PBS Presents


Betty White: First Lady of Television

A warm look at the life and career of the beloved television and film legend.

AIRED: January 07, 2022 | 0:56:00

-Betty White, one apple, take one.

-Marker. -Gorgeous.

-Did I hear "gorgeous"? -You heard "gorgeous," yes.

-Did anybody say "exquisite"?


-How about, "Oh, my God"? Nobody said that?

-Oh, my God. -Yeah, oh, that's good.

I heard that.


-She has appeared on very popular situation comedies.

-Sue Ann, what are you doing?

-I'm removing stubborn rust stains from your sink.

-Oh, Sophia, that smells heavenly.

Is it Chef Boyardee?

-She had her own talk-variety show

in the early days of television,

and she has been a hit in every venue through every decade

in which she has worked in our business.

-I'm sorry, who?

-Betty White. -Betty White.

-Betty White. -[ Laughs ]

-Betty White. -Betty White.

-[ Laughs ]

-It was Betty White.

-It was Betty, Betty, darling Betty White.

-[ Clicks tongue ] Betty White.

Betty White, ladies and gentlemen.

-[ Laughs ]

[ Indistinct talking ]

-This is one of those special nights

when a community comes together and says,

"You did a good job."

You did a good job, Betty White.

-She's a long-distance runner. -If you're that good --

That's right. If you're that good, you can survive.

-Longevity is a big deal.

Like, she's broken all the barriers.

Now she's in her 90s.

There's nothing -- no barrier left to break.

-It's so nice to meet you. -Nice to meet you.

-How are you?

-Right this way, ladies.

Big smile, big smile. Right on.

-Ladies and gentlemen, Miss Betty White!

[ Cheers and applause ]

-She's done so much amazing work.

She's unstoppable, I'm sure, right?

[ Laughs ]

-Well, this is a lovely, lovely surprise tonight,

and it's also a chance for me to say thank you

for spoiling me rotten for so many years.

I truly appreciate it,

and it's just the best business to be in.

-She's been around forever.

What an amazing career.

That's how she's influenced me.

[ Cheers and applause ]

-One of the things she always says,

which I think is so interesting, and I had never thought of it,

"When you're a film star, people see you on a great big screen,

and they go somewhere, and they pay to see you on the screen,

and so those people feel kind of untouchable."

And she always says, you know, "I've been in people's homes

for 70 years,

so people always feel like I'm just accessible."

-She's this incredibly authentic,

charming, talented, funny woman,

and you can put somebody

who's as multifaceted as Betty in any situation,

so because of that and by virtue of that,

she's always gonna be relevant,

and she's always gonna be, you know, of the moment,

and I think that's what really makes her special.

[ Cheers and applause ]

-We decided to, you know, make some moves

and take some chances in her career.

It really started taking off when she guested

on the William Shatner roast for Comedy Central.

-Betty White, ladies and gentlemen.

[ Cheers and applause ]

-Roasts are very risqué at times,

and they wrote a lot of material that Betty decided to go with.

-But you look great.

You know, they make 1% milk now.

[ Laughter ]

[ Applause ]

Darling, you were supposed to explore the galaxy,

not fill it.

[ Laughter ]

-When people saw that, I mean, it was, you know,

a little jarring and then really funny

because you saw that side of her

that you don't get to see very often, you know?

Just a little sassy.

-She didn't shy away from it, and from that,

people saw a little different side of Betty,

and it opened things up.


[ Men grunting ]

[ Indistinct shouting ]

-[ Grunts ]

-Mike, come on!

-It was a different image of Betty White

than we'd seen in the past, you know,

like, the whole, you know, "So's your old man,"

or, "That's not what your girlfriend said last night."

-Mike, what is your deal, man? -Oh, come on, man.

You've been riding me all day.

-Mike, you're playing like Betty White out there.

-That's not what your girlfriend said.

-Baby! -Whoa, whoa, whoa.

-She kind of got launched into this pop-icon status, which --

And then she was kind of doing everything.

-Live from New York, it's Saturday night!

-There was a young man, I believe,

in Austin, Texas, who started that campaign.

He said he was driving along one night in Texas,

and he was thinking about Betty White.

I said, "How old are you?"

-The Facebook campaign went crazy,

and then "SNL" obviously took it seriously.

-I talked to Lorne Michaels, and we found out, you know,

who was gonna come back from the cast.

Lorne was making it more of a Mother's Day show,

which was very special.

-I've done "SNL."

It's hard.

-Betty rehearsed vigorously all week.

Thursday, Betty looks at me with a look

that I've never seen before,

and she says, "Never again."

Maybe I pushed her a little too far and a little too much

because I was pushing her out of her comfort zone,

and then she said it.

She looked, went right back into the regular Betty White

right after she said it.

-Stage fright is uncomfortable and all that,

but it's a lifesaver, because the panic that sets in

you've got to counter,

and you've got to get a handle on that

in order to do what you're doing,

so the stage fright is what puts the edge,

I think, on a performance.

-Betty White!

-I sat back and said,

"Hmm, maybe I pushed her. Maybe I did."

But I said, "No, no, she's still gonna deliver.

She's gonna come through."

-I have so many people to thank for being here,

but I really have to thank Facebook.

[ Cheers and applause ]

When I first heard about the campaign

to get me to host "Saturday Night Live,"

I didn't know what Facebook was,

and now that I do know what it is,

I have to say, it sounds like a huge waste of time.

[ Laughter, cheers and applause ]

-I can't believe Betty did "SNL" at that age

and not only did "SNL" at that age,

but took the ball and knocked it so far out of the park.

-Bless their hearts.

When I did it, they brought Tina Fey and Amy Poehler,

and they brought the original wonderful people back,

which gives you all that surrounding with all those pros.

-♪ We love you ♪

-♪ We love you ♪

-♪ We love you ♪

-To have that opportunity

to work with the Tina Feys of the world

and Kristen Wiigs and these young

writer-actress-producers, you know,

I mean, they're kind of what she was so many years ago.

-Hey, everybody, look what I wrassled up!

[ Indistinct talking ]

-Young woman, you get that fish out of my parlor.

What has gotten into you?

-She's a lesbian.

-I love Betty.

We got to do a week at "SNL" with Betty.

All the women of "SNL" got to do that Mother's Day show with her,

and it was inspiring just to see, one,

her timing just rock-solid still.

-Uh, what is your last name, ma'am?


-Can you spell that for me?


-She grew up in live television.

That's what she does,

and even at 88, she's going to love doing live television.

She's Betty White.

-Florence, there's a tangy taste in this muffin.

Is that a cherry?

-No, no, my muffin hasn't had a cherry since 1939.

[ Cheers and applause ]

People think, "Oh, well, poor old Betty White,

she doesn't know what she's saying."

Oh, yes, you do. [ Laughs ]

-Her demographic sort of exploded.

You know, all of a sudden, there were kids who were 5

and people who were 95

that just loved her across the board, and she become cool.

-All at once, this character actress became a star,

and what I find fascinating

is that she's the only one who doesn't know it,

because I don't think she ever framed her life that way.

-Here with Hollywood legend and Hollywood local Betty White.

Betty, you grew up here in Hollywood.

-I came out when I was a year and a half old.

-You moved out on your own then?

-No, no, I had a mother and father who brought me out here,

but I don't think California was a state yet.

I think we were still a territory.

-Betty was an only child --

Horace and Tess, her mom and dad.

-Spoiled rotten but taught to appreciate it.

Oh, they were great.

When I picked parents, I picked doozies.

-Her mother was a big influence on her,

and her mother was very, very astute lady, very funny.

-She was a cockeyed optimist.

She always made the point that, if you look at those negatives,

you spoil all the good stuff,

and it goes by, and it's gone, and you haven't tasted it,

and I really believe in that philosophy.

-♪ All the longing ♪

♪ Seeking, striving, waiting, yearning ♪

-With all performers, somebody comes along

and makes them want to be a performer.

In Betty's own life,

Jeanette MacDonald was everything for Betty.

-I didn't like Jeanette MacDonald.

I was Jeanette MacDonald.

She was my idol of all, and Nelson Eddy.

-♪ Her revelry, her sweet revelry ♪

♪ The mandolinas... ♪

♪ Playing sweet ♪

♪ The pleasant sound of dancing feet ♪

-They were as important in my world

almost as my mother and dad.

-Betty actually began doing a test for television in 1939.

She wore her dress from graduation in high school,

and Betty sang a Jeanette MacDonald song,

which is just, I think, amazing.

-I was just lucky there was a local station, Channel 13,

and I did a silly little song on the show,

and a disc jockey, Al Jarvis, saw me, and he called me.

He said, "I'm starting a television show,

and I'd like you to be my girl Friday."

And I said, "Oh, gee, that's -- Yes, of course!"

And it turned out was Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday,

Thursday, Friday, Saturday.

We were on 6 days a week, 5 1/2 hours a day.

-She not did an hour.

She did a whole day on the coast.

Five hours or something.

Nobody ever did that.

-No script, no anything.

It was like going to television college.

It was wonderful.

-It was just wild.

Whenever they wanted to do some kind of a show,

they'd say, "Well, how will we do this?"

I said, "Just do it."

-Al Jarvis hadn't done any television, either.

Al Jarvis was a radio deejay.

-He just thought he would move his radio show to television,

so we'd put on the records,

and, oh, the phones would blow up,

and people would write and say,

"We don't know what you're talking.

We see you talking, and we can't hear you.

We can hear the records on the radio.

We want to know what you're talking about."

So after the first week, they deep-sixed the records.

We thought, "Well, what'll we do now with no records to play?"

-Doing that much live television

for that long gives you a skill set.

I mean, she had to start with that skill set.

Let's be real.

But she honed it in those four years really quite well.

-Whoever came to town would come through our show.

It was the only game in town, and you'd meet everybody.

It became very successful.

Don Fedderson, the manager of the station,

called us in and said,

"That little husband-and-wife thing that you do,

could you make that into a series?"

In my wisdom, I really was on top of everything.

I said, "Well, it won't work.

We do them like anecdotes that a husband and wife will tell,

you know, in an evening,

but if you stretch that into a half-hour,

it goes flat in the middle.

No, it won't work."

Well, he said, "Try it." So we did.

That was my first series, "Life With Elizabeth."

-Betty White in "Life With Elizabeth,"

featuring Del Moore.

[ Applause ]

Incident number one in the life of Elizabeth

occurs every time she and Alvin play a game,

like checkers, gin rummy, or chess.

-"Life With Elizabeth," we did that in the early '50s,

did it live at the Beverly Hills Theater,

a local movie house now,

but we used to do television shows there.

All these shows were L-I-V-E.

The red light came on, and you went on for 30 minutes.

It was great, great fun.

-Dime says I hit it. -Okay, you got a bet.

Hey, wait a minute. Hit what? Wait.

[ Thunk ] -That fence.

Pay up. -Oh, no.

You picked out your target after you hit it.

-Well, if you're stupid enough to make a bet like that,

that's your lookout.

Dime says I hit that tree.

-Yeah, that's more like it. Which tree?

Wait. [ Thunk ]

-That one. -Oh.

-Nobody remembers "Life With Elizabeth."

They weren't born when "Life With Elizabeth" was on.

George Tibbles and I produced it,

and we had about $1.95 for a budget for each show.

We played against sort of a flat background.

We had a couch and a couple of living room chairs.

-You never knew what was gonna happen.

You never knew when a camera was gonna break,

when a film was gonna break,

when you'd have to go out and stand there

and talk for five minutes just to fill air time.

-The audience for her show was up above.

Climbing that ladder to talk to them was part of her warm-up.

She did the warm-up for her own show

to get them engaged and going,

and how cool is that?

-NBC had seen the local talk show.

They said, "Do you think, Betty, could you do --

It's a half-hour every single day.

That's five days a week.

Do you think you could sustain that?"

And I thought, "What am I gonna do with the rest of the time?

I'd been 5 1/2 hours a day 6 days a week.

Only a half-hour a day?

What do we do with the rest of the day?"

-It's "The Betty White Show" from Hollywood.

-♪ It's time to say hello again ♪

♪ And start our show again ♪

♪ And sing a song or two for all of you ♪

-Hi, everybody. Hi.

It was a variety show, and I would sing some songs,

and we'd interview people.

We had a live band, Frank De Vol and his orchestra.

We would do live commercials.

It was before tape.

You didn't have anything you could cut away to a commercial.

You were on, and you were doing the commercials.

In just two tablespoons, just this little bit contains

twice the iron in a pound of calves' liver.

-I thought she was a great talent,

being able to deliver a commercial,

to sing, and to do interviews and whatnot.

She was just magnificent,

and she believed everything she said and did on the show.

-I had this wonderful dancer, Arthur Duncan.

Arthur, did you have a nice weekend?

-Sure did. I did something a little different.

I rehearsed with a choral group

that's going to do Christmas carols this Christmas.

-Oh, wonderful. You're going around from house to house or...

-I think their plan is to go to hospitals

and orphanages and things of that nature.

-Well, that's a wonderful thing to do

for a Christmas season, Arthur.

-The first TV show I'd ever been on,

and I credit Betty White for really getting me

started in show business, in television.

-Arthur's all set for his number today.

This is a fine number for him to do

when he was rehearsing Christmas carols all day yesterday.

Arthur Duncan and "Sing You Sinners."

-♪ Sing, you sinners, sing ♪

♪ Sing, you sinners, sing, sing, sing ♪

-♪ Sinners, drop everything ♪

♪ And let the harmony ring ♪

♪ Up to heaven ♪

♪ Sing, you sinners ♪

-Well, by now, we were national,

and we were all over the country,

and all through the South, there was this whole ruckus.

They didn't -- They were going to take our show off the air

if we didn't get rid of Arthur because he was black.

-♪ Whenever there's music ♪

♪ The devil kicks ♪

People in the South, some of them resented me

being on the show and wanted me thrown out,

and it was never a question at all.

-Evidently through the South at that point, it was very heavy.

So I said, "I'm sorry, but, you know, he stays, or --

Live with it."

-♪ You know that things are right when you sing ♪

-♪ Without a doubt ♪

-♪ You sinners, sing ♪

[ Applause ]

-Oh, Arthur, that was just tremendous.

Everybody was really going with that one.

I was thrilled to be one of the first female producers,

and Betty Turbiville was one of the very first female directors.

That was so before the women's movement

that I don't think we even thought of it.

I never even thought of it being a different gender, you know?

It was just you did whatever the job was

and whatever job you could get.

-She's one of the pioneers.

A lot of us are here because she was there at the beginning.

She set the standard. She set the way for many people.

-She came with all the tools.

She knew everything about production.

She was able to discuss any aspect of the script

or the lighting or the sound,

so it was natural for her, and she loved it.

-That's where somebody who's been in the business forever

and is a producer and all this --

So she knows --

You know, she knows how to take all that she is

and make it brilliant.

-Here comes trouble. -Yes.

-Hello. -How are you?

-I'm fine.

A little damp, but I'm fine.

-Ooh, it is something, isn't it?

Very damp.

-I try to keep it light.

Are they ready for us?

If she's a little bit nervous

because it's a new set or something.

-How you doing? -How you doing, sweetie?

-I'm kind of an anchor in that I'm familiar,

so at least she can look to me and know one person.

You're doing good. It's funny.

You're funny, but keep your clothes on, please.

Listen, you, I'm trying to get a date.

You're ruining my mojo.

She likes to run lines in between scenes.

"But if they both were single on their 95th birthdays,

which is today, they'd meet here."

And then that's it.

That's your only line in this one.

I'm just there to help run it and run it and run it

so that she's sure when the camera goes, she's ready.

-So has an old guy named Bernie knocked on the door?

-And if he did, how does he look?

'Cause in '97, he was jacked.

[ Laughter ]

-She's a living legend, and she's right there,

and they'll all tell you.

They learn so much just watching her, doing a scene with her.


-Here, I brought you some chocolates.

[ Laughter ]

-Thank God, he's still jacked!

[ Laughter ]

-When you think about what makes a great ensemble actress,

it's someone who can leave their ego at the door,

and it's someone who is always there

in support of the other actress or actor.

-One Saturday morning, the phone rang, and it was Mary.

She said, "Would you do a guest shot on my show?"

Of course, she had to coax, as you can imagine.

-Oh, God, she was just so innately funny

and so full and rich in everything she did.

She had so much energy inside her,

and she just jumped into any scene that she was put in.

-[ Laughing ] Of course.

Somebody forgot to plug in the oven.

Well, I guess that just goes to show

that anybody can make a mistake,

even your Happy Homemaker.

Now, don't you go away.

We'll be right back after this commercial message.

-All clear. -All right.

Who the hell is responsible for this?

-Sue Ann Nivens was -- She was the Happy Homemaker.

She -- She had a television show.

She could do anything in the kitchen, I mean, anything --

She was just the master of everything

in the homemaking department.

-Do try a little iodine for that scratch on the desk,

and baking soda will bring

that grease up out of the carpet like nothing.

Oh, dear, dear, don't throw away those coffee grounds.

They're the perfect plant food for Mary's geraniums.

-When Val left as Rhoda, when Betty came in,

there was a whole new relationship

for Mary and Sue Ann Nivens that really worked.

-Sometimes I think I drive myself too hard,

but there's so much to be done with so little --


-So little time.

After all, life is so brief and impermanent,

much like your hair.

-Sue Ann, I was able to show another side

that was kind of fun and a little lecherous, a little mean.

-Oh, she emasculated Murray on that one show

if you saw that about marriage.

He had to wear a dress.

-This is embarrassing.

I mean, it's humiliating.

Look, I told you I've got a lunch date.

-Oh, you can go to lunch anytime.

How often do you get a chance to wear a wedding gown?

-She can deliver a line like nobody,

and they created that character,

and she did that whole dimples thing.

-She also had a little problem that she liked men,

any men, anybody's men.

She just liked men, and that was sort of

what made the character kind of fun.

-You'll have to excuse me.

I promised Georgette

that I would select the wine for dinner.

-Oh, sure.

-Oh, incidentally, Mr. Van Dillen,

you are the most gorgeous hunk of flesh

I have ever seen.

-You value that writing.

You never take it for granted

because it doesn't happen that often.

-Mary, this is a marvelous party,

and the cheese puffs are delicious.

-Sue Ann, you made the cheese puffs.

-Oh, did I?

My memory must be beclouded

by this mediocre little off-year champagne.

-The show was written so brilliantly

that everybody had their time to shine.

-Anybody like an hors d'oeuvre?

I wouldn't recommend the cheese puffs.

People keep tasting them

and then putting them in the ashtray.

-When writing is really good

like it was on "Mary Tyler Moore,"

it's so much more interesting to the audience

to find the backgrounds of all the different characters.

-They discover that she had this --

like, a triple king-size bed.

-Sue Ann, you remember Ted from the newsroom.

-Of course.

How have you been, Ted?

-Oh, swell, swell, Sue Ann.

-All of a sudden, Ted is there

straightening his tie in the ceiling.


What a great bedroom, Sue Ann.

[ Laughter ]

-So you know the whole thing is mirrored up there.

It was funny.

-You had to tune in week to week, you know,

to see what everybody was gonna do,

and she created some of those characters

where you always wanted to see what Sue Ann was gonna do

or what Rose was gonna do.

-Were you shocked when they said, "Now, Betty,

we've got this wonderful series for you.

We want you to be one of the Golden Girls."

Did you -- -Well, all I was thinking,

all that time in makeup, you know,

trying to put on the age makeup and everything, but...

-I know, isn't that --

[ Laughter ]

-Betty White was one of the few people

who walks into the room, and you know her.

You've known her all your life for some reason.

She's one of those people always welcome to any show she's in,

from -- from "The Golden Girls" to --

She's just one of those people, and she's funny.

-I'll never forget the time they sang

at our annual talent show

right after the herring juggling act.

-You mean to tell me

that somebody actually juggled herring?


It was the herring who did the juggling.

Tiny little Ginsu knives.

Really very dangerous.

I mean, one false move, they could've filleted themselves.

-Growing up, Betty White made me want to live in Florida,

watching "The Golden Girls."

I've always loved, loved "The Golden Girls,"

and, you know, it was one of the staple sitcoms when I was a kid,

and it was something that I was sort of raised with,

and I loved that gang.

-I think I spent probably from the time

that I was about 6 years old, 7 years old,

watching "The Golden Girls" with my grandmother,

and so, you know, I felt like Betty

sort of grew up with me in some weird way.

-Rose, is this another one

of those Scandinavian Viking concoctions?


It's called genuckenflugen cake.

It's an ancient recipe, but I Americanized it.

-Yeah, so one might say you brought geflurkenurken

into the '80s?

-Yes, but I'm not one to blow my own vetubenflugen.

-And I fell in love with her. I loved Rose.

Rose didn't have a mean bone in her body.

-"Golden Girls," like, you know, any other great, epic,

iconic show or film, is a love story, you know?

And it's a love story between these four elderly ladies

living in Florida,

and they've all, you know, lived their lives to the fullest,

and they continue to do so, and they do it as a love story.

-Four points of a compass.

There was Rue, who was the beautiful, sexy.

-Rose, what was your first impression of me?

-I thought you wore too much makeup and were a slut.

[ Laughter ]

I was wrong. You don't wear too much makeup.

-Bea Arthur was the tall, strong,

not always easy character.

-Spanish fly is not a fly? -No.

-What is it? -It's a beetle.

-They call it a fly, but it's really a beetle?


-How do they know it's Spanish?

-Because it wears a little sombrero, Rose.

-And Estelle Getty, the older woman who was dynamite.

-You're awfully cranky today. -Well, forgive me.

My arthritis is bothering me.

My Social Security check was late,

and I realized today I haven't showered with a man in 22 years.

-The writers were so phenomenal.

They -- They blended those characters together

and rounded the edges off so we all fit like that.

-Those girls were so talented at just simply flashing a look

that would ride a wave of laughter off to the next look.

-I mean, Stan and I went through a period

where we had no marital relations at all.

I totally cut off his sex.

-You mean it grows back?

[ Laughter ]

-And then it would ride another wave of laughter

when, you know, Rue would look at someone else,

and then Betty would look at, you know, Bea.

-Yes, Rose, he's a lizard.

-The scripts were incredibly short

because they were so packed with laughter

just simply from their looks.

So that, to me, is just pure talent.

-They were letting people in on

what older women were talking about.

We weren't allow to come to those coffee klatches.

They'd put it on the air.

I said, "Oh, that's what they talk about."

It's about life, and we'd talk about real life.

Who's not interested?


-She comes here.

She sits down. We have a little caviar.

We have a little drink,

and we talk about what happened over the week.

[ Both laughing ]

-Here we go.

-But then, suddenly, I feel her getting edgy.

She wants to get to the table.

She is ruthless, let me tell you, ruthless.

-Six, seven...

-She always says, "Well, I know we're friends here,

but when we get over there, all friendships cease,"

and she means it. [ Laughs ]

And I have to tell you, she beats us most of the time.

-You can see what a friendly game it is.

We were such nice friends over there.

-Betty is a crossword lover.

She's an all-word-game lover as with "Password"

and "$25,000 Pyramid" and that.

She loves words and creating words.

Oh, boy.

-Oh, what a surprise.

[ Laughs ]

-One, two, three.

-She loves playing games.

Games are her life.

-Child. -Minor.

-Minor, right.

-She enjoys the excitement.

She enjoys the competition.

-What do you think the answer to the puzzle is?

-Penguin. -Is it a penguin?

It's a penguin! -Oh!

-Oh, that's wonderful.

Oh, that's lovely. -Okay.

-She's witty, and she's quick,

and those two are great qualities to have

if you're going to appear as a celebrity guest on game shows.

[ Ding ] -All right, Dolores.

Give us the answer that she's given.

We give you $5,000. Sacred.

-I hope it comes through for me this time -- sacred heart.

-Sacred heart.

[ Applause ]

Well, we're gonna find out if it comes through

for you or not, Dolores.

Betty, she says "sacred heart" will match you for the $5,000.

What do you say?

-But you also make a sacred vow, don't you...

-A sacred vow. -...with all your heart!

-With all your heart!

[ Cheers and applause ]

-Betty White hosted her own show,

the only woman to have won an Emmy for hosting a game show.

Her qualities have really helped her throughout her career,

and she's fast enough to handle any situation that comes up.

-Yes, it's "Password," and now, here's your host on "Password,"

Allen Ludden.

[ Cheers and applause ]

-Allen Ludden was the game-show maven,

and along with Bob Stewart,

one of the great game producers in television history,

they came up with "Password."

-The more games you win, the more money you win.

Isn't that great?

-Allen was a wonderfully neutral guy

rooting for both teams.

You would never know from watching him

that he wasn't enthusiastically hoping everybody was perfect.

So he worked out to be a pretty good guy.

-I met this lady on this show in 1961.

First time I ever met Betty was right here

doing "Password" in 1961.

-Marvelous. What a nice thing.

17 years.

-Yeah. That was -- Yeah, that was '61.

It was 18 years. -Wow, 18.

-Yeah, yeah, we've been married how many?

-Something like three, four, something.

-They met on "Password," Betty and Allen,

and they looked at each other.

They said, "This is it," and it was a love affair.

-I flew to New York to do a couple of things,

and "Password" was one of them,

and I fell in love with the game.

I loved the game of "Password."

-This is the sparkling television star

and great "Password" player, Betty White.

-The host was very nice and very attractive, and I thought, "Oh."

Hello, Allen.

-What are your plans for the summer, Betty?

-Well, I'm gonna do some -- [ Laughs ]

What did you have in mind, Allen?

-I think that's one of the reasons

why she came in and out of New York

for short periods of time

to do "Password" or something, you know?

So there was some kind of spark going on early.

-There was just a rapport and a warmth.

We just kind of -- We dug each other a lot.

-His whole view of how to deal with Betty

was to constantly send her notes, to constantly woo her.

-By the end of the year, he wouldn't say, "Hello."

He'd say, "Will you marry me?"

Well, I thought that was such a joke.

I mean, that's ridiculous.

One night, we went to dinner, and he gave me a jewelry box,

and I opened it, and there's a wedding ring,

a lovely wedding ring with diamonds all the way around.

He says, "You might as well wear it.

You're gonna say yes sooner or later."

Well, as any red-blooded American girl would do,

I got mad.

I got furious, and I gave it back to him, and I said,

"Forget it, and stop pushing me.

I'm not interested."

I lived in California.

There was no way I was gonna move to New York.

-And he was constantly presenting it,

and she was constantly rejecting it.

-Did he give it back to the jeweler?

No, he put it on a chain around his neck.

We'd go to the beach.

There's the wedding ring.

You'd see it at all times -- "Here it is."

So in my idiocy,

I wasted a whole year we could have been together.

I'd say, "No."

-She hates the fact that she held him off

for a year and a half

because she didn't want to move to New York,

and she didn't know if she could be a mother

to three young people.

She says today -- if you ask her, she'll say,

"I lost all that time.

I lost all that time."

-And, finally, Easter came along,

and he sent me this beautiful little stuffed bunny

with ruby and sapphire and gold earrings on its ears,

and it just said, "Please say yes."

So that night when he called me, I didn't say, "Hello."

I said, "Yes," and always after that, he said,

"Betty is the only woman I ever could imagine --

She didn't say yes to me because of those earrings."

It was because of that soft bunny that I said yes.

It had suddenly dawned on me

I was gonna spend the rest of my life

without him because of my stubbornness,

so sure enough, we got married,

and I moved to New York for four years,

and then Goodson-Todman moved "Password" back to California,

and life was wonderful.

-This is my wife, Betty, Mr. Unger.


Nice to know you, Mrs. White -- M-Ms. White, M-Ms. Ludden.

-Betty. -Ah.

You know, I watch you all the time, Betty.

You're my biggest fan.

-Thank you. That's very nice.

-I remember when you had your own show

years and years and years ago.

-That many?

-It's amazing how youthful you look.

-Thank you.

I'm even younger on the reruns.

-[ Laughs ]

-She had the greatest marriage.

Allen Ludden, her darling husband,

died quite many years ago.

-I didn't know how she would do after Allen passed away,

but she's strong.

She got through that, and look at her.

-There was an aura that surrounded how they were

that I'll never forget.

-Once it happens,

it's not something you make up or you make room for.

You can't avoid it.

You can't get away from it, and you don't want to.

We were kind of hung up on each other.

We, uh -- We had a crush on each other.

-Nice to have had you here. -Nice to have had you here.

-You played a very good game. -Thank you.

-We'll see you all next week... -It's been fun with this one.

-...at the same time or tomorrow on daytime "Password."

Until then, this is Allen Ludden

saying the password tonight is...


Will you take me home, please, Mr. Ludden?

-I certainly will, Mrs. Ludden.

Thank you. Good night.

-I can put the addresses on the envelopes

'cause I have them all here in my phone, so you don't --

If you write the notes and hand them to me,

then I can get everything addressed, and...

She is the most hands-on person,

in terms of that professional stuff,

that I've ever worked for.

She reads her fan mail.

She signs her own fan mail.

She still writes letters to Eagle Scouts.

-Why my hand is --

It doesn't look like my writing.

My hand doesn't know how to work.

-Let's take a look. -Thank you.

-Oh, it's still that --

it's still the pretty Betty handwriting.

I have not encountered anybody with a work ethic

like Betty's in my career.

I mean, she makes you want to work harder.

She makes you want to show up.

Okay. We're gonna do some schedule first

because I want to make sure

that you have everything up-to-date that I have.

-Okeydoke, sweetheart.

-She wants that schedule full.

She loves to work.

She loves to be busy.

-And then pickup for the salon at 7:00 on Friday.

-Yes. -And Fleming at 11:00 for body.

-Right. On Wednesday...

-Pickup at 6:15 for "Hot in Cleveland."

-Yeah, you're gonna have dinner

with the "Hot in Cleveland" ladies.

-The ladies, uh-huh. -That will be nice to see them

'cause you haven't seen them in a while.

-Yeah. No, it's been quite a while.


-"Hot in Cleveland" was a gift from --

I must have been doing something right in my life

because I was given this gift right on my lap,

and when they said, "Read the script.

We have Betty White,"

I was like, "Oh, I don't even have to read it.

Yeah, I want to work with Betty White."

-They asked me if I'd do a guest shot, and I said,

"Well, if --" It was the pilot,

"and if it gets picked up, and how few shows get picked up,"

I said, "I won't be able to do the show.

I'm too busy, but I can do --

I'll do a one-shot on the pilot."

-So what are you, like 100?

-I don't like you.

Aren't you that girl from that show?

-Yes, yes, I am.

Are you a fan? -No.

When it was canceled, I said, "Good riddance."

-Luckily after the pilot was done,

Betty seemed to have had such an amazing time that she said,

"Oh, yeah, sure, I'll be in."

-They never were able to get rid of me.

They couldn't lose me from then on.

-You know, Joy, instead of two weeks in Paris,

we could spend two weeks in Cleveland --

I mean, the Paris of Ohio.

-No, that's Toledo.

-There is no other way to work except in an ensemble.

I think you feed off each other --

No, I know you feed off each other.

It raises your own game, and I'm telling you,

working with Betty White is really like having

a master class of comedic timing.

-So we're four single girls on a Saturday night.

[ Ding ]


-That's not me!

-It's me.

I signed up when my bender was over.

In fact, that's my screen name -- BenderOver.

-[ Chuckles ]

So we call it the "BenderOver scene,"

and to this day,

I cannot watch "BenderOver" without laughing hysterically.

-I signed up when my bender was over.

[ Laughter ]

Oh, I am so sorry.

-It just gives you the giggles

because Betty White has the giggles,

and when Betty White has the giggles, I defy you.

There is no way that you cannot giggle yourself.

-I signed up when my bender [Laughing] was over.

[ Laughter ]

Hang on. I'm gonna do it.

Not this, but...

I signed up when my bender was over.

In fact, that's my screen name -- [Laughing] BenderOver.

-We had a few during the years,

a few really amazing moments

where everything stopped on the set,

and people just wanted to watch Betty work with Tim Conway.

-I believe you left this behind at the dance, princess.

-Well, I had to rush off when the clock struck 9:00.


-Betty worked with Carol Burnett.

-Oh, Elka, I am so glad we had this time together.

-Me too.

-Betty worked with her old Mary Tyler Moore crew.

-So to have those people come into this new family,

it was -- it was an interesting and delightful week.

-You were the bombshell.

Diane was the legs, and Mamie Sue was the ditz.

-No, no, no, I was the legs.

Angie was the brains, and Mamie Sue was the...ditz.

-Well, the joke's on all of you.

You're not any of those things anymore, but I'm still ditzy.

-The memory I take away from that

is the mortal changes happen,

but our love for each other endures.

-The first time I was just speechless,

which is hard for me, was when Carl Reiner came on the show.

-Betty and I worked on --

I worked on her show called "Hot in Cleveland."

-Oh, well, well, Carl is something else.

-And there was a scene in an outdoor patio,

and Carl and Betty are getting to know one another,

and they just riffed off each other

like no one else was in the room, and they were brilliant.

-The truth is, I'm a great driver,

but sometimes I like to drive real slow

just to mess with people.

-I am having such a good time.

-Me too.

-It was so perfect.

When I saw it, I said, "That is a symbiotic scene.

That couple belonged together."

-I think we should get married.

-Me too.

Pass the salt.

-Really? You'd marry me?

-Yeah, I would.

Why dance around?

We're perfect for each other.

-I'm glad to hear that. Oh, here's your salt.

I'm impressed you can still use that.

-Oh, I know how to shake what I've got.

-I've been wanting to do that all night.

Now I can get back to my rigatoni.

-He sinks right into the moment,

and whatever you throw at him

he throws right back at you, and you better be ready.

It's -- Oh, he's a joy.

-If you're an actor in this town

and you get a chance up close to see these people work together

and not make it look like work, it was --

I'm getting chills just thinking about it

because I can't imagine

how I got lucky enough to be a part of this.

-So this is my gammy, Annie. -Pleasure.

-Well, hello, there.

Now, do you prefer being called Margaret or Satan's Mistress?

-She is, again,

this sweet sort of lovable character with an edge,

and we exploited that edge

over and over and over again on that film.

She's a rascal.

-Sorry. I'm a bit chesty to begin with,

and I happened to be knocked up when I wore this.


-Oh, let's see if we can find your boobs.

-Betty really just made that movie.

I really don't think that that film would have been nearly

as successful or as effective without her presence.

-This is like an Easter egg hunt.

-Maybe they shrunk up in the cold Alaskan air.

-[ Laughs ]

Oh, there they are. -That -- Yes, it would be.


-She's just this sweet, you know, lovely older woman

who just is just beloved by this whole crew and cast

that everybody would just do anything for her,

and she gets up to leave,

and everyone's sad 'cause it's her last shot,

and she's just walking out the door to say goodbye,

and she turns around right in the doorjamb,

and she says, "I just want everyone here to know

that this is the most fun I've ever had...standing up,"

and then she turns, and, I mean, just --

The woman just kills everyone.

Everybody is just -- spends the rest of the day

at a perfect 90-degree angle laughing.

-The crew just loved her, and, I mean,

never forgot a line, never --

I mean, she was just everything

that you wanted her to be and more.

I felt very, very lucky.

-Caroline, you okay?

-Oh, I am, indeed, and thank you again.

-Of course.

Okay, so the train is gonna be here in just a few minutes,

and they're gonna bring your husband

right through that tunnel.

Caroline, you don't have to do a thing.

Just wait like you always do.

-"The Lost Valentine" is a love letter,

like, a generational love letter.

She really had a connection to the piece

and, you know, very much like myself,

sort of just loved the love story

and has such an amazing love story with her husband.

In any scene about the husband

or about that character in the movie,

before and after, she would always send a kiss up to Allen.

The power of how love can stay for a very, very, very long time

and sort of grab ahold of you and not let go...


...was really something

that she wanted to not only give to the audience,

I think that she wanted to prove to the audience that, you know,

she wasn't funny all the time, you know?

But I also think for Allen, it was really --

It was sort of that's kind of where she went in her heart

and her mind, and it was very touching.



It was very slow.

It was a very sweet, sort of soft moment,

and she was just -- she was just brilliant.



-Hi, Betty. -Hi!

-It's so good to see you! -Oh, thank you.

-So happy you could come up. -Thank you for letting me come.

-We've been telling Bam Bam all week his BFF is coming.

-Oh, really? -Yeah.

-Well, that's my life.

The reason I work, the reason I do anything

is because of my love of animals.

-She's enjoying his love right now.


-She says all the time, "I have to keep doing my acting job

so I can support my animal causes."

-She truly believes that the animal kingdom

is well worth taking care of.

-Well, what is that?

-And with Betty, it's been constant,

100%, all the time.

-She doesn't call herself an activist.

She's an advocate, and there's a difference.

-How's that?

Is that good? Is that good?

-Let me begin by telling you that I think

Betty White can charm the savage beast.

[ Chuckles ]

-I'm the luckiest old broad on two feet.

-Betty always treats people with dignity

and respect and charm.

She has a far closer relationship to animals

than she does to people.

-You were telling me a story a long time ago

about how you used to go backpacking with your family.

-In the Sierras. -In the Sierras.

Did you ever see bears there?

'Cause there were probably a bigger population.

-Only black bears. -Only black bears, yeah.

-But we'd go to Yellowstone,

and that's where you see the old grizzly.

-And every summer, they would go into the High Sierras

and literally live on the land.

-We'd pack into the High Sierras, just the three of us,

and be up there for three weeks,

although we'd never see another human being.

That's when you see wildlife.

That's when you see.

You can't do this, though, unfortunately.

-Well, you may only get to do it once.

-Yeah, you would do it one time.

-Only once. -Yeah.

-But moose, you see moose, and that was exciting.

I'd go back to school, and they'd say,

"You were up there with your --

What did you talk about? What did you do?"

I said, "You just don't understand."

We were animal nuts, all three of us.

I think they were so disappointed when I was a baby

that they had a baby.

[ Laughter ]

-They were hoping to have a litter.

-Why not a little animal?

-Betty hopefully is going to be remembered

as a very kind person, a loving person,

an extremely terrific actress, comedian,

but I think she really wants to be remembered

as one who gave most of her life to animals.

-Oh, oh, I know. -Oh, my goodness.

[ Laughs ]


-You know, some songs sort of make the rounds.

They come around just every so often,

and others just never really go away.

I guess this one sort of falls into the latter category

'cause you hear it just every so often.

♪ Maybe I'm right ♪

♪ Maybe I'm wrong ♪

♪ Maybe I'm weak ♪

♪ And maybe I'm strong ♪

♪ But nevertheless ♪

♪ I'm in love with you ♪

-She is every woman.

She doesn't offend.

She's funny. She's quick.

She's very smart.

It's just the magic of Betty White.

Not everybody has that.

-I think people are attracted to that

because we spend our whole lives just trying to figure out,

like, what we really want to do,

and for Betty, it's entertaining people,

and she just genuinely feels that way, and it's infectious.

-Just courage and grace and love of life,

I think that's the secret to longevity.

-If you pass 70, just look to Betty,

and that's the way to do it.

-She twinkles. She does twinkle.

Oh, she's one of a kind.

-♪ Maybe I'll live a life of regret ♪

♪ Maybe I'll give ♪

♪ Much more than I get ♪

♪ Nevertheless, I'm in love with you ♪

♪ Somehow I knew at a glance the terrible chance... ♪

-She's just genuine.

Like, it isn't an act.

-I think her legacy is kindness,

and just, you know, there is always a silver lining,

and she embodies that.

-One of the smartest, funniest, kindest,

most generous women in a business

that doesn't normally have that kind of people in it,

but that's how she'll be remembered.

-♪ Much more than I'll get ♪

♪ Nevertheless ♪

♪ I'm in love with you ♪


[ Applause ]

People have been stuck with me for so long,

and bless their hearts, been so supportive.

But I am amazed that I'm still on television.

They still let me come back, and I'm not saying that coyly.

I mean it. It's such a privilege

to still be able to work in this business.



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