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Betty White tribute: things you didn't know about the late 'The Golden Girls' star

Betty White has sadly died aged 99.
Betty White has sadly died aged 99. (Image credit: Getty)

Betty White passed away aged 99. The showbiz world was stunned on New Year's Eve 2021 when the sad news of Betty's death emerged. Everyone quite simply adored this TV legend. She'd have turned 100 years old on January 17, 2022, but sadly she didn't quite make it to her century.

Most of us know and love Betty for playing Rose Nyland in the hit comedy The Golden Girls. Betty had been a pioneer of early television, however, and has a career spanning nine decades in both acting and producing. You can currently enjoy all episodes of The Golden Girls on Disney Plus and see her in her most famous role.

Here, to pay tribute to a TV legend, we've taken a look back at Betty White's amazing career and life with some things you might not already know about the incredibly talented star...

Betty with 'The Golden Girls'.

Betty White with 'The Golden Girls'. (Image credit: Alamy)

1. Her name was 'Betty' White, not 'Elizabeth' White

Betty White was born Betty Marion White in Illinois on 17 January 1922, but her parents named her Betty because they didn’t like any of the other nicknames derived from Elizabeth. So forget Beth, Liz or Libby — she was Betty!

2. Betty originally wanted to be an opera singer

While discussing her role in the 2021 animated film The Lorax, which had the actress sing a few bars, Betty revealed she studied with the best and had big dreams about being an opera singer from the age of 14 and studied with the best. "When I was a youngster, I wanted to be an opera singer, so I took very serious singing lessons," she said.

3. She’s a Guinness world record holder

Betty White at the 70th Emmy Awards.

Betty White's career was celebrated at the 70th Emmy Awards. (Image credit: Getty)

In 2014 Betty was awarded the title for Longest TV Career for a Female Entertainer for her more than 70 years in showbiz. She started her career in 1939, the same year as Bruce Forsyth, who won the record for Longest TV Career for a Male Entertainer the year before Betty’s award.

4. Her first TV appearance is lost to history

Betty made her screen debut in 1939 but can't remember the name of the show! "I danced on an experimental TV show, the first on the west coast, in downtown Los Angeles," she said in 2014. "I wore my high school graduation dress and danced the Merry Widow Waltz."

5. Betty was originally meant to play Blanche in 'The Golden Girls' not Rose

The Golden Girls

In 'The Golden Girls' Betty (on left as Rose) was supposed to play Blanche (centre) but then swapped. (Image credit: Alamy)

Betty White originally auditioned for the part of Blanche, the promiscuous Golden Girl, but producers were worried that it would be too similar to her character on The Mary Tyler Moore Show. So producers asked Betty and Rue McClanahan to switch which parts they were reading, and the rest is history.

6. Betty was married three times

While Betty was volunteering with the American Women's Voluntary Services, she met her first husband Dick Barker, who was a United States Army Air Forces aircraft pilot. After World War Two, the couple married and moved to Ohio where Dick owned a chicken farm. The marriage ended in divorce within the year, however, and Betty returned to Los Angeles to restart her acting career.

In 1947, she married Lane Allen, a Hollywood talent agent. This marriage also ended in divorce in 1949 after Lane had tried to pressure Betty to give up her career to become a homemaker.

On June 14, 1963, Betty married for a final time to television host Allen Ludden, who she'd met on his game show Password as a celebrity guest in 1961, and her legal name was changed to Betty White Ludden. He proposed at least twice before she accepted. 

Allen Ludden sadly died from stomach cancer on June 9, 1981, in Los Angeles. While they had no children together, she's a stepmother to all three of his children from his first marriage to Margaret McGloin Ludden, who herself died of cancer in 1961. 

Betty didn't remarry after Allen's death, remaining a widow for over 40 years. In an interview with Larry King, when asked whether she would remarry, she replied by saying "Once you've had the best, who needs the rest?"

Betty White with her third husband Allen Ludden.

Betty White with her third husband Allen Ludden. (Image credit: Getty)

7. Betty and her 'Golden Girls' co-star Bea Arthur didn't really get on

The Golden Girls

Betty as Rose with Bea Arthur as Dorothy in 'The Golden Girls' (Image credit: NBC)

Betty White had a strained relationship with her Golden Girls co-star Bea Arthur on and off the set of their television show, commenting that Bea "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 Bea Arthur's death in 2009, Betty 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 each other. Bea Arthur would often insist on waiting to leave for lunch until all four (Betty, Rue McClanahan, Estelle Getty, and Bea) had finished their work and could leave together.

8. She starred in 'The Odd Couple' and 'The Match Game' alongside her husband Allen Ludden

Betty and her third husband Allen Ludden appeared together in an episode of The Odd Couple, featuring Felix's and Oscar's appearance on Allen’s gameshow, Password. The two appeared together on The Match Game panel in 1974, 1975 and 1980.

9. Her husband proposed to her with an Easter bunny

Betty had turned down Allen Ludden’s proposals at least twice but then he sent her a stuffed Easter bunny, with gold and sapphire earrings and a note saying, "Now come on, will you marry me?" Apparently it wasn’t the earrings but the bunny that prompted Betty to agree!

10. She lost a major movie role because of her views on animal rights

Betty White was lined up to play Beverly Connelly in the 1997 film As Good As It Gets, alongside Jack Nicholson. Being an animal rights activist she disapproved of the scene where a small dog is thrown down a garbage chute. She didn’t find it funny and was worried viewers might copy the idea. She tried to get the scene removed but the director refused and Shirley Knight was cast in the role instead. 

11. Betty once said she thought Ryan Reynolds had 'a thing' about her but preferred Robert Redford

Betty starred opposite Hollywood heartthrob Ryan Reynolds (Welcome To Wrexham) and Sandra Bullock in the romantic comedy movie The Proposal over a decade ago. She thought she made quite an impression on Ryan, however...

"I've heard Ryan can't get over his thing for me," she joked, "but Robert Redford is The One."

Ryan Reynolds told People magazine recently that he's been a fan of White's "for as long as I can remember".

Ryan adds: "I heard that scripts for The Golden Girls were only 35 pages, which makes sense because so many of the laughs come from Betty simply looking at her cast mates," he said, also joking that White was "a typical Capricorn. Sleeps all day. Out all night boozing and snacking on men."

Betty White facts

When was Betty White born? 
Betty was born on January 17 1922 in Illinois.

When did Betty White die?
She passed away aged 99 on December 31 2021, which was just 18 days before her 100th birthday.

How many times was Betty married?
Three (see above).

Did Betty have children? 
No but she was a proud stepmother to Allen Ludden’s three children who lovingly referred to her as ‘Dragon Lady’. Their real mother Margaret McGloin died from cancer. 

What movies did Betty star in? 
Betty had a long and varied career, which included films such as Advise and Consent, Lake Placid, The Story of Us and The Proposal alongside Ryan Reynolds. She also lent her voice to animations such as The Lorax, Toy Story 4 and SpongeBob SquarePants.

How tall was Betty? 
She was 5ft 4ins. 

We work hard to ensure that all information is correct. Facts that change over time, such as age, will be correct, to the best of our knowledge, at the time of the most recent article update.