Adios, Betty White

Jyoti Shekar

When someone says ‘Betty’, the first image that comes to my mind is, despite the popularity of Archie comics, a dimpled white haired beauty with a cheeky smile.

It was hard to not fall in love with Betty White. With her pretty dimples, bold characters and easy dialogue delivery, she won the heart of millions world over, men and women alike. I personally cannot wait to grow old and be as cheerful and carefree as she was.

You expect someone like that to live on forever. So it came as a shock to me when she refused to step into 2022 and said goodbye exactly on 31 December 2021, just a few days shy of her 100th birthday. It is common knowledge that she had the longest career in Hollywood spanning 80 years.

Born to a homemaker and a lighting company executive, Betty had an ordinary childhood. Her father would build crystal radios to earn extra income. During the Depression, he would exchange the radios for other items, even dogs on occasion. Betty White is well known for her love for animals, which probably stemmed from there. Her dream was to become a forest ranger. But since women were not allowed to do so during those times, she channeled her energies on her other passion – writing.

During World War II, she volunteered for the American Women’s Voluntary Services, driving a PX truck with military equipment and supplies.

After the war, she wanted to do movies but she was categorically told that she was not ‘photogenic’! Not to be put down, she persisted determinedly, starting her career with radio where looks did not matter. Slowly and steadily, she built a career in television and movies and became one of America’s most beloved actors, with fans across three generations.

Her philanthropic work and contribution to the Los Angeles Zoo earned her the title of ‘Ambassador to the Animals’. In fact, she had stated in one of her interviews that being remembered for her characters would be wonderful, but she would especially want to be remembered as a lady who helped animals.

She was a woman who lived life on her own terms. Her first marriage ended within a year since her husband wanted to live a simple country life, while she was very focused on career and wanted the dazzling lifestyle that Hollywood had to offer. Similarly, her second marriage ended within two years, because she was clear she did not want any children. Her life was full with animals and acting.

Known for her quick wit and sense of humour, she had stated in one of her interviews that she definitely loved children, but the problem with them is that they turn into people. No such problems with animals.

She finally married the love of her life, Allen Ludden, who had three children of his own. She lived happily with him till he passed away back in the ‘80s. She never married after that stating when you have tasted the real deal, why would you want to pursue a fake one. In fact, it is said that her last word was ‘Allen’. So deep was her love for him.

Her philanthropy and compassion was uniform. She was a supporter of same sex marriage and firmly believed in ‘live and let live’, a refreshing change from the general attitude, especially for her generation. If she could see that it was none of her business who others fall in love with, I don’t see why we are unable to grasp that today.

One of her interviews, she made such an astute observation about people, ‘It’s incredible that you can stay in a career this long and still have people put up with you. I wish they did that at home.‘ Makes one think, doesn’t it?

She had received numerous Emmys and other awards in her long career span. In 2009, she received the Screen Actors Guild Life Achievement Award where she commented, ‘I turned only 88 last Sunday, so there is lots more stuff to do.

And here I am, already planning my retirement at 37!! Her words truly inspire me; even the words of her characters are funny and inspiring at the same time. Her sense of humour has always been at the forefront. Once, when asked how she stayed so vital at her age, she said ‘I have a two storey house and a very bad memory. So I am up and down those stairs.

Betty White – you have truly lived an exemplary life, on your own terms, doing what you loved to do. If we could achieve half of that, we would have a successful life. May you be happy always, wherever you are.

*All images used in this article are either Eyra’s own design or widely and freely available on the internet.*

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