Betty White has penned three memoirs and spent a lifetime in the public eye. When author Ray Richmond was approached to write a book timed to White’s 100th birthday on Jan. 17, he questioned whether there was anything left to uncover about her sui generis life and career.
Once he went down the rabbit hole of a quick “facts about Betty White” Google search, Richmond was hooked. “Betty White: 100 Remarkable Moments in an Extraordinary Life,” published this week by Becker & Mayer Books,” became a five-month intensive study on what makes Betty White so beloved as an entertainer and such an enduring figure in pop culture.
Richmond, a former Variety reporter who has penned numerous books, believes White’s authentic “aw shucks” attitude about herself and willingness to go for it with bawdy humor has been crucial to her staying power. There’s a fine line between funny and crass, and White never fails to respect it.
“She’s humble about it all. She doesn’t think she’s all that. That’s attractive to mainstream America,” Richmond said. “She knows knows how to measure the room and the mood better than any entertainer I’ve ever seen. And she knows her brand better than anyone. She knows her limits what lines she can cross. She does it with flair and sophistication.”
Richmond adds that good genes and good health have been another boon to Betty: “One reason she’s achieved all that she has is that once a performer hits a certain age, you become iconic and loved simply because you’re still there.”
But what sets White apart is that she has stayed relevant and active well into her 90s, with a starring role on TV Land’s sitcom “Hot in Cleveland,” which ran from 2010 to 2015, and a co-starring role in the 2009 rom-com “The Proposal” opposite Ryan Reynolds and Sandra Bullock. White hosted “Saturday Night Live” in 2010 after a viral campaign by fans to persuade executive producer Lorne Michaels.
“What people love about Betty is how game she is for everything apple pie and America — and in the same breath she can swear like a sailor,” Richmond said.
The book takes a chronological look at White’s story over the course of 100 key moments, starting with the arrival of Betty Marion White on Jan. 17, 1922, in Oak Park, Ill. to parents Tess and Horace White. The family relocated to Alhambra, a suburb of Los Angeles, when Betty was 18 months old.
White truly grew up in television. “100 Remarkable Moments” recounts her experiences as a high school student taking part in experimental television broadcasts in the late 1930s. After World War II, she was destined to become one of Los Angeles’ first television personalities as a co-host of the live daily program “Hollywood on Television,” which ran for five hours on the station that is now KCOP-TV.
Through lively anecdotes, “100 Remarkable Moments” details White’s extraordinary evolution as an actor, host, game show contestant, animal advocate, pitchwoman, author, producer and friend to many in the industry. Richmond tracks the big leap she took through her success on CBS’ “The Mary Tyler Moore Show” as the man-hungry Sue Ann Nevins. Later she was a pillar of NBC’s “The Golden Girls” as the good-hearted Rose Nyland and the sharp-tongued Elka Ostrovsky of “Hot in Cleveland.”
Richmond is happy that he was able to work with White’s “Mary Tyler Moore” co-star Gavin MacLeod on the forward to “100 Remarkable Moments” before his death last May at age 90.
“You don’t find many people who blend great talent and great humanity in so perfect a fashion,” MacLeod wrote of White. “Everybody wants to be around her because she has such a positive nature, such a cheerful vibe. It’s like she emits an electric current that draws people to her.”
All told, the collection of moments shine a light on a tireless performer who was born to be on camera. Some of milestones are well known and some are not, such as her assignment on New Year’s Day 1955. White and Bill Goodwin hosted the Rose Parade for NBC by pretending they were watching from Pasadena’s Colorado Boulevard when in fact they were at a studio in Burbank.
White herself was unable to participate in the book. Richmond was pleasantly surprised by how much he was able to learn about White from talking to friends and collaborators such as Candice Bergen, Carol Burnett, Wendie Malick, producer Ed. Weinberger and fellow “Mary Tyler Moore” trouper Ed Asner, who died at age 91 in August.
“Unlike so many stars, the deeper you look, the more you find dirt on them. They really aren’t quite the image they project. The further you dig into Betty White, the greater she gets,” he said. “It’s uncanny.”