Los Angeles, California (September 15, 2009) – Screen Actors Guild (SAG) announced today beloved comedienne, pioneering television producer, host, author and animal advocate Betty White, will receive the Guild’s most prestigious accolade—the Screen Actors Guild Life Achievement Award for career achievement and humanitarian accomplishment. White will be presented the Award, given annually to an actor who fosters the “finest ideals of the acting profession,” at the “16th Annual Screen Actors Guild Awards®”, which premieres live on TNT and TBS Saturday, January 23, 2010, at 8 p.m. ET/PT, 7 p.m. CT and 6 p.m. MT.
In making today’s announcement, Screen Actors Guild National President Alan Rosenberg said, “Whether creating some of television’s most indelible characters, plunging into film roles with joyous gusto or perfecting the art of the quip as a television panelist and host, Betty White has entertained audiences with her impeccable comic timing and remarkable wit for more than sixty years. Her lifelong devotion to the welfare of animals, manifest in her work as an author, producer and philanthropist, is further evidence of her tremendous humanity and meaningful contributions in so many important areas. Screen Actors Guild is honored to celebrate Betty White’s extraordinary achievements over the course of an exemplary life.”
On the morning she was asked to accept Screen Actors Guild’s highest honor, White was headed to the set of the Disney feature “You Again,” starring Kristen Bell (as her granddaughter), Jamie Lee Curtis, Sigourney Weaver and Kristin Chenowith. Earlier this summer, White played Ryan Reynold’s scene-stealing Grandma Annie in the chart-topping Sandra Bullock romantic comedy “The Proposal.” She is currently heard in theatres voicing the elderly Yoshie in Oscar-winner Hayao Miyazaki’s animated adventure “Ponyo.”
Betty Marion White was born January 17, 1922, in Oak Park, Ill., the only child of Horace, an electrical engineer, and Tess, a housewife. The family moved to California when White was 2. After graduating Beverly Hills High School, White made her professional debut at the Bliss Hayden Little Theatre and landed parts in such popular radio shows as "Blondie," "The Great Gildersleeve" and "This Is Your FBI." Her first radio program, "The Betty White Show," followed. Her big break came in 1949, when she joined Al Jarvis’ five-and-a-half-hour, six-days-a-week live KLAC-TV variety show, “Hollywood on Television.” Starting out as Jarvis’ “Girl Friday,” White inherited the show’s hosting duties for two more years when Jarvis left in 1952.
The same year she formed Bandy Productions with producer Don Fedderson and writer George Tibbles. Spinning off characters from a “Hollywood on Television” sketch, they created the domestic comedy “Life with Elizabeth,” for which White received her first of six Emmys. Syndication brought the program to national audiences through the mid-’50s. The series made White one of only a few women with creative control before and behind the camera in television’s early years. White went on to produce and host a daily NBC talk/variety skein “The Betty White Show,” garnering a Daytime Emmy nomination. Her second situation comedy, “A Date with the Angels,” premiered in 1957, then evolved into another eponymous comedy/variety showcase.
White’s sly ribald humor made her an audience favorite on the late-night circuit, not only matching wits with Jack Paar (more than 70 appearances) Merv Griffin and Johnny Carson (including many “Mighty Carson Art Players” performances) but also subbing for all three as guest host. Her clever spontaneity also earned her spots on numerous game and talk shows, such as “The Match Game,” “To Tell the Truth,” “I’ve Got A Secret” “Liar’s Club” and especially “Password,” whose host Allen Ludden she married in 1963 after a persistent two-year courtship.
When White and Ludden’s pals, actor Mary Tyler Moore and her producer/husband Grant Tinker, were casting about for a cloyingly sweet “Betty White-type” to guest star on their hit “The Mary Tyler Moore Show,” they ultimately decided to go with the real deal. White’s 1973 guest shot as the saccharinely catty, man-hungry “Happy Homemaker” Sue Ann Nivens was White’s entrée into one of television’s most iconic ensembles. The role relaunched White’s acting career and earned her back-to-back supporting actress Emmy and then a fourth Emmy nomination.
After the series’ historic final episode in 1977, MTM created “The Betty White Show,” with White playing the second-rate star of a TV police drama. After its brief run, White guest-starred in the miniseries “The Place to Be” (1979) and such telefilms as “With this Ring,” (1978) “Before and After” (1979) and “The Gossip Columnist,” (1980), before breaking ground as TV’s first female game show host on NBC’s “Just Men.” Drawing on the lascivious persona perfected as Sue Ann Nivens, White earned the first and only Daytime Emmy for Best Game Show Host awarded to a female emcee. A second Daytime Emmy nomination followed in 1984.
1983 also saw White begin a three-year recurring stint on Vicki Lawrence’s “Mama’s Family,” reprising the role of social climber Ellen Harper Jackson she’d created in sketches on “The Carol Burnett Show” in the early ‘70s.
In 1985, at 63, White began what became the most lauded role of her career, the sweetly naïve Minnesotan Rose Nylund on NBC’s Saturday night hit “The Golden Girls.” White, along with co-stars Beatrice Arthur, Estelle Getty and Rue McClanahan, proved that great comedy transcended age, as did the series’ stellar ratings and countless honors including, for White, a first-year lead actress Emmy, six subsequent nominations and two Golden Globe nominations. She was to reprise the role of Rose on three other series: “Empty Nest” (1989, 1992), “Nurses” (1991) and “The Golden Palace” (1992–93).
In 1991 White starred opposite Leslie Nielsen in the romantic NBC telefilm “Chance of a Lifetime” and subsequently shone in a variety of series, including with Bob Newhart in “Bob” (1993) and as Marie Osmond’s mother in “Maybe This Time” (1995). She won her fourth Emmy for her guest starring self-caricature on “The John Larroquette Show” (1996) and earned more Emmy nominations for guest roles on “Suddenly Susan” (1997) and “Yes, Dear” (2003). She played Alfred Molina’s mother in “Ladies Man” from 1991-2001 and recurred in “That 70’s Show” in 2002-2003. A 2007 TV Land Awards parody entitled “Ugly Betty White” led to a subsequent guest appearance as herself on the spoof’s target, “Ugly Betty,” with White going head-to-head over a taxi with Vanessa Williams’ Wilhelmina Slater. Other television guest appearances include “St. Elsewhere,” “The Ellen Show,” “Everwood,” “My Wife and Kids,” “Joey” and “Malcolm in the Middle.” She has voiced animated characters on “The Simpsons,” “King of the Hill,” “The Wild Thornberrys” “Father of the Pride” and “Family Guy” and in the feature “Whispers: An Elephant’s Tale.” White’s more recent films for television include “Annie’s Point” in 2005 for the Hallmark Channel, “Stealing Christmas” in 2003 for USA “The Retrievers” in 2001 for Animal Planet,
With “The Practice” in 2004, White once again turned one-shot casting into gold. Her guest turn as conniving blackmailer Catherine Piper led not only to another Emmy nomination but also to a recurring return for White as Catherine on the subsequent David E. Kelley series “Boston Legal” (2005–2008). In 1999, White had guest-starred for Kelley on “Ally McBeal,” earning an American Comedy Award for Funniest Female Guest Appearance in a Television Series, and starred in his horror-film send-up “Lake Placid.” Her 2009 guest performance as the Crazy Witch Lady on “My Name is Earl” earned White her eighteenth Emmy nomination.
White returned to the big screen in 2003 in the comedy “Bringing Down the House,” opposite Steve Martin and Queen Latifah and appeared in this year’s “Love N’ Dancing.”Earlier films include “Hard Rain” (1998) with Morgan Freeman and Christian Slater; “Dennis the Menace Strikes Again,” (1998), playing Mrs. Wilson opposite Don Rickles; and Rob Reiner’s “The Story of Us.” (1999)
In December 2006, White joined the daytime drama “The Bold and the Beautiful” as Ann Douglas, long-lost mother of matriarch Stephanie Forrester (Susan Flannery). She has appeared 19 times since, most recently in October 2008.
White narrated network telecasts of the annual Tournament of Roses Parade from 1954 to 1974 and the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade for 10 years.
Honors have been bestowed on White throughout her career. In 1976 she was awarded the Pacific Pioneers in Broadcasting Golden Ike Award and the Genii Award from the American Women in Radio and TV. She was honored with the American Comedy Award for Funniest Female in 1987 and their Lifetime Achievement Award in 1990. In 1995 she was inducted into the Television Academy’s Hall of Fame. In 2006 she was profiled by the Paley Center for Media as part of their “She Made It” initiative honoring women creating television and radio. In August of 2009 she received a Career Achievement Award from the Television Critics Association. She was presented with a Disney Legends Award on September 10, 2009.
White’s star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame rests adjacent to that of her late husband Allen Ludden, who sadly succumbed to cancer in 1981.
White’s devotion to the health and welfare of animals has been a passion since childhood. She is president emeritus of the Morris Animal Foundation and has been a trustee since 1971. She first learned about the Foundation’s support of research studies to protect, treat and cure animals while creating, producing and hosting “The Pet Set,” the 1970-71 syndicated series featuring celebrities and their pets. She received the American Veterinary Medical Association’s Humane Award in 1987. A member of the board of the Greater Los Angeles Zoo Association since 1974, she served as a Zoo Commissioner for eight years. In February 2066 White was honored by the City of Los Angeles with a bronze plaque placed next to the Gorilla Exhibit at the Los Angeles Zoo naming her “Ambassador to the Animals” for her life-long work for animal welfare. In 2007 Western University Veterinary School awarded her an honorary “Doctor of Humane Veterinary Sciences.”
Three of her five books directly connect to this passion: “Betty White’s Pet Love: How Pets Take Care of Us” (1983) and two co-authored with Tom Sullivan: “The Leading Lady: Dinah’s Story“ (1991) and “Together: A Story of Shared Vision” (2008). She published her first autobiography, “Betty White in Person,” in 1987, which was followed by “Here We Go Again: My Life in Television” in 1995. That life continues to unfold new chapters.
“The 16th Annual Screen Actors Guild Awards” will be produced by Jeff Margolis Productions in association with Screen Actors Guild Awards®, LLC. Jeff Margolis is the executive producer and director. Kathy Connell is the producer. JoBeth Williams, Daryl Anderson, Scott Bakula, Shelley Fabares and Paul Napier are producers for SAG. Gloria Fujita O’Brien and Mick McCullough are supervising producers. Benn Fleishman is executive in charge of production. More information is available online at www.sagawards.org.
Screen Actors Guild is the nation’s largest labor union representing working actors. Established in 1933, SAG has a rich history in the American labor movement, from standing up to studios to break long-term engagement contracts in the 1940s to fighting for artists’ rights amid the digital revolution sweeping the entertainment industry in the 21st century. With 20 branches nationwide, SAG represents more than 120,000 actors who work in film and digital theatrical motion pictures, television programs, commercials, video games, music videos, industrials and all new media formats. The Guild exists to enhance actors’ working conditions, compensation and benefits and to be a powerful, unified voice on behalf of artists’ rights. Headquartered in Los Angeles, SAG is a proud affiliate of the AFL-CIO. More information is available online at www.sag.org.
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