How Betty White became America’s Sweetheart

by Howie Decker @HowardTheDeck on January 16, 2012

in Television

Picture it. Rochester, New York. 1988.

I was 12 years old and The Golden Girls were smack in the middle of their successful 7 year network TV run.

Most of the humor and storylines in The Golden Girls were a bit above my pay grade at age 12, but I got just enough enjoyment out of it that I didn’t want to miss an episode. In the days before VCRs occupied every home, this show was one of the few that were considered “appointment television” for my parents.  We didn’t want to miss a single moment on the lanai, late night cheesecake conference, St. Olaf story, or Shady Pines reference from TV’s favorite retirees.

After 175+ episodes, you get the feeling you know the characters personally. That’s why as Estelle Getty, Bea Arthur, and Rue McClanahan passed away in 2008, 2009 & 2010, many of us were saddened and took a moment to reflect on the good memories they had provided us. The natural reaction when Rue McClanahan passed was to turn our focus to Betty White, the last remaining Golden Girl.

Betty White had for the most part been out of the mass public’s eye for over a decade as 2009 approached. Originally considered for the role of Blanche Devereaux, we remembered her fondly as Rose Nylund; and although most children of the 80s aren’t as familiar with her work on previous shows and movies, we are aware of her pre-Golden Girls stardom on shows such as The Mary Tyler Moore Show.

Born January 17, 1922 in Oak Park, Illinois, the daughter of Horace and Tess White, Betty Marion White was a typical “heart of America” kind of gal. Her innate charm came through in her work and made her a lovable talent to watch. After the Golden Girls ended in 1992 (and The Golden Palace closed in 1993 – Don Cheadle clearly had more important places to go), she remained somewhat active in Hollywood, making well-timed “special guest” appearances on various sitcoms and movies. She popped up briefly on such shows as King of the Hill, That 70s Show, Malcolm in the Middle, Joey, The Practice & Boston Legal, and even on daytime TV in The Bold and the Beautiful.

See you in hell, Chandler!

In 2009 something happened. Just like the ’72 Miami Dolphins get talked about every NFL season when the final undefeated team falls, Betty was spotlighted every time a Golden Girl passed away. That may sound awful, but I know when Lisa Kudrow is the last “Friend” standing, we will all focus on her just as we have Betty. {Let’s face it: 1. Matthew Perry will be the first to go, 2. women outlive men in general, 3. staying out of the paparazzi’s limelight must be better for your stress levels =Kudrow will outlast them all}

In 2010 we were in the midst of a full-on Betty White renaissance. She was popping up on every talk show, appearing to receive awards such as the Screen Actors Guild Life Achievement Award, cast in the new TV series Hot in Cleveland, re-appearing on Community, and by fall there was a Betty White 2011 calendar on the shelves. At age 88 she became the oldest person ever to host Saturday Night Live, and her 2010 Snickers Super Bowl commercial still stands as one of my all-time favorites.

NBC announced in 2011 that White will be hosting a new show on the network, [Betty White’s] Off Their Rockers, and tonight NBC airs Betty White’s 90th Birthday PartyThe party features appearances by Tina Fey, Morgan Freeman, Mary Tyler Moore, Ellen DeGeneres, Seth Meyers, Joel McHale, Tracy Morgan, and more.

Nearly 25 years after The Golden Girls became “appointment television” in my parents’ home, tonight’s birthday special will be on in ours. I’m sure most of you think at this point I’m going to land the plane with a cheesy and predictable “If you threw a party – invited everyone you knew” reference, but I wouldn’t dare. You see, I already weaved the entire Golden Girls theme song into a best man’s speech in 2009, so that bucket list item has been long since crossed off. I’d prefer to just end with a sincere and genuine “Thank you, and Happy Birthday Betty.”



Howie Decker is the co-creator and editor of  He likes fantasy baseball & taco night. His family & friends’ support for & contributions to his personal blog The Upper Deck were his inspiration to assemble this site. You can read his “Letter from the Editor” here.


Jason Gross (@SockOfFleagulls) January 16, 2012 at 4:33 pm

Well done Howie!!!

Howard Decker January 16, 2012 at 5:06 pm

Thanks Jason

James January 16, 2012 at 5:53 pm

Nicely done, I have been pleased to see Betty come back with full force over the last few years. A good summary/compilation.

Traci Hayner Vanover January 17, 2012 at 12:22 am

I have fond memories of watching the Golden Girls — and your post reminded me just how often I use “Shady Pines” with my mom, even to this day.

Betty is a treasure – and when I grow up, I hope to have as much spunk as she does. 🙂

Howard Decker January 17, 2012 at 2:56 pm

Shady Pines – always a good reference! Traci, thank you very much for reading and commenting. I agonized forever on this post, wanted to do Betty and my Golden Girls memories justice. Love that my parents let me watch it with them as a kid, even though Blanche was such a bad influence.. Thanks again!

Count Marzo January 17, 2013 at 6:30 pm

No mention of all her game show appearances? (Sorry, I’m a major game show junkie.)

Great memories of the Golden Girls on the tv at my Grandma’s house as I played with all my MOTU crap on the floor. 🙂

Happy 91st, Betty White!

Howie Decker January 17, 2013 at 8:58 pm

Yeah, I didn’t dive that far back but really should have. She was all over the game show circuit back then!

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