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In a world where it feels like there’s tension around every corner, there was one last thing Americans could agree on. Betty White was America’s most treasured TV personality. 

Yup. That’s that. 

On December 31, 2021, the world unexpectedly bid farewell to the beloved Betty White just 17 days before her 100th birthday. Although people rang in the new year heartbroken by the loss of America’s friendliest face, it quickly became clear that White not only touched the hearts of audiences through their living room TV sets but also was a role model to many in the industry. 

Born in 1922 in Oak Park, Illinois, Betty White moved to Hollywood around her first birthday. She discovered her love for performing as early as her senior year of high school. White was a pioneer in the entertainment industry as the first woman to produce a TV sitcom, an animal advocate with a sincere love for furry friends, and a pop culture icon well-known by audiences of all ages. 

Betty White began her career in radio and quickly transitioned to daytime TV. She dabbled in a variety of shows that often relied on her comedic wit. White eventually found her way on to game shows as a celebrity contestant, including Password, where she met her long-time husband Allen Ludden. From radio to television to movies later down the line, White did it all. 

In honor of White’s multi-faceted life as an entertainment idol, Fathom Events released Betty White: A Celebration, featuring stars such as Ryan Reynolds, Valerie Bertinelli, Carol Burnett, and others in select theaters on January 17. I had the opportunity to attend the heart-felt screening alongside movie-goers as young as seventeen who were seen laughing at jokes alongside their parents. 

Like most pop culture figures, Betty White often times has been the subject of modern-day meme culture over the years. My feed was no exception. A while ago, I was scrolling aimlessly and I stumbled upon a post bringing to light that Betty White was born before the invention of sliced bread. Random, I know. A few Google searches later, I not only learned that sliced bread wasn’t invented until 1928, but I couldn’t help but realize that Betty White’s contributions as a media icon transformed day-to-day life even more than the classic sandwich staple. 

All jokes aside, let me assure you that I’m not here to equate Betty White with a PB & J or BLT. However, the same way every household typically has sliced bread, I can say confidently that nearly every household has screened a TV show or movie featuring Betty White. Featured in productions including Life with Elizabeth, The Golden Girls, Hot in Cleveland, Toy Story 4, and so many more, Betty White dedicated her life to entertaining audiences for over 70 years.  

But White’s kind heart wasn’t just a facade for the role of a character. She used her position as a powerful force in the entertainment industry to advocate for racial equality. In 1954, when Arthur Duncan, a black dancer, was featured on “The Betty White Show,” many studio heads encouraged White to take Duncan off the show due to his skin color. The progressive 5’4” diva stood her ground claiming, “I’m sorry, but, you know [Duncan] stays.”   

Arguably, one of White’s most iconic career moments was when she hosted the well-known late-night show Saturday Night Live (SNL). In January 2010, a Facebook movement of nearly 500,000 users promoted a campaign titled “Betty White to Host SNL (Please),” which proved to be an unexpected success. The grassroots movement caught the attention of White herself and on May 8, 2010, Betty White became the oldest host ever of SNL at 88 years old. The show even earned White a 2010 Primetime Emmy Award for Outstanding Guest Actress in a Comedy Series.  

Like most things in this world, I didn’t truly appreciate Betty White’s contributions to the media industry until she was gone. Known for her feisty wit, her passion for the animal community, and her evolution on-screen, Betty White will continue to leave audiences laughing until their stomachs hurt for years to come. And if you haven’t yet seen Betty White command the screen, don’t waste any more time. Close this computer tab and get started today. 

Hannah is a senior at UC Berkeley majoring in Media Studies while minoring in Creative Writing. In her free time, she loves binge-watching HBO dramas, playing with her dog Rusty, and crafting new projects she sees on Pinterest. More than anything, she is obsessed with writing anything from poetry to research papers. 
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