Betty White's quips and quotes through the years: 'What could be better than show business?'
The Golden Girls star said she was "born a cockeyed optimist," in the current issue of People, which she graces the cover of.
Born an only child in the Chicago suburb of Oak Park, Ill., White told People she got her can-do attitude from her mother, Tess, a homemaker. "I got it from my mom, and that never changed. I always find the positive."
White, who was weeks shy of turning 100 on January 17, 2022, celebrated the cover story and the upcoming milestone earlier this week on Twitter: "My 100th birthday… I cannot believe it is coming up."
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She may have gotten some of her comedic prowess from her father, Horace, an electrical engineer. "My dad was a salesman, so he was always bringing jokes home," White told USA WEEKEND in a 2010 interview, a week before the Screen Actors Guild would give her a Life Achievement Award.
"It was up to me to get 'em or not," White said. "But he'd say, 'Honey, you can take this one to school, but I wouldn't take that one.' "
Here are some of White's witty and thoughtful remarks over the years:
Betty White on finding love with Allen Ludden
After growing up in Beverly Hills, she began working in radio, becoming one of the best known female disc jockey's in L.A., and had her own variety show. Moving into television, she had her own talk show and starred in comedies, including "Life With Elizabeth." She became a frequent guest on game shows including "Match Game" and "Password," hosted by Allen Ludden. The two met in 1961 and married two years later.
"I didn't want to get married. I was a California girl, he was a New York guy," she told Gannett News Service in 1991.
"He would call me from wherever he was working and say, 'You wanna go out to dinner? You wanna have a date?' And I'd say 'Sure!' Well, going out to dinner meant he'd stop on the way home and pick up a chicken and put it on the barbecue outside. There's a room behind the house, and we'd go out there and put on a stack of records, have our barbecue dinner and dance," she told USA WEEKEND years later. "We enjoyed each other."
Ludden died in 1981; White never remarried.
A frequent comedic foil for Carson
During the '70s and '80s, White was a regular guest on "The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson," including skits where he played Tarzan and, in another skit, Adam – both instances featuring scanty costumes. "I was Jane, I was Eve in the Garden of Eden," she told USA TODAY in 2011. "I told Johnny, 'Every time you want to take your clothes off, you call me to help you out.' "
She and Carson "came up together in live television. The same producer discovered me, John and Liberace, at the same time."
White was a strong supporter of the LGBTQ community
"I don’t care who anybody sleeps with," she said in a 2010 interview for Parade magazine. "If a couple has been together all that time – and there are gay relationships that are more solid than some heterosexual ones – I think it’s fine if they want to get married. I don’t know how people can get so anti-something."
Mind your own business, take care of your affairs, and don’t worry about other people so much."
White's advocacy for the LGBTQ community quickly cemented her icon status among the community and when asked about it by Frontiers LA magazine in 2011, she said: "Throughout my career, I’ve always portrayed characters that were humorous, but also weren’t afraid to speak their minds, especially when it came to racy or controversial topics. … I think this struck a chord with the LGBT community."
We both also share a very strong love for animals. When you combine the two, it’s a very strong match."
White was also a friend to the animal kingdom
A longtime advocate for animals, White worked with the Morris Animal Foundation and the L.A. Zoo for decades and in 2012, she received the National Humanitarian Medal from the American Humane organization.
"All my life, I had pets. My folks were as much animal lovers as I am today, and I thank them and bless them for passing that on to me," she told USA TODAY in 2014. "I've always had animals. I couldn't live without animals."
"You can always tell about somebody by the way they put their hands on an animal," White said on a different occasion.
However, in true White cheeky fashion, she said in an interview last year: "Animal lover that I am, a cougar I am not."
"All my life, even as a kid, I have preferred men older than I am," she said. "Unfortunately, today I don't think there is anyone older than I am!"
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On her golden roles of Sue Ann & Rose
About what she called the "icky sweet" role of Sue Ann Nivens on "The Mary Tyler Moore Show," which she joined in 1973, White said, "Of course, I loved Sue Ann. She was so rotten. You can’t get much more rotten than the neighborhood nymphomaniac."
She won two Emmy awards for the role. She won a third for perhaps her most famous role of Rose Nylund on "The Golden Girls".
In 1987, she told USA TODAY: "One of the reasons 'The Golden Girls' works is that little kids love it. They don't have grandmothers at home anymore. Here's Grandma being funny. Here's Grandma being silly. Grandma didn't fall off the Earth when she turned 50. Grandma is a viable human being, and if the rest of the world can find that, kids can find that, too."
White on her career, awards
On receiving the 2010 Screen Actors Guild Life Achievement award, White told USA TODAY at the time: "Oh my goodness, it's something you don't even imagine."
"Have you seen the other ones who have gotten this award (recent recipients include James Earl Jones, Julie Andrews and Shirley Temple Black)? I don't belong," she said.
Ahead of the release of one of White's several books, 2011's "If You Ask Me (And Of Course You Won't)," White was asked in an interview with USA TODAY what it is that keeps her going. "But sweetie, I don't think of all this as work. It's fun," she said. "I'm so grateful for my good fortune. I'm the luckiest broad on two feet."
In 2010, she succumbed to a Facebook campaign to make her a "Saturday Night Live" host. White had previously turned down the offer because she said she doesn't like acting off of cue cards. "I got offered yet another show the other day, and I said, 'Do you people know how old I am?' " she said. "I wouldn't go making any long-range plans with me."
Short or long term, she loved the work she did.
"What could be better than show business?" White told USA TODAY in 2010.. "You're working with delightful people, getting laughs if you're lucky and worrying about how to fix things if you're not. But most of all, you have to know all the millions of people in the world who would give their souls to do what you're doing and be paid for it."
Follow Mike Snider on Twitter: @mikesnider.