I first remember watching Betty White when I was thirteen years old. She had just joined the cast of The Mary Tyler Moore show as the host of a fictitious show-within-showed called the Happy Homemaker. Her character, Sue Ann Nivens, was super cheerful and upbeat while on her show, but was a sharp-tongued nymphomaniac behind the scene and often played the antagonist to other characters on the show.
And she was hilarious.
Given her career before that, I’m sure that I had seen her before she joined The Mary Tyler Moore Show on the many daytime game shows that she frequently appeared in during the 60s and 70s. I’m also fairly certain that I had seen the political thriller Advise and Consent in which Betty played the one and only woman Senator in Congress. But it was Sue Ann who wriggled her way into my heart.
Sue Ann wasn’t the only iconic character she played. Many more people hail her portrayal of Rose Nylund in The Golden Girls. Rose was a very different character–though one who like all characters Betty assayed, had a bit of steel in her.
Being as funny, personable, and playing such a diverse set of characters was an incredible accomplishment. But there was so much more to her than that. There was her activism for various animal charities. There was the time in the 1950s when she defied the network executives that she was letting tap dancer Arthur Duncan (who was black) have too much screen time in her variety show. Betty gave him even more screen time after that. And she became not just someone the gay community idolized, but one of our fiercest allies.
And every person who met her in persons said that neither the personability nor the wittiness was an act. It was who she was.
Betty was famous for loving vodka and hot dogs–and for refusing to apologize for not being into anything more fancy or stylish. So, join me in raising a glass as we bid farewell to the great Betty White.
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