In one of the most poignant scenes of the "Golden Girls", Betty White's character, Rose Nylund's celebrating a birthday. She bakes a cake and lights the candles, leaves her kitchen and then comes back in, surprised at the cake. In breaking the 4th wall, begins to tell Charlie how lonely she's been since he's been gone and that she thinks it's time for a change so she's going to move from St.Olaf to Miami. You can feel the sadness from this normally upbeat character and know that you are witnessing one of the greatest TV actresses of the 20th century.
On January 17th, 2014, Betty White turned 92 and become one of the oldest working actresses still in television and continues to work on the show "Hot in Cleveland" which is one of the highest rated shows on cable TV. She is continuing a career that has lasted more than 75 years but Betty is known more than just her work in television; she is also known for her dedication to animals and zoos, especially the Los Angeles Zoo.
Betty White's career actually starts at the beginning of television through the days of black and white and three channels, to color TV and nearly 400 channels and she has had or been a part of nearly five successful TV series including her own, Life With Elizabeth, Mary Tyler Moore Show, her own brief series, The Betty White Show, The Golden Girls, Mama's Family and Hot in Cleveland. Along the way she has guest starred on over 200 other shows and movies. Her career is something actresses can only dream of and she doesn't seem to show signs of stopping any time soon.
But before she became America's sweetheart, she was born Betty Marion White, an only child whose parents started her from early age, teaching her about animals and the responsibility, from having dogs and cats to birds and reptiles. Betty was exposed to all sorts of animals which became an even bigger passion in life.
Coming into a show is never easy but Betty White meshed perfectly into the cast of the already thriving Mary Tyler Moore as a new friend for Mary for the departing Rhoda, played by Valerie Harper and created the evil but sweet Sue-Ann Nivens, the happy homemaker from hell, whose quick snide remarks that never rattled Murray, made up for the loss of Mary's best friend and carried the show right until the final moment when the cast cried in a huddle off the set and into TV history.
Combining her love of animals and her career, Betty worked tirelessly, appearing on countless games shows which led to a meeting with a man who would change her life, game show host Allen Ludden. Having been through a failed marriage and Allen being a widower with five children, Betty was cautious about jumping into a relationship again so soon but Allen persisted and proposed dozens of times eventually wearing her down and they eventually eloped and remained devoted until Allen's cancer in 1981.
After Allen's Ludden's death, Betty continued to work, mainly on the Carol Burnett/ Jody Hamilton Show Mama's Family as Ellen, the older sister of Carol Burnett's character, Eunice who played off each other as if they were real sisters. The chemistry was so alive and especially with Vicki Lawrence as Mama instigating them.
While on Mama's Family, Betty auditioned for a new Brandon Tarikoff Series about four old ladies from Miami, originally cast as Blanche. She decided at the audition with Rue McClanahan and helped create one of the most beloved television characters of all time. It wasn't just that she was simple or naive, she wanted to make sure in the end she helped solve whatever problem the other three ladies had and if it involved "Back in Saint Olaf" then that's what had to happen. Thanks to the Golden Girls, we got to see such a range of emotion from Betty -- not only comedy but such drama as well and what it would be like to be a friend to Rose.
My favorite Betty White/Rose Nylund moment is when Rose is trying to help Dorothy solve a problem and when she uses psychology terms to try to help and when Blanche calls her a moron, Rose gets up from the table and storms out muttering "hyper- sexual bitch" to which Blanche nearly chokes on her water. Despite that, love and friendship was essential and nothing else mattered, even if it did give kids the image of their Grandma, post Grandpa, having a sex life.
Moving into the 2000s and after the rest of the Golden Girls had passed, Betty took on the role of Elka in "Hot in Cleveland", sort of the anti-Rose Nylund who's lusting after Robert Redford and at age 92 still attracting men like George Hamilton and has gotten requests to host Saturday Night Live again because when she hosted, it was the highest rated show in years.
Thanks to Betty's efforts, the LA zoo has helped dozens of animals and created even more awareness for conservation and animal rights and that has spread to various zoos across the country. Betty has even written books about her love of animals. They've become her "children" because she devotes as much time and energy to them as much as a mother could and does.
Betty White's infectious personality and those dimples let her get away with anything and that's what makes us love her more as well as her compassion and heart. Every year we get to spend another year with Betty on TV is a gift.
I admit, I've always wanted to meet Betty White because she reminds me so much of my aunts, and Rose was always my favorite character. I remember I had a chance to meet her when she came to Boston for a book signing when I was about five, but for some reason It didn't happen. It's one of the things I would gladly jump at a chance again if only for a second.
Despite her age, Betty is a force to be reckoned with and looks to be continuing on. We can only surmise as the new season of Hot in Cleveland starts, what the writers have in mind, especially with the high ratings from last year's Mary Tyler Moore reunion.
What's your favorite Betty White Role? Or your favorite Rose Nylund quote?