Betty White: 8 Fascinating Things To Know About Her Life And Work Before Golden Girls

Betty White - The Golden Girls

Who doesn't love Betty White? The film and TV actress, best known for her work in the long-running sitcom The Golden Girls, is rightfully considered a TV pioneer, pushing doors open for herself and many other women in the industry, and the comedic performer remains impressively active and busy in the entertainment industry — even as she's now well into her 90s. White has accomplished a great deal throughout eight decades in the industry, and she established herself well before she walked on the set of her most famous sitcom. Therefore, let's take this moment to explore some of White's greatest accomplishments prior to this syndicated favorite and discuss some of the star's great achievements throughout her early days.

Betty White - The Proposal

Betty White Initially Wanted To Be A Forest Ranger And Zookeeper

While aspirations of fortune and fame are what typically lead people into the entertainment industry, that wasn't necessarily the case for Betty White. As it turns out, the future actress initially dreamed of being a forest ranger, based on her interest in wildlife sparked by family vacations, but she wasn't able to realize this dream because women were, unfortunately, not allowed to serve as rangers at this point in time. Additionally, White also wanted to be a zookeeper, though this profession didn't come to pass either. White started pursuing an interest in writing, leading to her writing and playing the lead role in a graduation play that helped spark her interest in performing. It was around this time that White starting seeking a career in acting.

In 2010, Betty White received an honorary forest ranger destination by the U.S. Forest Service at Washington's Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts. Her love of animals never wavered. She has been active in animal charities throughout her career, she produced and hosted a syndicated show called The Pet Set in the 1970s, hosted a radio program called Betty White on Animals, and wrote a book called Betty White's Pet Love. She even turned down a role in As Good As It Gets because she wasn't ok with the part about a puppy being dropped down a laundry chute. White is also a trustee of the Greater Los Angeles Zoo Association.

Ryan Reynolds, Betty White - Late Night with Jimmy Fallon

During WWII, She Volunteered for the American Women's Voluntary Services

Just as Betty White was starting to establish herself as both an actress and model, World War II broke out. As a result, the aspiring performer decided to put her professional aspirations on hold in order to serve her country as a volunteer for the American Women's Voluntary Services. During the day, White drove a PX truck to transport military supplies up to the bivouacs in the Hollywood Hills. At night, White would perform dances held for the troops before they were deployed. White called it "a strange time and out of balance with everything," yet White has been continuously selfless when it comes to entertaining the masses throughout her long-standing career. She has found various ways to help others, especially in their times of need.

Betty White - 2018 Emmy Awards

Betty White Is One Of The First Women To Ever Be Nominated For An Emmy

While it is always a prestigious honor to be nominated for an Emmy award, Betty White's first Emmy nomination was particularly noteworthy as she was among the first women ever to be recognized by this awards division. While the Emmys were first established in 1949, it wasn't until 1951 that the Best Actress category was established by the Academy of Television Arts & Sciences. The women nominated for this newfound award were Helen Hayes, Judith Anderson, Imogene Coca, Gertrude Berg, and, you guessed it, Betty White. The award ultimately went to Berg, making her one of the first women ever to win, but Betty White would certainly be recognized in the years and decades to follow, particularly as her career kept expanding.

Betty White - Life With Elizabeth

Betty White Was One Of The First Women To Produce A Sitcom

As Betty White forged her own path in Hollywood, she pushed herself forward in many major ways and established herself as a pioneer of television. One of her most notable accomplishments came when she was one of the first women to produce a sitcom with Life With Elizabeth, which gave her full creative control in front and behind the camera. She was still a 28-year-old woman who lived with her parents at the time, yet she was propelling herself, her career, and the future of Hollywood in the process. The show first aired in 1952 and it lasted through 1955, helping White gain exposure and credibility not only as an on-screen performer but as a behind-the-scenes producer. This balance continued to be found throughout her career.

Screenshot from "Betty White 90th Birthday Tribute - Interview with Betty" on YouTube

She Was The Mayor of Hollywood in 1955

As a result of Life With Elizabeth's success, Betty White continued to gain attention and acclaim throughout Hollywood. Not only did the sitcom gain Emmy attention and nationwide viewership, but it helped White earn the honorary distinction of Mayor of Hollywood in 1955. Just as the sitcom came to its close, White joined a prestigious few in holding this title. Other Mayors of Hollywood included Charlton Heston, Monty Hall, and Johnny Grant.

Betty White Television Academy Interview

Typically, the name Betty is short for Elizabeth or Bethany or Beatriz or another name. But it might come as a surprise to know that, when it comes to Betty White, that's not the case. Indeed, the actress was born Betty Marion White, meaning that "Betty" is actually her legal name and not a shortened nickname. It's not entirely clear why her parents opted to call her Betty instead of Elizabeth, but it's clearly a name the actress liked. Unlike several other performers, especially of her time, she didn't adopt a stage name or a pseudonym. She is, and will always be, Betty White.

Betty White 1976 Emmy Awards

Betty White Was The First Woman To Receive An Emmy Award For Outstanding Game Show Host

As noted before, Betty White was one of the first women ever to be recognized by the Emmys. While she didn't win the first time she was nominated, she found success throughout her career. In total, White has won eight Emmys. She first won the Los Angeles Emmy Award for Outstanding Personality with Life with Elizabeth in 1952 — a year after her first nomination. She also won in 1975 for Best Outstanding Continuing Performance by a Supporting Actress for The Mary Tyler Moore Show, which she also won the following year. Additionally, in 1983, White became the first woman to win the Outstanding Game Show Host Emmy for Just Men! Though it didn't stay on NBC long, only airing 65 episodes, it helped White get another Emmy on White's shelf.

In addition to these accolades, Betty White won an Emmy in 1986 for Best Actress in a Comedy Series for The Golden Girls, Best Guest Actress in a Comedy Series with The John Larroquette Show, Outstanding Guest Actress in a Comedy Series for Saturday Night Live in 2010, and a Lifetime Achievement Award in 2015. White has been 17 other times, including for Outstanding Game Show Host for Just Men! in 1985, with her most recent Emmy nomination in 2014 for Outstanding Host for a Reality or Reality-Competition Program with the comedy show, Betty White's Off Their Rockers.

Betty White - The Betty White Show

Betty White Made 1954's The Betty White Show Very Progressive

Shortly after Life with Elizabeth, Betty White made 1954's The Betty White Show, which once again saw the actress assuming creative control behind the camera. Particularly in an era where the TV industry was dominated by men, White's control was notable and progressive. The daily talk/variety show on NBC allowed White to hire a female director as well as Arthur Duncan, an African-American performer, as a regular cast member. 

The casting caused sharp criticism from southern stations as the show expanded nationally. These stations threatened to boycott until Duncan was taken off the series. In response, White wrote the cutting "I'm sorry. Live with it." She also gave Duncan more screen time. Despite initial success, this series was canceled before the year's end. Nevertheless, it proved to be a pivotal, meaningful, and certainly compelling chapter in White's expansive career.

Do you know some fascinating fun facts about Betty White? Let us know in the comment section below!

Will Ashton

Will is an entertainment writer based in Pittsburgh, PA. His writing can also be found in The Playlist, Cut Print Film, We Got This Covered, The Young Folks, Slate and other outlets. He also co-hosts the weekly film/TV podcast Cinemaholics with Jon Negroni and he likes to think he's a professional Garfield enthusiast.