Images: The Everett Collection
Betty White is a national treasure. The television icon was with us for nearly a full century, with her small-screen career stretching back to the earliest days of the medium.
Her stellar string of sitcom roles began in 1952 on the charming Life with Elizabeth, a series based around a character she had performed on the talk show Hollywood on Television going back to the 1940s. The show, which was essentially a collection of short interactions between husband and wife, helped pioneer the romantic sitcom.
Two decades later, The Mary Tyler Moore Show gave White her next breakout role, Sue Ann Nivens, the seemingly cheery host of fictional WJM-TV's The Happy Homemaker who had far more of a bite off-camera. The darker role gave a new angle to White's career.
From there, White would, of course, go on to create unforgettable characters on Mama's Family and The Golden Girls. While much of her career on television would center around comedy, she also received an Emmy for her dramatic turn on the crime drama The Practice.
In that long, storied career, some roles are bound to be overshadowed. Let's take a look at a handful of White's recurring roles that further demonstrated her talents.
Vickie Angel on 'Date with the Angels'
One of the first primetime series explicitly created with a female perspective for a female audience, Date with the Angels arrived in a time dominated by cowboys and Westerns. White played a newlywed, Vickie Angel, and much of series revolved around fantasy sequences. White often got the chance to sing in her reveries. For a bit, at least. The show clicked with women, but the sponsor could not fully comprehend it. So the suits forced changes and ironed out the idiosyncrasies. "Without our dream sequences, our show flattened out and became just one more run-of-the-mill domestic comedy," White later said. It was too ahead of its time for the corporate folk.
Joyce Whitman on 'The Betty White Show'
This was the third series to carry the name The Betty White Show, but the first scripted comedy. The previous two had been a daytime talk show in 1954 and a variety show in 1958. White's success and acclaim on The Mary Tyler Moore Show landed her this headlining role (and former co-star Georgia Engel came along for the ride). Here, she played an actress working on a fictional cop show called Undercover Woman, a spoof of Police Woman. One catch — her ex-husband (John Hillerman in a pre-Magnum, P.I. role) was the director. Again, the network did White few favors, scheduling the show against Monday Night Football, killing its chances to find an audience.
Betsy Boucher on 'The Love Boat'
The Love Boat welcomed hundreds of celebrity guest aboard its happy cruises, and a few of those favorites would become minor regular characters on the show. White appeared in a handful of episodes as Betsy Boucher, a gal pal of Julie's (Lauren Tewes) Aunt Silvia, played by the late, great Carol Channing. In the 1982 tale "My Friend, the Executrix," the two showbiz veterans put on a delightful song-and-dance number, seen here.
Sylvia Schmidt on 'Bob'
With every new sitcom, Bob Newhart kept shortening the title. Bob followed Newhart and The Bob Newhart Show, casting the master of dry comedy as a comic-book creator — well, at least for its first season. CBS packaged the show with other sitcoms, including a Golden Girls sequel called The Golden Palace it had pried away from NBC, on Friday evenings, up against ABC's TGIF juggernauts. Bob failed to make a dent in the Nielsen's ratings in its first season, so the network completely retooled it in year two. The comic book setting was gone (as, too, was Marvel's tie-in comic book series, Mad-Dog) as Bob went to work for a greeting card company run by Betty White. Now that is a superhero team-up. Alas, if they had only started with that premise. Retooling never works. Confused audiences led to a short life.
Shirley Wallace on 'Maybe This Time'
Like Sue Ann Nivens, Shirley Wallace was a flirty man-magnet. Here, however, she was heading a household with three generations of women, including her daughter (Marie Osmond) and granddaughter (Ashley Johnson of Growing Pains). Cool! Another Betty White sitcom with centering around strong women! So what did the network do? Add Dane Cook to play a quarterback. [Shakes fist] Neeeetwoooorks!