The world was gifted the beloved Betty White before sliced bread was even a thing. And in a lifetime spanning almost 100 years, she’s spent a record-breaking number of those on television. “I don’t remember the ’80s… that was before my time,” White joked with CNN. Modest and self-effacing, she’s quick to brush off a well-deserved compliment or hard-earned accolade, as if she were gently shooing away a gift belonging to someone else. But even so, the praise just keeps coming. “There’s a reason why there is only one Betty White,” Jamie Lee Curtis once said, “[Betty], you’ve … had good health and fantastic opportunities, and you’ve knocked them out of the ballpark.”
“When I think of Betty White, I always see her with a big open smile,” Rue McClanahan — ahem, Blanche Devereaux — said, remembering her closest Golden Girls pal. White’s bright, rosy-cheeked face, sparkling eyes, and irresistibly warm spirit make this extraordinarily talented performer, producer, and writer a woman who has done it all and happily found her way into the hearts of America, time and time again. And if that GoFundMe campaign to “protect Betty White from 2016” was any indication, the 95-year-old White has become an indispensable national treasure, adored by generations of fans — still delighting us with her flawless sense of humor. Let’s take a look at the stunning transformation of this incredible woman.
Little Betty White makes her big debut
Born on January 17, 1922, outside of Chicago, Illinois, Betty White moved to Los Angeles when she was just 2 years old. “My father Horace was a traveling salesman who moved our family to California during the Great Depression,” White shared. “They had delicious senses of humor,” White told Parade, speaking of her dad who told her jokes from his trips, and her mother, who was just as game to goof. “They would come back from a walk with a dog, saying, ‘Betty, he followed us home. Can we keep him?’ My parents had a cat named Toby who liked to sit on my crib. My mom always said that if Toby hadn’t approved of the baby, she’d have gone straight back to the hospital.”
Betty White played a popular orphan
As the entire country was experiencing the greatest stock market crash on record, an astounding 3.2 million losing their jobs by 1930, a spunky 8-year-old Betty White had booked her debut showbiz gig on the first broadcast media platform — the radio. The show was called Empire Builders and she played the role of a crippled orphan.
“Radio is wonderful,” White remembered fondly, “You don’t have to put your eyelashes on, and you read your lines.” White loves to joke that she “started out in ‘silent television.'” But while she may have been dazzling the airwaves, she had already set her sights on bigger things.
Betty White was a Harajuku girl before it’s a thing
Even though she grew up next to Hollywood’s biggest studios, Betty White fostered her own unique passion. “I was never that conscious of the Hollywood stuff,” she shared. “I was always gonna be a writer. I wrote the graduation play at Horace Mann Grammar School in Beverly Hills. And, of course, as any red-blooded American girl would do, I wrote myself into the lead. And the showbiz bug bit me!” Her debut script? The Land of the Rising Sun, a Japanese theater-style play White wrote in 1934, starring the 12-year-old herself.
Then, she ditched the writing thing almost before she started. “That’s where the ham in me first showed. I could hardly wait to graduate and foist myself on a panting public,” she recalled in the collection Women Pioneers in Television. Later, in a production of Pride and Prejudice, “That’s when the bug really bit.”