Written and Researched by Amanda Garret over at Old Hollywood Films.
National treasure Betty White is beloved by classic TV fans for her work in the sitcoms The Mary Tyler Moore Show, Golden Girls, and Hot in Cleveland. However, White, who will celebrate her 97th birthday on Thursday, got her start as the First Lady of Television on the fifties comedy Life with Elizabeth, which chronicled the daily activities of a Los Angeles couple.
White was born on Jan. 17, 1922, in Oak Park, Ill., to Horace White, who worked in the lighting industry, and his wife, Christine. The young family moved to Los Angeles during the Great Depression and Betty, who enjoyed performing in school plays, nurtured a dream of becoming an operatic star on the big screen just like her idol, Jeanette MacDonald.
White graduated from Beverly Hills High School in 1939, and got her first TV gig soon after in an experimental production of the operetta The Merry Widow (White played the same part as MacDonald in the 1934 film). However, White put her show business ambitions on hold at the start of World War II. She volunteered with the American Women's Voluntary Services, serving as a driver and courier who shuttled supplies to the defense posts along the Pacific Coast.