Not long before the world started to prepare for the leap into 2022, the United States lost one of its national icons. Often referred to as the ‘First Lady of Television’, Betty White was an American actress and comedian who reached the age of 99. Her career spanned more than 8 decades with her most notable roles being parts in the sitcoms The Mary Tyler Moore Show and The Golden Girls. Not only was Betty White a television pioneer, she also paved the way for many other women that dreamed of making a name for themselves in this industry.
In the late 1930’s, Betty White began her career as an actress and model, but soon had to put her dreams on pause due to the outbreak of the Second World War. During this period, she worked with the American Women’s Voluntary Services, and after the war White picked up where she left off and went on to make a lasting mark on American television. In 1951, White was nominated for the Emmy Award for best TV actress; the awards’ first ever category to recognise the achievements of women.
Another first was achieved by White when she launched the TV sitcom Life with Elizabeth, together with George Tibbles, who wrote while she produced. This made White one of the first female producers in Hollywood. Followed by this were many appearances on chat shows and game shows and after this came White’s most successful roles on the TV sitcomes as mentioned above. Within these roles, Betty White won multiple Emmy’s, but it did not stop here. White was awarded 8 Emmy’s in total, the last one in 2010. While many people might decide to take a break or stop altogether at this age, White continued to feature in films well into her 90’s:’I don’t go around thinking “Oh, I’m 90, I better do this or I better do that”. I’m just Betty. I’m the same Betty that I’ve always been’.
“I was one of the first women producers in Hollywood.” – Betty White
But Betty White is not only remembered as an actress and comedy legend; she is also remembered as a defender of social justice. During the 1950’s and 60’s, when racism was rampant in American society, she took a firm stance against it. When her daily TV show featured a black tap dancer, Arthur Duncan, the show received a lot of criticism and calls came to take it off the air if remained part of the show. White, however, refused to give in to such calls and declared that he would stay and people should ‘live with it.’ Additionally, Betty White has been praised for being a trailblazer for LGBTQ rights. In her show The Golden Girls, White starred alongside gay and lesbian characters, in a time that depicting queer people on television was taboo. She also made a point of speaking out publicly in support of marriagae equality, using her age and her image to get through to people. ‘I just want to say to all the judgemental people out there: If two people in love want to get married, let ’em get married!’
“Betty White brought a smile to the lips of generations of Americans. She’s a cultural icon who will be sorely missed.” – Joe Biden
Finally, Betty White was also a dedicated animal rights activist. She worked closely with the Los Angeles Zoo and various animal welfare organisations for decades. In an interview White once said: ‘I’m the luckiest person in the world — my life is divided in absolute half: half animals, half show business.’ In the past week, tributes to the late actress have poured in from colleagues, friends and fans all over the globe. How kind she was, how warm, how witty and how unique, have been common themes in these messages. ‘The world looks different now’, said Ryan Reynolds, and ‘a spirit of goodness and hope’, said Dan Rather.
Written by WAVE Intern India Stotesbury
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- Betty White: a Fierce Advocate Against Racism and Homophobia (businessinsider.com)
- Betty White: TV’s golden girl on 63 years in showbusiness | Television | The Guardian
- Betty White was a trailblazing animal rights activist (nypost.com)
- Golden Girls star Betty White dies aged 99 | Television | The Guardian
- Obituary: Betty White, the Golden Girl with a heart of gold – BBC News