Golden Girl Betty White Turns 98. What Was Her First Hollywood Role?

Congratulations are in order! Emmy-winner Betty White turned 98 on Jan. 17. The Hollywood legend received birthday wishes from many celebs, including Mario Lopez, Ed Asner, Ryan Reynolds, and Sandra Bullock.  

For many, White is best known for her work on sitcoms like Golden Girls and The Mary Tyler Moore Show. But her long career encompasses far more than just her roles as Rose Nylund and Sue Ann Nivens.

Betty White has been working in Hollywood since she was a teenager

White has been working in Hollywood since her teens, when she landed a gig on an experimental television show in Los Angeles shortly after graduating from Beverly Hills High School in 1939. But not many people caught her debut — it was only broadcast in a single building, according to

Her first credited role on IMDB is from 1945, when she appeared in a short film called Time to Kill, about a group of sailors making plans for their lives after the war. It’s on YouTube, and White makes her appearance at the 10-minute, 30-second mark. 

Betty White in 1952
Betty White (left) on the set of Hollywood on Television in 1952 | Nigel Dobinson/Getty Images

White worked in radio but by the late 1940s, she’d turned to television, with guests spots and a job as a panelist on an early game show. In 1949, she started appearing on Hollywood on Television, an early talk show. She eventually took over as host and even started her own production company — a rarity for women in entertainment at the time.   

Soon, White was starring in her own sitcom, Life With Elizabeth. A long string of TV roles followed, and she became a regular on talk shows and game shows like Password and Match Game. Later came her memorable roles on The Mary Tyler Moore Show and Golden Girls.

She’s in the ‘Guinness Book of World Records’ 

Betty White
Betty White at the 70th Emmy Awards in 2018 | ROBYN BECK/AFP via Getty Images

White’s decades-long career has earned her plenty of accolades, including a spot in the Guinness Book of World Records. In 2014, she was recognized for having the longest TV career for a female entertainer (a record she still holds). In an interview with the publication, she said that if she hadn’t pursued a career in showbiz, she’d have been a zookeeper. But she had no doubts about her path in life. 

“I have no regrets at all. None. I consider myself to be the luckiest old broad on two feet,” she said. 

Betty White hasn’t retired yet 

Most people lucky enough to reach age 98 have probably retired, but not White. She’s continued to work, most recently in the 2019 Disney+ series Forky Asks a Question. She voices the character Bitey White, a toy tiger she also portrayed in Toy Story 4. Other recent appearances include the TV shows Young & Hungry and Bones. Hanging up her hat isn’t in her plans, she’s explained. 

“Retirement is not in my vocabulary,” the actress once said. “They aren’t going to get rid of me that way.”

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