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Betty White's Transformation through the Years

Pedro Marrero
Jan 24, 2020
10:16 A.M.
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With more than 70 years in show business, the Hollywood treasure has led the longest career for a female entertainer in US history, and in the process, she has won everybody’s heart.

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The “Golden Girls” star Betty White turned 98 years old on January 17, 2020, and everybody from ordinary fans to celebrities of all ages turned to social media to pay tribute to the beloved actress and comedian.

As active as the fan-favorite performer still is despite her advanced age, White has come a long way from her beginnings as an aspiring actress that first established in Los Angeles as a toddler, eventually taking Hollywood by storm.

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Thanks to her longevity, she has spent a human lifespan in the spotlight, growing old in front of a captive audience, and what better way to celebrate her than looking back at her journey in show business.

FIRST TV APPEARANCE

Moving with her parents from her native Oak Park, Illinois to Los Angeles, California, at the young age of 2, Betty was in the right place to fall in love and succeed in the industry, and before the age of 20, she was already started.

Before getting an opportunity in front of the cameras, she was hired as an assistant at a local television station. But her actual first TV appearance in 1939, which was uncredited, is lost in the memory of the legendary actress.

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Betty White in 1954. I Image: Wikimedia Commons.

Betty White in 1954. I Image: Wikimedia Commons.

"I danced on an experimental TV show, the first on the west coast, in downtown Los Angeles. I wore my high school graduation dress and our Beverly Hills High student body president, Harry Bennett, and I danced the Merry Widow Waltz,” Betty, who doesn’t remember the name of the show, shared in 2013.

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LIFE WITH ELIZABETH

“Life with Elizabeth” was the vehicle for Betty to earn herself a name in the industry, especially devised by the actress, who actually produced the first episode of the series (something rare for a woman back then), which aired until 1955.

Starring in the series earned Betty her first of 21 nominations to the Emmy Awards in 1951.

Betty White as Sue Ann Nivens from "The Mary Tyler Moore Show" (1973). I Image: Wikimedia Commons.

Betty White as Sue Ann Nivens from "The Mary Tyler Moore Show" (1973). I Image: Wikimedia Commons.

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THE MARY TYLER MOORE SHOW

If “Life with Elizabeth” earned her a name in the industry, and “The Golden Girls” cemented her reputation as America’s favorite TV lady, it was her stint in “The Mary Tyler Moore Show” (1973-1977), which allowed her to give form to her signature onscreen persona.

It is not a coincidence that White felt so in her element when she portrayed the character of Sue Ann Nivens in the series, since the role was written with the actress in mind from the start.

According to biographer Jim Colucci, the part was the perfect vehicle for White to show her versatility as a performer, playing an ambivalent woman with a wicked dark side, something that eventually came to define White’s type.

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Betty White and the cast of "The Betty White Show" (1977). I Image: Wikimedia Commons.

Betty White and the cast of "The Betty White Show" (1977). I Image: Wikimedia Commons.

THE GOLDEN GIRLS

While Betty eventually rose to fame for her role as Rose Nylund in “The Golden Girls,” she was in fact invited to audition for the show with the idea of casting her as Blanche Devereaux, a role that ultimately went to actress Rue McClanahan.

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What happened is that the director of the series, Jay Sandrich, didn’t want Betty to become typecasted after playing the carefree Sue Ann Nivens in “The Mary Tyler Moore Show,” and came up with a solution for everyone.

By Sandrich’s initiative, Betty and McClanahan switched roles, and thus the series took the shape that we all came to know and love until the present day.

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BOSTON LEGAL

“Boston Legal” not only meant the opportunity for White to share the screen with another legendary TV veteran such as William Shatner but also allowed the famous comedic actress to step into more dramatic territory.

Her recurring role as Catherine Piper, a sweet and smart mature woman with a black widow reputation, is one of the most remarkable appearances of her late-career, and she really knew how to stand out in the 16 episodes she was on.

HOT IN CLEVELAND

At age 88, White reluctantly agreed to appear as a guest star in the pilot of the comedy series “Hot in Cleveland,” but her performance was so perfect and she had so much fun that she became a series regular, appearing in all 129 episodes of the show (2010-2015).

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Betty White. I Image: Getty Images.

Betty White. I Image: Getty Images.

For the TV legend, it was coming full circle, since the character, shaped around her iconic persona, had elements that could be traced to her “Mary Tyler Moore” years and other which were perfected in “The Golden Girls.

”White still has the occasional TV role, and as recent as 2019, she lent her voice to the character Bitey White in “Toy Story 4.” Unsurprisingly, she still draws the attention of the paparazzi when she is spotted out in the street.

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