There's no disputing that Betty White is seriously hot these days. In an age that celebrates harlots over starlets, PYTs a quarter her age would require battalions of publicists to garner a fraction of the attention she's attracting just by being Betty White. And I, being ancient enough to use lingo like harlot, starlet and PYT, couldn't be more delighted.
The latest Betty-buzz centers on the series Hot in Cleveland, which teams her with sitcom veterans Jane Leeves, Wendie Malick and Valerie Bertinelli. White plays the wisecracking, Midwest caretaker of a house a trio of Los Angelistas lands in upon impulsively fleeing their California lives. Knowing a little something about her history, I couldn't help but think that the show is essentially her own life in reverse. A native Midwesterner, White moved to Los Angeles while still a child.
Though born in Chicago in 1922, Betty Marion White was already residing in a neighborhood ensconced between Melrose Avenue and Beverly Boulevard in Los Angeles by the time of the 1930 census. Her father, Horace L. White, a WWI vet and electrical supplies salesman, seems to have been doing fairly well in spite of the nascent Great Depression, as the family owned their home and -- perhaps more importantly for Betty's future career -- a radio.
That only-child Betty was close to her parents, Horace and Tess, can be seen in this 1954 California Voter Registration (available on Ancestry.com) in which the then 32-year-old Democrat shared the same address as her Republican parents. This same year she had a self-titled show on NBC and was voted honorary mayor of Hollywood.
Both Horace and Tess were raised in Chicago with a single sibling of the opposite sex and Canadian-born mothers (thank you, Canada, for sharing yet another comedic talent with your Southern neighbor). Both also had immigrant fathers, meaning that all four of White's grandparents were born outside of America, but the specifics are surprising. It turns out that the ethnic brew that created Betty White is one-quarter Danish, one-quarter Greek, one-quarter Canadian, one-eighth Welsh and one-eighth English. Her Canadian portion sports branches that meander back not only through Canada, but also New Jersey, Pennsylvania and Massachusetts to the early days of the United States, and eventually back to England, so in fairness, her English percentage should be rounded up a bit.
Perhaps what's most striking is the Danish-Greek combination. Her Danish grandfather, Christopher White, came to America as a young man and bounced around Michigan, Wisconsin and Illinois working as a salesman dealing in everything from hats to rubber. It's possible that his wife Ettie was the quasi-namesake for Betty.
White's other grandfather, Greek-born Nicholas Cachikis, also came here as a young man and worked as a salesman, but of one item -- ice cream. For decades, he sold ice cream off a wagon, but it was apparently a hand-to-mouth existence as he was sadly buried in a potter's field when he passed away.
So Betty White might be Hot in Cleveland and a host of other places, but it's Chicago, Denmark, Greece, Canada, England and Wales that should be hot to claim her.
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