The world got a little less golden as Betty White passed away on Dec. 31 just weeks away from her hundredth birthday. The entertainment icon was a pivotal aspect of American media for nearly a century, being the celebrity with the longest entertainment history in the country.
Aside from her contagious smile and talent, Betty White was more than just an actress. She was a social justice warrior who was extremely ahead of her time. Her influence on American culture is severely overlooked, however that does not lessen the impact of all of her off-screen accomplishments.
The launch of “The Betty White Show” in 1950 took place during a time in which segregation was at the forefront of American issues. Arthur Duncan, an extremely gifted tap dancer was featured on her show despite the backlash from stations around the country, specifically in the south. She outwardly refused to take Duncan off of the show and aired his talent every moment she possibly could. She kick-started his career and is the reason he was scouted to be the first black dancer on “The Lawrence Welk Show.” White took these actions and publicly stated that she refused to take Duncan off the air. This was all prior to the desegregation of schools in 1954, which is representative of just one of the ways in which White was ahead of her time.
As White’s career progressed, so did her passion for advocacy in the public sector and beyond. She was an outspoken advocate for LGBTQ+ rights and HIV/AIDS research. In an interview with Parade Magazine in 2010, she stated “I don’t care who anybody sleeps with. If a couple has been together all that time – and there are gay relationships that are more solid than some heterosexual ones – I think it’s fine if they want to get married. I don’t know how people can get so anti-something. Mind your own business, take care of your affairs, and don’t worry about other people so much.”
She additionally held a passion for advocating for animals. Being one of Hollywood’s most outward animal rights advocates, White was one of the biggest contributors to the non-profit Greater Los Angeles Zoo Association, acting as a trustee and chair. She believed in the fair treatment of animals and the educational uses of zoos. She has also outspokenly supported other animal welfare initiatives such as the American Humane Association, Guide Dogs For The Blind, The Endangered Wolf Center and Bravehearts Therapeutic Riding and Educational Center. She was described as an inspiration to animal lovers around the globe and tugged at our heart strings with her animal welfare campaigns and commercials as well.
White was a pioneering, trailblazing feminist from her early days in the television industry. She produced, co-created and starred in her own sitcom, hired female directors, outwardly spoke about her decision to not bear children and deliberately chose her career over marriage. White completely redefined the perception of women in the public eye. Her iconic role as Rose Nylund, a ditsy and outspoken woman in The Golden Girls, assisted in the destigmatization of women both in and out of the media. She and her alter-ego Rose are vivid examples of not needing a family, husband or children to live a successful, fulfilling and rewarding life as a woman. She was a prime example of challenging the status quo. White proved to viewers all over the globe that you don’t need a white picket fence, a husband and children to be a happy and successful female figure.
Betty White was ahead of her time and didn’t have an ounce of hate in her heart. Her outwardly accepting nature and contagious smile is what people admire about her and is what made her such an icon. Her legacy will never be forgotten and she will always be remembered as America’s grandma.