At 99 years old, Betty White has this physical status:
After the war, White made the rounds to movie studios looking for work, but was turned down because she was "not photogenic". She started to look for radio jobs, where being photogenic did not matter.
Her first radio jobs included reading commercials and playing bit parts, and sometimes even doing crowd noises. She made about five dollars a show. She would do just about anything, like singing on a show for no pay. She appeared on shows such as Blondie, The Great Gildersleeve, and This Is Your FBI. She was then offered her own radio show, called The Betty White Show. In 1949, she began appearing as co-host with Al Jarvis on his daily live television variety show Hollywood on Television, originally called Make Believe Ballroom, on KFWB and then on KLAC-TV (now KCOP-TV) in Los Angeles.
White began hosting the show by herself in 1952 after Jarvis's departure, spanning five and a half hours of live ad lib television six days per week, over a continuous four-year span. In all of her various variety series over the years, White would sing at least a couple of songs during each broadcast. In 1951, she was nominated for her first Emmy Award as "Best Actress" on television, competing with Judith Anderson, Helen Hayes, and Imogene Coca; the award went to Gertrude Berg. At this point, the award was for body of work, with no shows named in nominations.
In 1952, the same year that she began hosting Hollywood on Television, White co-founded Bandy Productions with writer George Tibbles and Don Fedderson, a producer. The trio worked to create new shows using existing characters from sketches shown on Hollywood on Television. White, Fedderson, and Tibbles created the television comedy Life with Elizabeth, with White portraying the title character. The show was originally a live production on KLAC-TV in 1951, and won White a Los Angeles Emmy Award in 1952.
Life with Elizabeth was nationally syndicated from 1953 to 1955, allowing White to become one of the few women in television with full creative control in front of and behind the camera. The show was unusual for a sitcom in the 1950s because it was co-produced and owned by a twenty-eight-year-old woman who still lived with her parents. White said they did not worry about relevance in those days, and that usually the incidents were based on real-life situations that happened to her, the actor who played Alvin, and the writer.
White also performed in television advertisements seen on live television in Los Angeles, including a rendition of the "Dr. Ross Dog Food" advertisement at KTLA during the 1950s. She guest-starred on The Millionaire in the 1956 episode "The Virginia Lennart Story", as the owner of a small-town diner who received an anonymous gift of $1 million.
From 1952 to 1954, White hosted and produced her own daily talk/variety show, The Betty White Show, first on KLAC-TV and then on NBC (her first television, but second show to feature that title). Like her sitcom, she had creative control over the series, and was able to hire a female director. In a first for American network variety television, her show featured an African-American performer, but the show faced criticism for the inclusion of tap dancer Arthur Duncan as a regular cast member. The criticism followed when NBC expanded the show nationally. Local Southern stations in the Jim Crow era threatened to boycott unless Duncan was removed from the series. In response, White said "I'm sorry. Live with it", and gave Duncan more airtime. Initially a ratings success, the show repeatedly changed time slots and suffered lower viewership. By the end of the year, NBC quietly cancelled the series.
Following the end of Life with Elizabeth, she appeared as Vicki Angel on the ABC sitcom Date with the Angels from 1957 to 1958. As originally intended, the show, loosely based on the Elmer Rice play Dream Girl, would focus on Vicki's daydreaming tendencies. However, the sponsor was not pleased with the fantasy elements and was pressured to have them eliminated. "I can honestly say that was the only time I have ever wanted to get out of a show", White later said. The sitcom was a critical and rating disaster, but ABC wouldn't allow White out of her contractual agreement and required her to fill the remaining thirteen weeks in their deal. Instead of a retooled version of the sitcom, White rebooted her old talk/variety show, The Betty White Show, which aired until her contract was fulfilled."
The sitcom did give White some positive experiences: she first met Lucille Ball while working on it, as both Date With the Angels and I Love Lucy were filmed on the same Culver Studios lot. The two quickly struck up a friendship over their accomplishments in taking on the male-dominated television business of the 1950s. They relied on one another through divorce, illness, personal loss, and even competed against one another on various game shows.
In July 1959, White made her professional stage debut in a week-long production of the play, Third Best Sport, at the Ephrata Legion Star Playhouse in Ephrata, Pennsylvania.
By the 1960s, White was a staple of network game shows and talk shows: including both Jack Paar and later Johnny Carson's era of The Tonight Show. She made many appearances on the hit Password show as a celebrity guest from 1961 through 1975. She married the show's host, Allen Ludden, in 1963. She subsequently appeared on the show's three updated versions, Password Plus, Super Password, and Million Dollar Password. White made frequent game show appearances on What's My Line? (starting in 1955), To Tell the Truth (in 1961, 1990, and 2015), I've Got a Secret (in 1972–73), Match Game (1973–1982), and Pyramid (starting in 1982). She made her feature film debut as fictional Kansas Senator Elizabeth Ames Adams in the 1962 drama Advise & Consent; in 2004, on talk show Q&A, host Brian Lamb remarked on White's longevity as an actress besides the fact she was playing a strong female senator in 1962. He and Donald A. Ritchie noted that viewers would have seen the Senator Adams character to reflect Margaret Chase Smith. In 1963, White starred in a production of The King and I at the St. Louis Municipal Opera Theatre, with Charles Korvin co-starring as the king.
NBC offered her an anchor job on their flagship breakfast television show Today. She turned the offer down because she didn't want to move permanently to New York City (where Today is produced). The job eventually went to Barbara Walters. Through the 1950s and 1960s, White began a nineteen-year run as hostess and commentator on the annual Rose Parade broadcast on NBC (co-hosting with Roy Neal and later Lorne Greene), and appeared on a number of late-night talk shows, including Jack Paar's The Tonight Show, and various other daytime game shows.
White made several appearances in the fourth season (1973–74) of The Mary Tyler Moore Show, as the "man-hungry" Sue Ann Nivens. Although considering the role a highlight of her career, White described the character's image as "icky sweet", feeling she was the very definition of feminine passivity, owing to the fact she always satirized her own persona onscreen in just such a way. The Mary Tyler Moore Show's producers made Sue Ann Nivens a regular character and brought White into the main cast starting with the fifth season, after Valerie Harper, who played Rhoda Morgenstern, left the program.
A running gag was how Sue Ann's aggressive, cynical personality was the complete opposite of her relentlessly perky TV persona on the fictional WJM-TV show, The Happy Homemaker. "We need somebody who can play sickeningly sweet, like Betty White", Moore suggested at a production meeting, which resulted in casting White herself. White won two Emmy Awards back-to-back for her role in the hugely popular series, in 1975 and 1976.
Mary Tyler Moore and her husband Grant Tinker were close friends with White and her husband Allen Ludden. In 2010 The Interviews: An Oral History of Television interview, Moore explained that producers, aware of Moore and White's friendship, were initially hesitant to audition White for the role, for fear that if she hadn't been right, it would create awkwardness between the two.
In 1975, NBC replaced White as commentator hostess of the Tournament of Roses Parade, feeling that she was identified too heavily with rival network CBS's The Mary Tyler Moore Show. White admitted to People that it was difficult "watching someone else do my parade", although she would soon start a ten-year run as hostess of the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade for CBS. Following the end of The Mary Tyler Moore Show in 1977, White was offered her own sitcom on CBS, her fourth, entitled The Betty White Show (the first a quarter century earlier), in which she co-starred with John Hillerman and former Mary Tyler Moore co-star Georgia Engel. Up against Monday Night Football in its timeslot, the ratings were poor and it was canceled after one season.
White appeared several times on The Carol Burnett Show and The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson appearing in many sketches, and began guest-starring in a number of television movies and television miniseries, including With This Ring, The Best Place to Be, Before and After, and The Gossip Columnist.
In 1983, White became the first woman to win a Daytime Emmy Award in the category of Outstanding Game Show Host, for the NBC entry Just Men! Due to the amount of work she did on them, she was deemed the "First Lady of Game Shows".
From 1983 to 1984, White had a recurring role playing Ellen Harper Jackson on the series Mama's Family, along with future Golden Girls co-star Rue McClanahan. White had originated this character in a series of sketches on The Carol Burnett Show in the 1970s.
In 1985, White scored her second signature role and the biggest hit of her career as the St. Olaf, Minnesota native Rose Nylund on The Golden Girls. The series chronicled the lives of four widowed or divorced women in their "golden years" who shared a home in Miami. The Golden Girls, which also starred Bea Arthur, Estelle Getty, and Rue McClanahan, was immensely successful and ran from 1985 through 1992. White won one Emmy Award, for Outstanding Actress in a Comedy Series, for the first season of The Golden Girls and was nominated in that category every year of the show's run (Getty was also nominated every year, but in the supporting actress category).
White had a strained relationship with her The Golden Girls co-star Bea Arthur on and off the set of their television show, commenting that Arthur "was not that fond of me" and that "she found me a pain in the neck sometimes. It was my positive attitude – and that made Bea mad sometimes. Sometimes if I was happy, she'd be furious." After Arthur's death in 2009, White said, "I knew it would hurt, I just didn't know it would hurt this much." Despite their differences, The Golden Girls was a positive experience for both actresses and they had great mutual respect for the show, their roles, and the achievements made as an ensemble cast.
White was originally offered the role of Blanche in The Golden Girls, and Rue McClanahan was offered the role of Rose (the two characters being similar to roles they had played in Mary Tyler Moore and Maude, respectively). Jay Sandrich, the director of the pilot, suggested that since they had played similar roles in the past, they should switch roles, Rue McClanahan later said in a documentary on the series. White originally had doubts about her ability to play Rose, until Sandrich explained to her that Rose was "terminally naive". White says "if you told Rose you were so hungry you could eat a horse, she'd call the ASPCA."
The Golden Girls ended in 1992 after Arthur announced her decision to depart the series. White, McClanahan, and Getty reprised their roles as Rose, Blanche, and Sophia in the spin-off The Golden Palace. The series was short-lived, lasting only one season. In addition, White reprised her Rose Nylund character in guest appearances on the NBC shows Empty Nest and Nurses, both set in Miami.
After The Golden Palace ended, White guest-starred on a number of television programs including Suddenly Susan, The Practice, and Yes, Dear where she received Emmy nominations for her individual appearances. She won an Emmy in 1996 for Outstanding Guest Actress in a Comedy Series, appearing as herself on an episode of The John Larroquette Show. In that episode, titled "Here We Go Again", a parody on Sunset Boulevard, a diva-like White convinces Larroquette to help write her memoir. At one point Golden Girls co-stars McClanahan and Getty appear as themselves. Larroquette is forced to dress in drag as Bea Arthur, when all four appear in public as the "original" cast members.
In December 2006, White joined the soap opera The Bold and the Beautiful in the role of Ann Douglas (where she would make 22 appearances), the long-lost mother of the show's matriarch, Stephanie Forrester, played by Susan Flannery. She also began a recurring role in ABC's Boston Legal from 2005 to 2008 as the calculating, blackmailing gossip-monger Catherine Piper, a role she originally played as a guest star on The Practice in 2004.
White appeared several times on The Tonight Show with Jay Leno and The Late Late Show with Craig Ferguson appearing in many sketches and returned to Password in its latest incarnation, Million Dollar Password, on June 12, 2008, (episode #3), participating in the Million Dollar challenge at the end of the show. On May 19, 2008, she appeared on The Oprah Winfrey Show, taking part in the host's Mary Tyler Moore Show reunion special alongside every surviving cast member of the series. Beginning in 2007, White was featured in television commercials for PetMed Express, highlighting her interest in animal welfare.
In 2009, White starred in the romantic comedy The Proposal alongside Sandra Bullock and Ryan Reynolds. Also in 2009, the candy company Mars, Incorporated launched a global campaign for their Snickers bar; the campaign's slogan was: "You're not you when you're hungry". White appeared, alongside Abe Vigoda, in the company's advertisement for the candy during the 2010 Super Bowl XLIV. The advertisement became very popular, and won the top spot on the Super Bowl Ad Meter.
Following the success of the Snickers advertisement, a grassroots campaign on Facebook called "Betty White to Host SNL (Please)" began in January 2010. The group was approaching 500,000 members when NBC confirmed on March 11, 2010, that White would in fact host Saturday Night Live on May 8. The appearance made her, at age 88, the oldest person to host the show, beating Miskel Spillman, the winner of SNL's "Anybody Can Host" contest, who was 80 when she hosted in 1977. In her opening monologue, White thanked Facebook and joked that she "didn't know what Facebook was, and now that I do know what it is, I have to say, it sounds like a huge waste of time." The appearance earned her a 2010 Primetime Emmy Award for Outstanding Guest Actress in a Comedy Series. White and Jean Smart are the only actresses to have wins in all three comedy Emmy nominations.
In June 2010, White took on the role of Elka Ostrovsky, the house caretaker on TV Land's original sitcom Hot in Cleveland along with Valerie Bertinelli, Jane Leeves, and Wendie Malick. Hot in Cleveland was TV Land's first attempt at a first-run scripted comedy (the channel has rerun other sitcoms since its debut). White was only meant to appear in the pilot of the show but was asked to stay on for the entire series. In 2011, she was nominated for a Primetime Emmy Award for Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Comedy Series for her role as Elka, but lost to Julie Bowen for Modern Family. The series ran for six seasons, a total of 128 episodes, with the hour-long final episode airing on June 3, 2015.
White also starred in the Hallmark Hall of Fame presentation of The Lost Valentine on January 30, 2011 (this presentation garnered the highest rating for a Hallmark Hall of Fame presentation in the previous four years and according to the Nielsen Media Research TV rating service won first place in the prime time slot for that date), and from 2012 to 2014, White hosted and executive produced Betty White's Off Their Rockers, in which senior citizens play practical jokes on the younger generation. For this show, she received three Emmy nominations.
A Betty White calendar for 2011 was published in late 2010. The calendar features photos from White's career and with various animals. She also launched her own clothing line on July 22, 2010, which features shirts with her face on them. All proceeds go to various animal charities she supported.
White's success continued in 2012 with her first Grammy Award for Best Spoken Word Recording for her bestseller If You Ask Me. She also won the UCLA Jack Benny Award for Comedy, recognizing her significant contribution to comedy in television, and was roasted at the New York Friars Club. A television special, Betty White's 90th Birthday Party, aired on NBC a day before her birthday on January 16, 2012. The show featured appearances of many stars whom White worked with over the years as well as a message from then sitting president Barack Obama. In January 2013, NBC once again celebrated White's birthday with a TV special featuring celebrity friends, including former president Bill Clinton; the special aired on February 5.
On February 15, 2015, White made her final appearance on Saturday Night Live when she attended the 40th Anniversary Special. She participated in "The Californians" sketch alongside members of the current SNL cast members as well as Bill Hader, Taylor Swift and Kerry Washington. In the memorable sketch White ends up kissing Bradley Cooper.
On August 18, 2018, White's career was celebrated in a PBS documentary called Betty White: First Lady of Television. The documentary was filmed over a period of ten years, and featured archived footage and interviews from colleagues and friends. In 2019, White appeared in Pixar's Toy Story 4, providing the voice of Bitey White, a toy tiger that was named after her. The other toys she shared a scene with were named and played by Carol Burnett, Carl Reiner, and Mel Brooks. White commented that "It was wonderful the way they incorporated our names into the characters ... And I'm a sucker for animals, so the tiger was perfect!"
In December 2021, before White's death, it was announced that a new documentary-style film about her, Betty White: A Celebration would be released in U.S. theatres on what would have been her 100th birthday, January 17, 2022. It features a cast of friends including Ryan Reynolds, Tina Fey, Robert Redford, Lin-Manuel Miranda, Clint Eastwood, Morgan Freeman, Jay Leno, Carol Burnett, Craig Ferguson, Jimmy Kimmel, Valerie Bertinelli, James Corden, Wendie Malick, and Jennifer Love Hewitt. In addition to the planned documentary, People magazine featured her as the cover story of its January 10, 2022, newsstand publication and a separate commemorative edition to celebrate the anticipated milestone, which were released days before her death.
Following White's death, producers Steve Boettcher and Mike Trinklein of the event distributors Fathom Events announced in a Facebook post that the pre-filmed production would be going ahead as scheduled.