just Men!, which did poorly in ratings as it was scheduled against noontime news programs, but her performance was impressive enough to earn her a Daytime Emmy as Outstanding Game Show Host, the first ever won by a female.

Question: Is there anything you haven’t done in your career that you would still like to do?
Betty: “Yes, Robert Redford.”

So, speaking of men, and game shows…

Allen Ludden & Betty White 1963
via Wikimedia Commons

Betty’s most famous marriage occurred on June 14, 1963, to widower and Password game show host and television personality Allen Ludden, who she first met while appearing as a celebrity guest in 1961.

However, she did have two prior marriages under her belt, both very short and ending in the 1940’s.

Betty did not have any biological children, but became stepmother to Ludden’s three children upon their marriage.

Allen and Betty’s devotion to one another and close relationship became something of a Hollywood legend. She says of being asked so many questions about him, she once turned it around, and said, “Why do you always ask me about Allen?” “The answer was simple: ‘We love the look you get on your face when you talk about him.'”

Following Allen Ludden’s death of stomach cancer in 1981, Betty White remained a widow.

The Happy, Horny Homemaker

In its fourth season, The Mary Tyler Moore Show was looking for an “icky sweet Betty White type” for a one-appearance role as Sue Ann Nivens, employed by fictional WJM-TV as the star of The Happy Homemaker. They decided to cast… Betty White.

The one appearance led to many that followed, and two Emmy Awards for Best Supporting Actress.

Mary Tyler Moore Show cast 1977
via Wikimedia Commons

“She was the Happy Homemaker who could fix anything, cook anything, and sleep with anyone who would stand still.”

From her book, she says “People would invariably ask Allen, ‘How close to Sue Ann is Betty?” He’d say, ‘They’re really the same character – except Betty can’t cook.'”

Golden Goddess

Betty White Aug 1988 Emmy Awards
via Wikimedia Commons by Alan Light

Many other roles followed, including her own series, The Betty White Show (1977-1978), regular appearances on The Tonight Show, and Mama’s Family. But Betty White is possibly most famous for her role as Rose Nylund, on The Golden Girls, which ran from 1985-1992. Nominated for an Emmy for each year of the show’s run, Betty won in 1985.

Since The Golden Girls ended, she has been on so many shows and in so many movies it’s impossible to name them all. Recurring roles on Boston Legal and The Late Late Show with Craig Ferguson.

Hot in Cleveland, another comedy series brought her raves and awards, and ran from 2010–2015.

And then there was the Snickers commercial that ran during Superbowl…

Apparently, even a big burly football player can’t keep this woman out of the game.

Oldest (and IMO, one of the Best Ever) Guest Hosts of Saturday Night Live

One of the things I did not “get,” until I read Betty’s book If You Ask Me (And of Course You Won’t), is that at the beginning of the SNL week, the cast begins reading and working with about forty sketches for the upcoming show. Memorization is not only impossible but futile, as the sketches are weeded out and substantially rewritten over the course of the week.

Finally by the day of the show, Betty was scheduled to be in 5-6 sketches, plus the opening monologue. They do the entire show, in costume, twice, before the “real” show that evening.

I’m tired just thinking about it. She was 89 years old, and still knocked it out of the park.

Question: “When you were growing up, did you always want to be in show business?”
Betty: “As far back as I can remember, I wanted to be either a forest ranger or a zookeeper. The problem was, back then a girl wasn’t allowed to be either one.”

She’s An Animal (Lover)!

Her production company was named Bandy, for her dog, Bandit. She’s had many dogs and met many animals up close and personal, from Koko the gorilla to Beethoven the beluga whale. She’s personally paid for rescue/rehabilitation for countless animals. And for those who’ve visited the Los Angeles Zoo, you know how generous she has been to that facility, in the more than 50 years she worked with and donated to it.

A few years ago, the US Forest Service made Betty an Honorary Forest Ranger. Complete with ceremony at the Kennedy Center, Smokey the Bear in attendance, and ranger hat.

“I shall continue to work my hardest to spread the word that not only must we protect our wilderness areas – we must appreciate them. They are an endangered species.”

Even a Dragon Lady Can’t Live Forever

She says, “When Allen and I first married, I became the stepmother of teenagers. Never having had children, I was suddenly the mother of teens! But we got along great. So great, they called me ‘Dragon Lady,’ lovingly.

Even after all these years, we love each other dearly, and I am most proud of the children this career girl inherited. A major blessing – yet again.”

Betty White is the current record holder for longest career in American Television (65 years and counting). She’ll be 92 this month, She would have been 100 on January 17, 2022, and at that age (or long, long before), it’s natural to begin thinking about death. She says, “But I don’t get depressed as the number climbs. Perhaps because I don’t fear death. To some it is such a bête noire that it ruins some of the good time they have left.”

She also wrote:

If you’re ever lost a loved one, or witnessed it, you can’t help but see that the body is an envelope for the soul.

I hope Betty’s belief is right, that when her time comes, not only her beloved Allen and her parents were waiting for her, but she had to wade through Booty and Binky and Bob and Panda and Kitta and all her pets through the years.

About the Great Sluts in History series:
What makes a woman a “slut,” anyway? From Lilith to Jezebel to Sandra Fluke, it seems that whenever women are in positions of power, open about their sexuality, “too outspoken,” or heaven forbid, all three, they are labeled sluts by some men (and sometimes other women), in an attempt to shame them into “knowing their place.” And into meekly accepting “their place.”

This series will look at flawed and wonderful heroines throughout history who insisted on “Following their own weird,” no matter how much it cost them to do so. And how, by doing so, they made the world better for all humans, of all genders, who followed them.

“…it is no longer acceptable to discuss women’s rights as separate from human rights… If there is one message that echoes forth from this conference, let it be that human rights are women’s rights and women’s rights are human rights, once and for all.” ~Hillary Rodham Clinton, 1995

Originally written for my blog in 2014; updated to include her death on 12-31-21.

When did you fall in love with Betty White? What didn’t you know about her?