Hollywood on Television (1949-52), Life With Elizabeth (1952-55), Password (1961-1975)
White cut her television teeth on Hollywood on Television, a live, local variety show that included a little bit of everything: news, interviews, and comedy skits. Life With Elizabeth, which began as a comedy sketch on Hollywood on Television, featured White in an Emmy-nominated role as an energetic young wife opposite Del Moore. White also produced the show, which was groundbreaking for a woman since television was still in its infancy. Password (pictured) featured White several times through the years. It was on the set of the iconic game show that she met her third husband, host Allen Ludden, whom she wed in 1963. Later, White appeared on the show’s three updated incarnations, Password Plus, Super Password, and Million Dollar Password, meaning she’d appeared with all five hosts of the series — Ludden, Bill Cullen, Tom Kennedy, Bert Convy, and Regis Philbin.
Mary Tyler Moore (1973-77)
White joined the show in its fourth season as iconic ”Happy Homemaker” Sue Ann Nivens. ”She was cloyingly sweet on the surface and something of a dragon underneath, with a tinge of nymphomania,” she wrote of the character in her autobiography. ”I was born for the role!” She clearly was: The role yielded three Emmy nominations and two wins.
The Betty White Show (1977-78)
The idea to spin off White’s Mary Tyler Moore character, Sue Ann Nivens, had been kicked around, but producers decided against it since there were already several other spinoffs from the show, including Rhoda, Phyllis, and Lou Grant. Instead, White starred in her own sitcom as Joyce Whitman, a middle-aged actress who was starring in a fictitious police drama called Undercover Woman. (This was the fourth time The Betty White Show moniker had been employed in White’s career.) The series was pitted against Monday Night Football and NBC Monday Night Movie, never generated a large viewership, and was cancelled after only 14 episodes.
The Match Game (1973-82)
White had appeared on the original incarnation of The Match Game, but this newer, Gene Rayburn-hosted version is remembered for its bawdy humor and rather eccentric cast of panelists, including White, Vicki Lawrence, Brett Somers, and Charles Nelson Reilly.
The Carol Burnett Show (1975-78)
One of Burnett’s favorite skits was a recurring segment about a screwball family led by the irascible Mama, played by Vicki Lawrence. White appeared a handful of times as Ellen, the rich, bitchy sister of Burnett’s downtrodden Eunice.
Mama's Family (1983-86)
Through the first few seasons of this Carol Burnett Show spinoff, White popped up as Ellen again in several episodes. Family is where White first met Golden Girls costar Rue McClanahan, who played the uptight Aunt Fran.
Just Men! (1983)
White hosted the short-lived game show, which featured women trying to guess the answers male celebrities gave to silly questions like, ”Do you have a quick temper?” White broke ground once again, as she was the first woman to win an Emmy in the Outstanding Game Show Host category with Just Men! Tellingly, The Price is Right‘s Bob Barker preceded and followed her in the category.
The Golden Girls (1985-92)
White’s character, the simplistic Rose Nylund from St. Olaf, Minn., is the stuff of legend. The lead foursome was filled out by Rue McClanahan’s sexpot Blanche, Bea Arthur’s withering Dorothy, and Estelle Getty’s sassy Sophia. ”They told me that I was to play it straight, to pretend that I took everything for its literal surface meaning,” White told EW in 2005. ”So my character reference was the fact that if somebody said, ‘Oh, I could eat a horse!’ Rose would immediately call the ASPCA. I loved Rose and had such fun playing her.” White was nominated for an Emmy each of the show’s seven seasons, and won during its first.
The Golden Palace (1992-93)
Bea Arthur decided not to join the The Golden Girls spinoff, which set White, McClanahan, and Getty as Miami hotel proprietors. But the other characters struggled without Arthur’s Dorothy. ”It would have been a wonderful idea for three other people,” White told EW in 2005, ”but it just didn’t work without Dorothy.” Palace lasted just one season.
The Practice & Boston Legal (2004-08)
White first showed up on The Practice in 2004 as the feisty Catherine Piper, intent on a little revenge against Alan Shore (James Spader). Her role was such a hit, it was extended occasionally during the five-season run of Practice spin-off Boston Legal. Catherine memorably bludgeoned enemies with skillets and set her doctor’s office on fire.
The Bold and the Beautiful (2006-08)
In a rather interesting move so late in her career, White joined the long-running soap opera in December 2006 as Ann Douglas, the long-lost mother of show matriarch Stephanie Forrester (Susan Flannery). White returned several times and racked up at least 18 appearances as Douglas.
Ugly Betty (2007)
At the 2007 TV Land Awards, White parodied Ugly Betty with a spoof titled Ugly Betty White, which hilariously depicted her as the title character alongside other spoofing ”cast members” Charo, Erik Estrada, Joan Collins, Peter Scolari, and George Hamilton. The skit led to a White cameo in the ABC’s sudsy series, playing foil to evil editrix Wilhelmina Slater (Vanessa Williams).
The Proposal (2009)
By the time The Proposal rolled around, White had perfected playing the nutty grandma. In this rom-com, she portrayed the eccentric grandmother to Ryan Reynold’s love-bitten character. (There’s a scene where she dances in the woods like a Native American shaman, willing her future granddaughter-in-law to have a good life!)