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Film

Betty White, trailblazing television actress, dead at 99

@TylerGolsen

Betty White, the trailblazing actress whose professional career on radio, television, and film totalled nine decades, has passed away at the age of 99.

White’s figure as a giant of the entertainment industry meant that she became a cultural touchstone for multiple generations. Her strong-willed demeanour, gentle nature, and willingness to laugh at herself made her successful for over 90 years.

White’s first work came on the radio, where she eventually worked her way up to receiving her own eponymous talk show. She began hosting the programme Hollywood on Television in 1949, giving her the first exposure she would have on live TV. White co-founded the production company Bandy Television in 1952 and became the first woman to produce a sitcom when Life with Elizabeth aired in 1953.

White then moved on to a television version of The Betty White Show, where she instigated the hiring of performer Arthur Duncan, making him the first black regular on a national television programme. White continued to utilise Duncan on the show, even when southern affiliates of NBC threatened to boycott the programme.

Throughout the ’60s and ’70s, White made numerous appearances on game shows and talk shows, along with guest appearances on scripted television programmes. It was as a guest on Password where White met her husband, host Allen Ludden, to whom White remained married until Ludden’s death in 1981.

White’s role as Sue Ann Nivens in The Mary Tyler Moore Show garnered her two Emmys. After the end of that show, White once again returned to game show appearances and scattered guest spots before landing the part of Rose Nylund, the naive and upbeat roommate on The Golden Girls. White won an Emmy for Outstanding Lead Actress in a Comedy Series in 1986 and would be nominated for the award for each of the subsequent five years.

White’s career from the 1990s to the late 2010s saw the actress playing up her established persona, often appearing in comic relief roles that played up her elderly persona. White died just 17 days before her 100th birthday, which was set to be celebrated with a documentary, Betty White: 100 Years Young – A Birthday Celebration. All told, White won six Emmys, a Grammy, two SAG Awards, and was honoured with the 2009 Screen Actors Guild Life Achievement Award.

As a final side note, back in journalism school at the University of Maryland, one of our first assignments was to learn how to write obituaries. It’s a necessary part of the job, and I’ve written quite a few here. The go-to for that specific assignment had been Betty White for years, but when I took the 100 level class in 2018, the professor decided that it was officially time to retire White from the “honour”. White even managed to outlive an obituary writing class. Now that’s badass.

R.I.P.