Betty White’s Death: How She Became TV Star’s Favorite

Betty White, perhaps the most popular actress and personality of her and several other generations, died on Friday, New Years Eve, 17 days before her 100th birthday – a milestone that is already being celebrated on the media and social media.

Depending on where you’ve joined White’s more than seven decades-long journey through show business – at every stage in which she managed to define a role for a woman her age who was also unique and unmistakably Betty White You may first see her as a pioneer of televised talk, variety, and situation comedy; Host of Rose and Macy’s parades; a smart, sparkling panelist for a game show; a reliably unbridled and funny talk show guest; the dark-hearted “Happy Homemaker” Sue Ann Nivens on “The Mary Tyler Show”; sweet Rose Nylund on “The Golden Girls”; romantically active Elka Ostrovsky on “Hot in Cleveland”; a soap opera villain in “The Bold and the Beautiful”; or Ryan Reynolds’ grandmother on “The Proposal”.

Or countless other locations, from music videos to commercials, from WWE Raw to Saturday Night Live. Her credits, including at least three titled “The Betty White Show,” her awards and historic premieres, including the appointment of tap dancer and singer Arthur Duncan as the first black member of a variety show cast (on the first of those “Betty White” shows ), will be mentioned several times in the coming days and only partially considered here. But the vastness of their work, the many uses for which their talent has been devoted year after year, is a tribute to their agreed cultural necessity, to the general recognition of their particular devious genius. In both “The Mary Tyler Moore Show” and “Hot in Cleveland” her character was originally supposed to appear only once. But the power of White demanded their return.

Adorned with bright eyes and a broad dimple smile, she radiated joy – joy in work, joy in life, joy in conversation, joy in animals, but also joy in malice. She could turn a buoyant voice into sharp ends, and a combination of these effects, applied in varying proportions, experience masking innocence and experience informing innocence, would benefit her throughout her career.

Although White has appeared in several films, television was her medium, and her association with it extended beyond commercial beginnings – her first appearance was on an experimental channel in Los Angeles in 1939 when she was recently out of high school and with a classmate danced “The Merry Widow Waltz.” When television found its legs a decade later, White, who had had some small hits on the radio in the meantime, was there hosting (and later solo) an impromptu five and a half hour, six day program called “Hollywood on Television”. A sketch from a nightly version of the show became White’s first sitcom, “Life With Elizabeth,” which she co-produced (in another premiere); Her character is not a ditz or a clown, but an intelligent woman in a stunning but equal partnership with her husband, and her performance remains remarkably fresh and natural.

This early work gave her a full understanding of what it means to live in front of the camera and the intimacy that goes with it. Check out one of her many always worthwhile talk show appearances – she’ll turn away from the host to sell a comment directly to the audience, bring you in, and connect. Their conversation was casual; their jokes are subtle but structured. (She shows Johnny Carson the handwritten manuscript of a novel she wrote when she was 11: “I found something I enjoyed – [turning to the camera, apologetically] I mean a kick-out. [A beat out of smiling.] Just wallow in memories. ”There is never the feeling that she feels less than completely at ease as an actress or as a person.

Putting bold remarks or dirty words in the mouths of older people is a cheap ticket to an easy laugh. But you never got the feeling that White, who liked to play dryly, turned down a reputation for boldness – she was, she said, a person whose mind was naturally drawn to puns, and she wasn’t about to think about a “what ? hell ”or beeping dialogues or a suggestive look – was a pawn in these things. In fact, it felt like she was always ahead of the game. The fact that at the age of 8 she wrote a Frank L. Baum-inspired screenplay entitled “Trouble in Paradoz”, in which Mae West runs freely across the rainbow, seems to anticipate much of what followed.

As White got older – “aged” doesn’t seem like the right word at all – she began to represent something extra: a dream of what the last few years might be, a standard bearer not for youth but for youth, of continued work and undiminished forces. “It’s amazing that I’m still in this business and that you can still take me,” she said when she was recognized at the 2018 Emmy Awards. But the pleasure was entirely up to us.

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