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Betty White, who has spent six decades as a comforting television presence, will be honored with the Screen Actors Guild Life Achievement Award at the 16th annual SAG Awards on Jan. 23.
White is best known for her roles as the deceptively sweet Sue Ann Nivens on “The Mary Tyler Moore Show” and the sweetly naive Rose Nylund on “The Golden Girls.” She has also made her mark as a passionate animal activist.
At 87, she remains continually active. She most recently appeared on the big screen in “The Proposal” as Sandra Bullock’s grandmother; she is part of the voice cast of Hayao Miyazaki’s animated “Ponyo”; and is currently filming Disney’s “You Again,” starring Kristen Bell.
“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,” SAG national president Alan Rosenberg said.
White first stepped before the TV cameras in 1949, when she joined Al Jarvis’ daily, live KLAC-TV variety show, “Hollywood on Television.” She inherited the show’s hosting duties when Jarvis left in 1952.
That same year she formed Bandy Prods. with producer Don Fedderson and writer George Tibbles. Spinning off characters from a “Hollywood on Television” sketch, they created the comedy “Life With Elizabeth,” for which she received the first of her six Emmys and 18 nominations.
By the mid-’50s, the show was syndicated nationally, making White one of the 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 show, “The Betty White Show.” In 1957, she jumped into the sitcom, “A Date With the Angels,” which evolved into another eponymous comedy/variety showcase.
Throughout the ’50s and ’60s, White made frequent appearances on both the late night talk shows and the daytime game shows, especially “Password,” whose host, Allen Ludden, she married in 1963.
A 1973 guest shot as the “Happy Homemaker” on “Mary Tyler Moore” led to her becoming a regular on that series and earned her two back-to-back Emmys.
From the late to mid-’70s, White appeared on her own series “The Betty White Show” and took on guest-starring roles in such miniseries and telefilms as “The Place to Be,” “With This Ring,” “Before and After” and “The Gossip Columnist.” For three years, she had a recurring role as social climber Ellen Harper Jackson on “Mama’s Family.”
She struck another rich vein of sitcom gold in 1985, when she joined the cast of “The Golden Girls,” for which she won another Emmy. She also reprised the role of Rose on “Empty Nest,” “Nurses” and “The Golden Palace.”
White moved into comedy/drama with her role as a blackmailer in 2004’s “The Practice,” which led to a recurring role on its spinoff “Boston Legal.”
She also 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.” Her more recent films for television include “Annie’s Point,” “Stealing Christmas” and “The Retrievers.”
On the big screen, her credits include “Hard Rain,” “Dennis the Menace Strikes Again” and 2003’s “Bringing Down the House,” opposite Steve Martin and Queen Latifah.
During her long career, she has picked up many honors: 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 picked up the American Comedy Award for Funniest Female in 1987 and its Lifetime Achievement Award in 1990. In 1995, she was inducted into the Television Academy’s Hall of Fame, and in 2009, she received a Career Achievement Award from the Television Critics Assn.
White also serves as president emeritus of the Morris Animal Foundation and has been a trustee since 1971. She began championing animals’ rights while producing and hosting “The Pet Set,” an early ’70s 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 2006, she 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.”
The SAG Awards, broadcast from the Shrine Auditorium in Los Angeles, will air live on TNT and TBS.
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