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Betty White - a TV icon

Published May 08. 2010 09:00AM

History will be made this evening as perennial television favorite and one of the matriarchs of the little box in all of our houses hosts Saturday Night Live. In case you have been living in the forest for the past six months, the hostess of which I'm writing is Betty White. White is an icon of television and has been on this modern staple since its infancy. Her first appearance was on a test signal in 1949 and she has appeared on shows ever since.

Depending on your age, you probably have different recollections of her. Most older folks remember her as the regular panelist of "Password". Allen Ludden hosted this popular early television game show and White's appearances led to her courtship and marriage to Ludden, a partnership which lasted until his death in 1981. Although White married two men briefly before she knew Ludden, she never remarried after her true love died.

"Mary Tyler Moore" fans recall her probably as the swinging snobby Sue Ann Nivens in the 1970s on that CBS staple. She was brass and saucy during the years she played Nivens on that show, but it was only a precursor to the role for which she is probably best known. In the early 1980s, White was cast along with Bea Arthur, Rue McClanahan and Estelle Getty to be one of the beloved "Golden Girls", an NBC hit comedy that continues to be shown nightly on cable channels. White played the part of Rose Nylund, a hopelessly naïve optimistic simple woman from St. Olaf who ends up roommates with the other women in Florida.

One has to wonder how different the program might have been if producers were granted their original wish. White was originally tapped to play McClanahan's character Southern belle and man eater Blanche Devereaux and McClanahan was to play Nylund, but both actresses felt they were too close to their previous television incarnations so they decided to swap roles.

After the "Golden Girls" and brief spinoff "Golden Palace" concluded, White appeared on several television shows during the 1990s. One of her best remembered appearances in that time period was as a sociopath Catherine Piper on "The Practice" and later on its spinoff "Boston Legal". One of her most memorable film appearances was on "Lake Placid" in 1999 that forever changed the way many people saw her. In that movie she played a psychotic widow with a foul mouth that fed cows to a monster crocodile that at one time ate her husband. It was easily one of my favorite Betty White roles.

In the past eleven years, White has continued to be on television and movies in many cases playing crazy grandmothers. Earlier this year though, her fan base wanted her to appear on "Saturday Night Live" and began a Facebook page pushing for her appearance as a guest host. The page reached over 500,000 fans when White and SNL producer Lorne Michaels finally agreed to make the fans wish come true and cast her as a guest host appearing tonight.

Michaels admitted that it was actually White who played hard to get. He has said in interviews that SNL attempted to recruit her as a guest host several times over the years and had given up when she repeatedly said she was not interested. Apparently the fans have finally gotten Michaels his wish as White takes the SNL stage live tonight at 11:30PM in a Mother's Day special heading a guest cast of memorable SNL alumni including Tina Fey, Molly Shannon and Amy Poehler.

In celebration of this icon's career here is a mini quiz about how much you remember about Betty White.

1. One of Betty White's earliest television appearances led to the first of her six Emmy wins and 13 Emmy nominations What was the name of the show?

2. White played one character on two different dramas in the 1990s. What was the name of her character? What were the two television shows?

3. She won her last Emmy award in the 1990s on a show with another popular star from the 1980s in which she reprised her "Golden Girls" role as Rose in campy parody. What was the name of the show and which Golden Girl did its star play?

4. One of the most memorable television commercials in this year's Super Bowl featured White playing with the pigskin and getting tackled. What product was she selling in the spot and what famous television actor appeared with her?

5. On how many shows did White play Rose Nylund? Can you name them all?

Tomorrow is Mother's Day so don't forget to wish your mom all the best and thank her for everything she has done for you. Thank you Mom for all that you do, your support and your love.

Til next time …

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