This is a hard, hard post to write. If you’re like ‘moi’ you’ve grown up watching Betty White. I remember The Golden Girls being in my consciousness for ages. It has really always been there. It amazed me when in my freshman year, college dorm we had floor viewing parties of the series. I was stunned. I had no idea the sitcom had the power it did with anyone else. How did this show about four senior citizens in Miami click so well with a generation of youngsters? Well, part of the answer is really easy: Betty White.
Betty White’s history really is the history of television. Her IMDB page mentions roles as far back as the late 1940s. However, if you dig even deeper, many sources mention White taking part in a 1939 experimental broadcast. This is also the year the medium debuted at the World’s Fair. This is the very beginning of television.
Heck, a look over the history of the Emmy Awards shows White’s name holding a place of prominence. Performers were first nominated for Emmy’s in 1951 at the 3rd presentation of the awards and there was Betty White. White earned a nomination for Best Actress alongside names like Helen Hayes, Imogene Coca, Judith Anderson, and Gertrude Berg. This is truly formidable company to be in at the forefront of television as we know it.
White’s career has of course lasted over the seventy years to follow. Staying power like that allowed Betty White something other actors can only dream of. Her work means something new to every generation. Whether you remember Rose Nylund, Sue Ann Nivens, Vickie Angel, or even Elka Ostrovsky, for many of us, Betty White has always been there.
So, it’s with that, I wanted to talk about some of my favorite Betty White appearances. These might not all be “classic” entertainment, per se. However, this is a testament to Betty White’s career. She tackled everything fearlessly, she gave her all and she was always delightful.
Lake Placid (1999)
Okay, I hear what you classic film fans are thinking out there. Hang tight with me here. I had to start out with this 1999 sci-fi horror gem, Lake Placid. I of course, came to this movie for Bill Pullman (swoon) but to be honest, Betty White steals this movie out from under everyone.
Lake Placid‘s hum-dinger of a plot following the horror when a super-sized aligator begins terrorizing the residents of along the banks of a quiet lake. Betty White shines in this one as an elderly woman who is on the gator’s side.
When looking at the scope of Betty White’s filmography, this movie revitalized her career. Things hadn’t really slowed down per se, but her work in Lake Placid slingshotted her into a new stratosphere at a time when most performers begin to slow down. It’s truly a fun watch and fans of disaster movies and creature features should check this one out. It’s amazing.
Boston Legal (2004-2008)
Yes, I’m sticking with the modern and contempoary for one more role. As mentioned, Betty White had a career which lasted more than seventy years and she never slowed down. So, with that, there’s going to be plenty of roles which came after the classic era (and this is one).
If you’re not familiar, Boston Legal ran between 2004 and 2008 and starred James Spader, William Shatner, Candice Bergen and John Larroquette at various points throughout the run. The story follows the action at a Boston law firm (shocking!).
Betty White appeared in a recurring role throughout the run of the series. She appeared in sixteen episodes as Catherine Piper. This is part of White’s career resurgence in the late 1990s and 2000s and brings much of the same tone. She’s pitch perfect in the role and is at her bawdy best opposite the always incredible James Spader.
If you watch nothing else, check out her run of episodes in season two co-starring Leslie Jordan.
Okay! We’re finally jumping back in time. This pick put me through a bit of a conundrum. This spot was initially going to be held by Match Game, which many will know is one of my all-time favorites of the classic era of game shows. However, I pulled an audible at the last minute.
Tattletales came into my life a year or two ago and I’m not sure why it took me so long. The Bert Convy hosted game show pitted three celebrity couples against each other in an examination of ‘who knows who better ‘. It’s 1970s TV at its most 1970s. It’s kitschy, it’s more than a bit chauvenistic in spots, but it’s ever so delightful. Fans of 70s culture should check out the plethora of episodes available across streaming mediums. It’s a study in the complexity of this truly complicated era.
Betty White appeared on the series a number of times with her husband (Password host Allen Ludden). The two are one of Hollywood’s greatest love stories and their charisma and love for each other shines through in each episode.
Check out the complitation above for Betty and Allen together on Tattletales. It’s a lengthy, but adorable video.
The Mary Tyler Moore Show (1970-1977)
It is of course a draw to pick between this role and our next one as my favorite among Betty White’s plethora of amazing work and I must say one thing…
It’s just too hard to pick and to be perfectly honest, Sue Ann Nivens is just too darn good of a character. There is no way to talk about Betty White’s career and not mention “The Happy Homemaker”.
Admittedly, Nivens is a bit of a departure for White who comes into this supporting role in The Mary Tyler Moore Show and absolutely makes it her own. To be honest, in an ensemble filled with utterly amazing, colorful individuals, she is my favorite among them. She’s a little villainous and White packed such perfect snarky bite to this character at a time where it was oh-so needed.
The Mary Tyler Moore Show is of course a legendary part of television history and is one that shouldn’t be missed. It’s refreshing to watch White in the show. She’s having an absolute blast and this is yet another role where she was at her best. Though, isn’t she always?
The Mary Tyler Moore Show is available to stream on Hulu.
The Golden Girls (1985-1992)
I feel completely unoriginal picking these two roles on this list. They are of course the roles that most people think of when reflecting on Betty White’s work, but that must mean something, right? You can’t deny greatness.
The Golden Girls dominated the airwaves for seven seasons between 1985 and 1992 and to be frank, it could have lasted longer. However, to have what we had of this series means so much. The joy of the show exists in the chemistry of its incredibly talented cast. This is ensemble work at its finest.
The Golden Girls showed something which is often hard to find on television. These women were allowed to exist, they were allowed to grow old and through all of this, they were allowed to be sexual.
As Rose Nylund, Betty White is an absolute joy. This is the Betty White I came of age with and it all started here for me, so I have to reflect on this as my favorite.
The Golden Girls is available to stream on Hulu.
This of course is hardly comprehensive. It’s impossible to take an acting career lasting more than 70 years and drop it into a blog post. Furthermore, to take a career as eternally loved as Betty White’s and pick only five appearances… it can’t be done. Her work has meant so much to so many people and it will of course continue to live on in whatever form it means most to you.
We’ll miss you Betty and of course, ‘Thank You for Being a Friend.
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