Betty White’s fans love giving out facts related to her age. It’s true that there are many, and they’re certainly noteworthy: she’s the oldest Emmy nominee ever, she’s the oldest winner of a competitive Grammy Award, she’s the oldest person to host Saturday Night Live, and she holds the record for the longest span between Emmy nominations for performances, having received her first in 1951 and her most recent in 2011. (She has new nominations for hosting, but that’s a different stat, according to the Television Academy.)
But there’s depth to Betty White’s longevity. She’s not just a show host and an actress: she’s a producer, a writer, a singer, and was one of the very first women to get full creative control both in front of and behind the camera, back in the 1950s when such a thing was almost unheard of.
There’s more to this woman than modern day audiences are aware of, even those who are hooked on reruns of The Mary Tyler Moore Show and The Golden Girls. We’ll prove it: here are seven fun facts about Betty:
SHE’S A HARDCORE ANIMAL LOVER WITH SPECIAL PRIVILEGES OTHER ANIMAL LOVERS DREAM ABOUT
Betty White has been on the board of directors of the Los Angeles Zoo since 1974 and has helped raise millions of dollars for them. Her rapport with its residents is so well-known by the staff that she is allowed to drop by outside regular hours and mingle with the animals, and she does so. She counts dogs, cats, horses, whales, and Koko the gorilla among her friends, and when her old friend James L. Brooks offered her the role of Helen Hunt’s mom in the movie As Good As It Gets, she turned it down because of the scene where a dog gets tossed down a laundry chute. She just couldn’t condone it, no matter how much she liked the Oscar-nominated script.
When she met President Barack Obama at the White House in 2012, she spent half an hour with the presidential dog, Bo, on her lap. And when asked what her profession would be if show business was off the table, she doesn’t hesitate: she would’ve been a zookeeper, a job unavailable to women when she was growing up. For decades, she has used her money, her fame, and her famous friends to fundraise for multiple animal-related charities, and has been known to step in and adopt animals herself, when they needed a good home. She says that one of the greatest moments in her entire life was when she was made an Honorary Forest Ranger. . .and this is coming from a woman with six Emmys and a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.
SHE’S A SOCIAL MEDIA POWERHOUSE
She may prefer to write longhand, but she’s still hip: in the first 24 hours after her Twitter account launched, she amassed 118,000 followers. That number is currently up to to 1.15 million, and while the account was started by her reps and there are paid social media pros promoting her appearances and putting in retweets and hashtags for her, there’s some of the real Betty in there too. Check out these tweets:
Exciting @NBCTheVoice finale tonight- haven't heard so many beautiful sounds since the last time I was with @adamlevine!
2014-it's going to be a great year! Granted, I've said that about 91 times before, but this time I'm really feeling it! Happy New Year!
SHE’S FAMOUS FOR HER FIRSTS
She’s not just about being the oldest to do this and the last one to do that: Betty White is famous for being first. She was one of the women nominated in the first Emmy category for female performers in 1950. She was one of the first women to have full creative control of her own TV show both in front of and behind the camera, co-creating, co-producing, and starring in the Life With Elizabeth when she was still living at home with her parents. Being the first woman to produce a sitcom led to her becoming the honorary mayor of Hollywood in 1955. And she was the first woman to host her own talk show.
She’s also, to date, the only woman ever to win an Emmy for game show hosting.
SHE’S KNOWN NOW FOR BEING RAUNCHY, BUT SHE’S ACTUALLY A ROMANTIC
Okay, she IS raunchy, and always was, we admit it. She married U.S. Army pilot Dick Barker in 1945 primarily so they could sleep together. They spent six months in bed together, she says, and then got divorced
Her second marriage was to agent Lane Allen, but it was the third one that was the real thing.
In the early 60s, she was doing a lot of game shows. This was the heyday of What’s My Line, To Tell The Truth and Password. Alan Ludden was hosting Password, and when they met on set, he fell in love. She spent a year turning down his marriage proposals, but he finally succeeded one Easter, when he sent her a fluffy white bunny with diamond earrings and a note that said, ‘Please say yes.” When he called her that night, she answered the phone with one word: yes. They were married in 1963, and stayed together until his death from stomach cancer in 1981. White hasn’t been serious about anyone else since, although she does confess to a longtime crush on Robert Redford.
SHE LOVES A GOOD POKER GAME …
… and has a regular one set up with a bunch of old friends. They play dealer’s choice, and White’s favorite is called Screw Thy Neighbor, where you get a chance to keep a card or pass it to another player. The group has a brass cup engraved with the words ‘Pico Poker Club” and it gets taken home by whoever comes out ahead at the end of the night. If the winner forgets to bring it back the next time there’s a game, they owe “$2,000 or death, whichever is more appropriate.”
HER FRIENDS WEREN’T JUST TV FOLK
She and Alan Ludden were good friends with writer John Steinbeck. One of her most prized possessions is a signed copy of his Nobel Prize acceptance speech, which he was in the throes of writing the day they met. Another: a black chiffon skirt that she refuses to have cleaned, because Steinbeck’s famous poodle Charley, of his 1962 travelogue/memoir Travels With Charley, muddied and slimed it.
BUT SOME ARE: SHE KNOWS GOOD TALENT WHEN SHE SEES IT
White was an early fan of David Letterman. His first TV appearance in Hollywood was on a game show she co-hosted with Alan Ludden, and the couple is often credited with “discovering” him. (He got another career boost from her friend and co-star, Mary Tyler Moore, on her short-lived variety show.) The day after White turned 89, she celebrated with him on Late Show with David Letterman with a couple of glasses of vodka. Well. . .he poured them two glasses. Then he drank from the bottle and she did a spit-take.
And future director Sam Peckinpah’s first job in TV was as a stagehand on a show she co-hosted. He was working his way through film school, and handled props, sets, and White’s cue cards during live commercials. She reported that his hands were grimy and left marks on the cards, but she liked him anyway.
Bottom line: Betty White isn’t just an old lady who gets laughs by being risqué. She’s a smart, bold, conscience-driven, showbiz-loving, gifted writer-producer-performer who broke ground in early TV and just keeps on going. Her newest TV show, Betty White’s Smartest Animals in America, premieres on her 93rd birthday this year, cementing her status in the Guinness Book of World Records as the female entertainer with the longest career on record. Pretty good for a gal who started off her career getting turned down by multiple movie studios for not being photogenic!