Betty White, The Golden Girl From The Golden Days Of Television
As part of a series called "My Big Break," All Things Considered is collecting stories of triumph, big and small. These are the moments when everything seems to click, and people leap forward into their careers.
Betty White is a television pioneer. She's played everything from the star of the '50s sitcom Life with Elizabeth to the sweetly naive Rose from The Golden Girls.
Sixty years later, she's still in show business, on the cast of TV Land's Hot in Cleveland — as well as innumerable guest appearances.
White's show-biz career blossomed just as television began to take off in Los Angeles, where she went to high school. She happened to be in the right place at exactly the right time.
"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 White says. "I think that's when the show biz bug bit me — and they haven't been able to get rid of me since."
'People Either Sell Their Television Sets or Tune You In'
White's big break came when a Los Angeles disc jockey named Al Jarvis asked if she wanted to be his "Girl Friday" on his new talk show, Hollywood on Television.
"Sure, Friday, that's great," White says. "Well, what he meant, and I didn't realize was, Friday, Saturday, Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday."
She was on TV for 5 1/2 hours a day, six days a week.
Every broadcast was 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 first started appearing on Hollywood in Television in 1949. Three years later, White co-founded Bandy Productions, becoming one of the first female producers in Hollywood.
With her production company, she went on to star in her sitcom Life with Elizabeth, and her own daytime show, The Betty White Show.
On The Betty White Show, just like on Hollywood in Television, White had to work with whatever she got. In one of her live interviews, she talked with a 10-year-old boy named Ralph; he responded to her questions with grunts or one-word answers.
"The beauty of it," she says, "was if it didn't go well, it was over."
"People either sell their television sets or tune you in."
Still In The Business
White says every now and then, she'll catch one of her old programs being rebroadcast on TV.
"You think, 'My God, I had hair then!' " she says.
At 92 years old, she says, there are so many memories to relive.
"To be able to talk to that camera — the camera became your best friend," White says. "You're looking into that little camera lens and they're looking into your soul, because they're right into your eyes. You can't be phony. You can't fake it."
"I'm so lucky to still be blessed to be working in it," she says. "I love television."
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