After More Than 75 Years In Show Business, Betty White Revealed The Greatest Regret Of Her Life

Perhaps few television careers are worth celebrating as much as Betty White’s. Indeed, the veteran star has spent almost eight decades entertaining her fans now. But despite her many successes, White still has her regrets. And when it comes to her late husband Allen Ludden, there’s one thing that the star wishes she could have done differently.

It wouldn’t be an exaggeration to say that Betty White’s career is almost as old as the televisual medium itself, since she made her small-screen debut way back in 1939. And from those early days, the actress would go on to raise her profile through programs such as The Mary Tyler Moore Show. Yet many fans will undoubtedly know her best as The Golden Girls’ Rose Nylund – a role she played for eight years in the 1980s and early 1990s.

During her nearly eight-decade-long career, White has broken boundaries and reaped acclaim, too. She became the first female producer of a network sitcom for her work on Life with Elizabeth, for example, while her acting gigs have earned her five Primetime Emmys. The star has also written a number of books and gained praise for her charity work.

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But while White’s career is certainly well discussed, details of her personal life are arguably less known. In the 1940s the actress married twice: once to an airman named Dick Barker and later to a talent agent named Lane Allen. However, these suitors apparently weren’t a good fit for White, and both marriages ended in divorce. “[The splits] were probably my fault,” the actress admitted to New You magazine in 2014.

Fortunately, White was luckier the third time around. While appearing on the quiz show Password in 1961, the star took a shine to presenter Allen Ludden. “The host was very nice and very attractive,” she chuckled on PBS’ Betty White: First Lady of Television 57 years later. “And I thought, ‘Ooh!’”

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White made no effort to hide her crush on screen, though. After Ludden asked her about her summer plans, the actress giggled and replied, “What did you have in mind, Allen?” But as their friend Carl Reiner recalled to PBS, the attraction was mutual. “They looked at each other and they said, ‘This is it,’” he explained.

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Soon after their flirtatious first meeting, White and Ludden began to date. But while her partner was keen to marry, White repeatedly declined his offers. Only after two rejected proposals did the actress finally accept, and the pair wed in June 1963.

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White and Ludden’s romance didn’t stop when the cameras were rolling, either. Throughout their careers, the pair made several appearances together, including in several theater shows and on an episode of The Odd Couple. White even playfully admonished her husband on screen for making a wrong answer when Ludden appeared as a contestant on Match Game ’74.

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The pair lived as man and wife for almost 18 years, in fact. But though their union was seemingly one of the most perfect in show business, it sadly wasn’t to last. In 1980 Ludden discovered that he was suffering from stomach cancer. And after his condition failed to improve, the TV star passed away in 1981, leaving White a widow at 59.

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What’s more, even though she had been married twice previously, White appears to cherish her time with Ludden the most. “I had 18 wonderful years with Allen Ludden,” the star explained to Piers Morgan in 2012. “The first two [marriages] were… rehearsals.” The actress also expressed a similar sentiment to the Daily Mail in 2011. “I made two mistakes before Allen,” she told the paper. “But the love of your life doesn’t come along in every life, so I am very grateful that I found him.”

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And in an apparent sign of the star’s devotion to her late husband, White has since opted not to remarry. Or, as she put it to Anderson Cooper in 2011, “You’ve had the best, who needs the rest?” But that doesn’t mean that the star is free of regrets about her relationship.

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In 2015 the then 93-year-old White appeared on Oprah: Where Are They Now? to discuss her lengthy career. And during her chat with fellow TV icon Oprah Winfrey, the actress talked about her life and work with all the wit and wisdom fans have come to expect from her. “I have a two-story house and a very bad memory, so I’m up and down the stairs all the time,” she joked about her fitness regimen.

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Throughout the show, White also revealed which characters she has loved playing the most as well as recalling her most memorable on-screen love interests. But soon the focus shifted from fictional loves to real-life romances, upon which the subject of Ludden naturally came up. And at this point, the star couldn’t help but let her emotions slip out.

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As the interview changed pace, Winfrey asked her guest if she had any regrets about her life. Without hesitation and with complete, devastating honesty, White brought up Ludden’s first rejected offers of marriage. “That I spent a whole year, wasted a whole year that Allen and I could have had together saying [that] no, I wouldn’t marry him,” she replied.

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But although White now regrets the decision, it’s easy to see why the star passed on Ludden’s initial proposals. When they met, she was forging a successful career on the West Coast, while Ludden was based in New York. A cross-country move could have proved disastrous for her prospects, then, as well as being a considerable upheaval.

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Still, with the benefit of hindsight, White admitted that she should have made a different choice. “I spent a whole year… saying, ‘No, I won’t leave California. No I won’t move to New York,’” the actress rued. “I wasted a whole year we could have had together.”

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And as tears welled behind the star’s eyes, it became increasingly apparent just how much White had loved her late husband. However, she was still able to see the sunshine behind the clouds all these years later. “We made it,” she declared, referring to their eventual marriage. “We finally did.”

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Nevertheless, even if White is still remorseful about her and Ludden’s lost year, she has no regrets about another aspect of her life: choosing not to have kids. Explaining her views on parenthood to the Daily Mail, the star said, “If I had children, I wouldn’t go to work. It would have to be one or the other.” The actress remains in constant contact, though, with her three stepchildren, who were born during Ludden’s previous marriage.

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And there have been many moments since Ludden’s passing that White may wish he could have seen. In September 2018, for example, the star received a special honor at the Emmy Awards – over 65 years after receiving her first acting nomination. “It’s incredible that I’m still in this business and you are still putting up with me,” she joked from the stage, following a standing ovation.

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But regardless of what she does next, it’s likely that White will still remember her time with Ludden fondly. And if she ever got the chance to marry Ludden all over again, the star wouldn’t hesitate to say yes. “No two ways about that,” she told Joy Behar in 2011. “He was something special.”

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