When asked if there's one thing in Hollywood that Betty hasn't done yet that she'd like to do, her answer is always, "Robert Redford".
Betty White has recently re-emerged as a cultural icon due to her sharper-than-age wit and feisty demeanor. But it isn’t the first time America has fallen in love with the 99-year-old model, actress, and writer. These vintage photos show a young Betty White in her element in the late 1950s. A Grammy and Emmy award-winner, she still captures the admiration of the public.
Betty Marion White Ludden, or as we all know her, Betty White, was born on January 17, 1922, in Oak Park, Illinois. However, by the time she was two years old, she'd already relocated to Los Angeles with her parents.
As a child, Betty dreamed of a career as a zookeeper or a park ranger; neither of which was available to women at the time. Still, Betty never lost her adoration of animals.
She did, however, also find a love for performing along the way. She appeared in a radio program called The Empire Builders at age eight, playing a crippled orphan.
Betty attended Beverly Hills High School and graduated with the class of 1939. "I was in the graduation play from high school, and the president of our senior class and I sang The Merry Widow and did a little dance," Betty says. "I think that's when the show biz bug bit me — and they haven't been able to get rid of me since."
Betty White's Early Career
Indeed, three months after graduation, she was singing in an experimental tv show. She also found work as a model, in the theater, and as a radio personality.
But then, WWII broke out, and Betty devoted all of her time to the American Women's Voluntary Services, delivering supplies by truck by day, and frequenting soldier send-off dances by night.
She married Army pilot and chicken farmer Dick Barker in 1945. After the war ended, the couple returned home to Dick's place in Ohio. Turns out Betty wasn't relishing the role of a midwestern farm wife. The marriage lasted just four months.
Betty got back into the entertainment game by searching for movie roles but execs told her she wasn't photogenic enough. She went back to radio, and eventually got her own program, The Betty White Show.
In 1949, L.A. disc jockey Al Jarvis picked Betty to be his co-host for his new televised talk show, Hollywood on Television. It was a 5-and-a-half-hour broadcast that was on six days a week. Betty was on camera for a large portion of the show, often singing songs — and it all took place live.
"Whatever happened, you had to handle it. There was never any rehearsal or script or anything," she says. "Whoever came in that door was on, and you were interviewing them," she says.
Jarvis left the show and left Betty to host on her own. She then co-founded Bandy Productions, her own production company that created a spin-off using existing characters from Hollywood on Television.
One of these was the (again, taped-live) sitcom, Life With Elizabeth, which scored her a nomination for her first "Best Actress" Emmy Award; which just so happened to be the first award in the new Emmy category designated just for women on television. The budget for the show was $1.95 per episode.
Betty was now one of the very few women with complete creative control both in front of and behind the television camera. She went on to have successes beyond measure in Hollywood.
After one short marriage, Betty tried tying the knot again with talent agent Lane Allen in 1949. However, he also ended up wanting her to stay home and have kids. True to form, Betty let him know that neither of those things were in her plans. They divorced in 1951.
Betty worked steadily through the 1950s and 60s and became a regular on the talk show and game show circuit. Her quick wit and intelligence made her a natural at both. It was on the hit game show Password that she met her true partner and third husband, host Allen Ludden.
Ludden was a widowed father of three kids. The attraction was mutual, but Betty held him off, thwarted by her prior unsuccessful attempts at marriage and thought of relocating to New York. Nevertheless, Ludden persisted, proposing to her numerous times before finally convincing her.
It ended up being true love. Sadly, Ludden died in 1981 from cancer. It's Betty's one regret that she feels she wasted that early time.
"I wasted a whole year we could have had together, but we made it. We finally did."
Betty never had any biological children but feels blessed to be a stepmother to Ludden's three kids. She doesn't regret her decision, noting that she's "... so compulsive about stuff, I know if I had ever gotten pregnant, of course, that would have been my whole focus. But I didn't choose to have children because I'm focused on my career. And I just don't think as compulsive as I am, that I could manage both."
Instead, Betty pursued her passion for animals, being an advocate for them almost her entire life.
And when it comes to lifetimes, Betty has lived hers to the fullest.