Betty White, award-winning actress, was one of the first actresses to earn the unofficial title of “America’s Sweetheart.” She has run the gamut on television game shows, guest appearances, and situation comedies, having been acting on television for over 50 years, but you won’t catch her on a reality show. Betty White does not do “reality” television.
Betty Marion White was born 88 years ago in Oak Park Illinois. Her parents moved to LA during the Great Depression, and shortly after her graduation from Beverly Hills High School she sang songs from “The Merry Widow” on an experimental Los Angeles channel. Betty dabbled in modeling and radio, but in 1949, she found television. Or I should say, television found her.
Betty White has made her mark. The list of awards is long and impressive, but her true claim to fame is her portrayal of Rose Nylund of “The Golden Girls.” From 1985 to 1992, Rose enchanted us with her intellectual innocence and bubble-headed beauty. Originally, she was to play the part of Blanche, while Rue McClanahan was tagged as Rose. The roles were reversed, and a world of crotchety senior citizens was rejuvenated as they laughed, cried, and cheered.
“The Golden Girls” soon became our mothers, our sisters, and our friends. Who among us could not identify with Blanche, Dorothy, Sophia, and Rose from time to time? To credit just one as the star of the show was impossible, but Rose took the cake in naivete. Her literal interpretations exasperated and infuriated her roommates, most often Dorothy, who once mentioned that she had cut her husband Stan’s sex off. A puzzled Rose asked with astonishment, “You mean it grows back?”
The St. Olaf stories of Rose’s youth not only left us in awe that simple Rose could even pronounce the maiden name of her adoptive mother (Gerkleknerbeigenhaufstetlerfrau), but also left us doubting that a town called St. Olaf, filled with Hans, Lars, and Svens, actually existed. Well, it did, and in honor of her character the real-life town of St. Olaf created the Rose Nylund Award for Civic Excellence.
Betty White will always be “Rose”, and now she is the last Rose of “The Golden Girls”. Estelle Getty (Sophia) was the first to pass in July 2008, followed by Bea Arthur (Dorothy) in April 2009, and Rue McClanahan (Blanche) in June 2010. My hope is that these three took with them the knowledge that they shined a spotlight on a generation of seniors, empowering them, teaching them, and enlightening them to the joys and laughter of the golden years.
Betty White won one Emmy for Outstanding Actress in a Comedy Series, for her portrayal of Rose in “The Golden Girls”, and was the only Golden Girl to be nominated each year in that category. True to her character, Betty White is an animal welfare activist and is affiliated with the Los Angeles Zoo Commission, the Morris Animal Foundation, and Actors and Others for Animals.
I could not complete this tribute to Betty White without including a few interactions from “The Golden Girls”. I remember them well. Do you?
Rose: When I was in school the kids made up a really mean nick name for me just because I had hairy legs.
Blanche: What did they call you?
Rose: Rose with the hairy legs.
Dorothy: Kids can be so cruel.
Rose: I just had a thought…
Sophia, Blanche, Dorothy: Congratulations.
Rose: I’ve been on the phone for a half hour and you’ll never guess what happened.
Dorothy: You realized you forgot to dial first.
Blanche: You were holding the receiver the wrong way.
Dorothy: You were talking into the TV remote instead of the phone.
Blanche: A shoe?
Rose: No, I’m not an idiot. – The TV has a remote?