Betty White Holds A Guinness World Record – And It’ll Be Years Before Anyone Can Take Her Crown

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Betty White is a legendary actor, not to mention an impressively long-lived one. At the age of 97, she’s still very much active. And her life has, frankly, been amazing. After starring in two beloved sitcoms, The Mary Tyler Moore Show and The Golden Girls, she’s won multiple Emmys, a Grammy, and a Hollywood Walk of Fame star. And, believe it or not, she also holds a Guinness World Record.

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The Guinness World Records were first established in 1955, so White is actually over 30 years older than even them! The book of records is published every year and notes impressive achievements which have yet to be bested. As such, it’s considered the major global authority on record-setting.

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Considering White’s impressive longevity and her many movies, TV shows and awards, it’s perhaps not surprising that she holds a Guinness World Record. And not only that, it’s one she may not lose for a very long time. But to understand how she got it, we have to go back through her entire 97 years.

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White has not only seen the majority of the 20th century, she’s lived to see the 21st, too. Born in 1922, the veteran entertainer arrived in the world just before America’s Great Depression. Due to that event, her early life was marked by poverty. As a result, her father, Horace, built radios and traded them for other items rather than money, since there was simply none to go around.

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But despite this, White had a good childhood. “I was an only child with the best mother. I did a magnificent job of choosing a mother and father. And there wasn’t a straight man in the house. I mean that in a nice way,” she told Momtastic in 2012, when asked if she was the “the funny kid” in the family.

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White was close to her parents throughout her childhood. “We would have Sunday morning breakfast together or we’d have dinner together every night around the table. My dad would always ask me how things were at school and somehow, we’d get into silliness and fun. And we also would talk very seriously. It wasn’t all giggle time. But, I think those dinner tables and those breakfast tables went a long way on teaching me how to appreciate the positives as opposed to the negatives,” she told Momtastic.

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The veteran entertainer actually came very close to pursuing a career in animal care instead of showbusiness. Her parents were, in White’s own words to Momtastic, “big animal nuts,” and they would often go out as a family to explore the world of nature. She wanted to become a forest ranger, but in those days the job wasn’t open to women.

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But the forest department’s loss was the entertainment industry’s gain. Indeed, White later took an interest in acting on stage. Upon graduating from California’s Horace Mann School, she wrote and starred in a play. And, after leaving high school in 1939, she began working on TV — at the time still a very experimental medium — and as a model.

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However, World War II broke out just a few years later, and White went into the American Women’s Voluntary Services. Her job was to transport supplies around California, but she also joined in events and dances for the troops. “It was a strange time and out of balance with everything,” she told Cleveland Magazine in 2010.

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Once the war was over, White sought out work at movie studios, but was rejected for not being photogenic enough. The aspiring actor, however, refused to accept the setback. She then started working in radio instead, where looks weren’t an issue, doing voiceovers and commercials. Slowly, she rose to greater heights.

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At this point in White’s life, she found herself walking down the aisle twice in two years. In 1945, the radio actor wed Dick Barker, who had served as a pilot for the Army Air Corps during the war. The marriage, unfortunately, didn’t last long, and neither did her next one. In 1947, she once again tied the knot, this time with agent Lane Allen, but divorced him in 1949.

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During the ’40s White began voice acting on popular radio shows such as The Great Gildersleeve and Blondie. And she was good enough to get her own show eventually, The Betty White Show. Now, the visual mediums couldn’t get enough of the star. She then began co-hosting, along with Al Jarvis, the TV show Hollywood on Television.

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White was so good at her job, and so funny, that in 1951 she was nominated for an Emmy. This was her first Emmy nomination, for the first Emmy award ever created for women – Best Actress. Sadly, she didn’t win, but when Jarvis left Hollywood on Television the following year, the former radio star became the only host. Her comedic talents were now on center stage for everyone to see.

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Also in 1952, White co-founded a production company, Bandy Productions. This allowed her to create and star in her own show: Life with Elizabeth. The sitcom was successful enough to win the actor a Regional Los Angeles Emmy that year, making her a trailblazer for female television producers.

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White quickly became one of the few women with creative clout in the TV industry. She then started another The Betty White Show, this one on television. And she also began using her power for good. Indeed, when people protested her casting an African-American actor, Arthur Duncan, on the show, she responded by including him even more.

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After Life with Elizabeth came Date with the Angels. It wasn’t a hit, and White wasn’t happy with it. Once it the series ended, she decided to break into game shows. So, she began appearing on Password as a celebrity guest, and it was there that the star met her third husband, Allen Ludden.

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Ludden proposed to White more than once, and eventually, she came around. After he sent her a pair of gold earrings, a stuffed toy rabbit and a note begging her to marry him, the entertainer finally agreed. “It wasn’t the earrings that did it,” White told People magazine in 1979. “It was the God-damned bunny. I still have it.”

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White and Ludden then settled down to family life. At that point, the star also became the stepmother to Ludden’s three kids from a previous marriage: David, Martha and Sarah. They lived happily alongside her beloved poodle dogs, Nicky and Emma, until Ludden died of stomach cancer in 1981, leaving the actor a widow.

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The TV legend has often spoken about her love for her late husband. In 2015, she told Oprah Winfrey she regretted not agreeing to marry him sooner. “I spent a whole year, wasted a whole year that Allen and I could have had together, saying, ‘No, I wouldn’t marry him,’” she said. And she never remarried.

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White never had children of her own, and doesn’t regret it. “I’m so compulsive about stuff,” she told CBS Sunday Morning in 2011. “I know that if I had ever gotten pregnant, of course, that would’ve been my whole focus. But I didn’t choose to have children because I’m focused on my career and I don’t think, as compulsive as I am, that I could manage both.”

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The veteran entertainer’s career focus led to her working on a big hit in the ’70s. Indeed, she played Sue Ann in the beloved The Mary Tyler Moore Show. As a result, she ended up winning two Emmys for her performance. And more and more success followed. In 1983, two years after Ludden’s death, she became the first woman to win an Outstanding Game Show Host Daytime Emmy Award.

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White started playing one of her most comedic famous roles, that of Rose on The Golden Girls, in 1985. A massive success, the show led to the comedian’s nomination for an Outstanding Actress in a Comedy Series Emmy every year the show was on TV. She also won the award in the show’s first year.

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The Golden Girls came to an end in 1992 when Bea Arthur, one of the show’s stars, quit. White and the other two Golden Girls, Estelle Getty and Rue McClanahan, went on to a much less successful spinoff called The Golden Palace. As a result, for years after, rumors spread of a feud between Arthur and White.

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Arthur’s son Matthew discussed the feud in a 2016 interview with The Hollywood Reporter. Apparently, there had, indeed, been some tension. “My mom was the real deal,” he said. “I think she felt she was more of an actress than Betty. Mom came from Broadway. Betty starred on a game show at one point.”

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The two had very different attitudes to their work on the set of The Golden Girls, but Arthur and White certainly hadn’t hated each other. “There was no fighting at all. They were friends. At one point they lived close enough that they would drive each other to work,” Matthew explained.

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In the end, White became the longest-lived Golden Girl. The other three women passed away within years of each other. Getty died due to Lewy body dementia in 2008, Arthur of cancer in 2009, and McClanahan from a cerebral hemorrhage in 2010. But the show remains beloved by people everywhere, and is still a pop culture touchstone.

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Thanks in part to the legendary status of The Golden Girls, White became a comedy icon in her later years. In 2009 she even appeared in an advert for Snickers bars which was a massive hit, and led to people clamoring for more of the veteran entertainer. A Facebook campaign called “Betty White to Host SNL (Please)” then appeared, and it led to success.

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In May 2010 White did indeed host SNL, becoming the oldest ever person to do so at age 88. While there, she put her comedy talents on full blast. “I didn’t know what Facebook was, and now that I do know what it is, I have to say, it sounds like a huge waste of time,” she joked. And that performance earned her yet another Emmy – her seventh.

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The following year, White made headlines for slamming younger actors, and naming names. “I cannot stand the people who get wonderful starts in show business, and who abuse it,” she told the Daily Mail. “Lindsay Lohan and Charlie Sheen, for example, although there are plenty of others, too. They are the most blessed people in the world and they don’t appreciate it.”

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White, however, has certainly always seemed to appreciate everything in her life. “Respect your profession,” she told the younger generation, via the Daily Mail. “There is an enormous population out there who would sell their souls to do what you do. It’s an amazing life, so make sure you appreciate every minute of it.”

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Indeed, that amazing life has seen White achieve a great deal. And she has an incredible Guinness World Record to boot: that of the longest TV entertainment career for a woman. When she was awarded the record in 2013, and interviewed for the Guinness World Records (GWR) website, she had been in show business for a whopping 74 years.

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The GWR interviewer asked White how it felt to receive such an award. “I was astounded when they called to tell me. ‘Who? Me?!’ It’s such an honor,” she said. “The book has always been fascinating to me. I can’t believe I’m now associated with it. I am amazed at some of the records they keep. The longest fingernails?!”

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GWR then asked White, “What’s one thing about you that people would be surprised to find out?” The veteran entertainer answered, “Having been around for as long as I have, there are no secrets left. I am an avid crossword puzzle addict, and although I am known for my animal health and welfare work, people might be surprised to hear I am a nature nut as well!”

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White also told GWR about her first ever appearance on television way back in 1939. “I danced on an experimental TV show, the first on the west coast, in downtown L.A. I wore my high school graduation dress and [the] Beverly Hills High student body president, Harry Bennett, and I danced the Merry Widow Waltz,” she said.

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The year before White was given the Longest TV Career for a Female Entertainer record, another prolific entertainer was given the record for Longest TV Career for a Male Entertainer. This was Bruce Forsyth, who started his career the same year as the former Golden Girl. However, the British TV personality passed away in 2017, while White is still working to this day.

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White turned 95 in 2017 and to celebrate her birthday she had a conversation with Katie Couric. During the interview, the entertainer dispensed tips about living a “meaningful life.” “First of all, keep busy and don’t focus everything on you, that wears out pretty fast. It’s not hard to find things you’re interested in, but enjoy them and indulge them. And I think that keeps you on your toes,” she said.

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And for White’s next birthday, she gave an interview to Parade magazine about her life. About to celebrate 96 years on the planet, the star had some thoughts on how she’d gotten so far. “I know it sounds corny, but I try to see the funny side and the upside, not the downside. I get bored with people who complain about this or that. It’s such a waste of time,” she said.

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White’s advice to others was, “Enjoy life. Accentuate the positive, not the negative. It sounds so trite, but a lot of people will pick out something to complain about, rather than say, ‘Hey, that was great!’ It’s not hard to find great stuff if you look,” she said. And true to form, she also suggested a diet of vodka and hot dogs had helped her.

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Parade magazine then asked White how she wanted to be remembered in the future. “Warmly,” she said. “I hope they remember something funny. I hope they remember a laugh.” And she also said she didn’t dwell on past glories, but always looked forward to the future. As she explained, “I just love to work, so I’ll keep working until they stop asking.”

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And White is indeed still working. In 2019 she lent her voice to a toy tiger in Toy Story 4 – it’s name being Bitey White, of course. She got the role, the director of the film told Entertainment Weekly, because she’s one of “the greatest comedic legends of all time.” And hopefully the veteran entertainer will appear in many more films to come.

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