Betty & Friends: My Life at the Zoo

Betty & Friends: My Life at the Zoo

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Betty WhiteBetty White was born on January 17, 1922.Kevin Winter / Getty Images

 

Before Tina Fey, Amy Poehler, and Ellen DeGeneres, Betty White was the Queen of Comedy — pioneering her way from the radio airwaves to quiz shows and sitcoms.

She made a name for herself on "The Mary Tyler Moore Show" and "Golden Girls." In the past few years, White has made a huge TV comeback with cameos on "Community" and "The Middle" before shattering ratings on "Saturday Night Live."

Today, our favorite "Golden Girl" turns 97, and she's still a powerhouse in Hollywood.

Her TV Land show "Hot in Cleveland" completed five seasons in 2015. And despite her NBC comedy show "Off Their Rockers" getting axed in 2013, White has kept busy since then with appearances on shows like "Crowded," "Bones," "Young & Hungry," and "Fireside Chat With Esther."

But how much do you really know about White?

We dug through LIFE's illustrated biography of Betty White to learn what you don't know about the funny woman.

View As: One Page Slides


Betty's first work in Hollywood was in a Parkay margarine commercial.

Betty's first work in Hollywood was in a Parkay margarine commercial.
Betty White in 1965.AP

White hung around in producer Fran Van Hartesveldt office until he decided to offer her a job in the commercial

This led to her appearance on radio show "The Great Gildersleeve," also headed by Hartesveldt.

 

White has never had acting lessons.

White has never had acting lessons.
Betty White got a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame in 1988.Hulton Archive/Getty Images

The actress said they were never her thing.

"I just want to bring as much natural as I can," said White. "I'm not saying that people who take acting lessons are false. They're much better than I am, but it doesn't work for me."

She originally wanted to be an opera singer.

She originally wanted to be an opera singer.
Betty White landed her first role in the 1940s.Reed Saxon/AP

White opened up to the Canadian Press while discussing her role in the animated film "The Lorax," which had the actress sing a few bars. 

"When I was a youngster, I wanted to be an opera singer, so I took very serious singing lessons."

White may never have appeared alongside Al Jarvis on "Hollywood on Television" – and later become host in 1952 – if she passed up an unpaid gig.

White may never have appeared alongside Al Jarvis on "Hollywood on Television" – and later become host in 1952 – if she passed up an unpaid gig.
Betty White is honored at a Christmas parade in Los Angeles, California.Earl Leaf/Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images

Before joining "Hollywood on Television," White was asked if she'd be interested in a television special with then-radio disc jockey, Dick Haynes. The free gig led to a call from Jarvis, another disc jockey, to have Betty as his sidekick on "Hollywood on Television."

 

White earned $300 a week when "Hollywood on Television" was expanded to six days a week with five-and-a-half hour days.

White earned $300 a week when "Hollywood on Television" was expanded to six days a week with five-and-a-half hour days.
Betty White on "The Betty White Show."Wikimedia Commons

White once performed 58 live advertisements in a day.

White once performed 58 live advertisements in a day.
Betty White starred in the 2009 romantic comedy "The Proposal" with Sandra Bullock and Ryan Reynolds.Kevin Winter/Getty Images

She and "Hollywood on Television" co-host Al Jarvis had to do numerous live ads for their sponsors.

 

White's first Emmy nod was for her role in the comedy she created, "Life with Elizabeth" in 1952.

White's first Emmy nod was for her role in the comedy she created, "Life with Elizabeth" in 1952.
Betty White with Ted Knight after winning Emmys for their roles in "The Mary Tyler Moore Show" in 1976.Reed Saxon/AP

You can watch a scene from the movie here.

 


White's showbiz career could have been cut short if she stayed with second husband Lane Allan.

White's showbiz career could have been cut short if she stayed with second husband Lane Allan.
Betty White and her third husband, Allen Ludden, in April 1965.Bob Wands/AP

Allan wanted White to stop working and focus on a traditional family life, but the actress chose her career over her husband.

"He didn't want me to be in show business," said White. "When you have a calling you have to follow it, so I made the choice, blew the marriage and I've never regretted it."

White married the love of her life, TV host, Allen Ludden in 1963. The two met while White was a celebrity guest on "Password" in 1961 and remained married until his passing in ‘81.  

 

White was never a fan of the short-lived TV show "Date With the Angels."

White was never a fan of the short-lived TV show "Date With the Angels."
"Date With the Angels" aired in the late '50s.ABC

In her 1997 book "Here We Go Again," White described her experience with the ABC show as unhappy. She didn't see her co-star Bill Williams as someone who thought funny.

"I think I can honestly say that that was the only time I have ever wanted to get out of a show," said White.

 

 

America's sweetheart, impassioned lifelong animal welfare advocate, and New York Times bestselling author Betty White shares intimate, funny, and enlightening stories about her very best friends in the world...

All her life, Betty White has had a menagerie of pets, many of them rescued, and has donated countless hours and resources to animal welfare. Animals are her passion, and that passion extends to zoos and their importance for the conservation of species and for offering humans the ability to witness the grandeur and variety of these magnificent animals from around the world.

Betty & Friends is a love letter to those zoos, to their dedicated workers, and especially to the animals in them--from Gita the elephant, whom Betty used to take for walks; to Bruno the orangutan, who flaunts his affections for Betty; to Jacob the boa, who loves a good hug. Gaining access to this majestic world through Betty's eyes and her inimitable words is a beautiful thing indeed for animal lovers and Betty White lovers of all ages.

INCLUDES GORGEOUS FULL-COLOR PHOTOGRAPHS