The beloved actress turns 96 today. Here are some things you might not have known about everybody’s favorite Golden Girl.
“Betty” was a very popular name for girls and women in the mid-20th century, and it’s usually a nickname for “Elizabeth.” Not in the case of Betty White. Her real name is Betty White—her parents didn’t want anybody to call her Beth or Lizzie, just Betty, so they specifically named her Betty.
White is synonymous with television—and she’s been appearing on TV since before TV was really even a thing. Her first time on TV was in 1939, a good decade before most Americans bought a TV set. “I danced on an experimental TV show, the first on the west coast, in downtown Los Angeles,” White told Guinness World Records in 2014—the year they put her in the record books for “Longest TV Career for an Entertainer (Female).”
White’s big breakthrough as a TV performer: In 1949, She got a gig hosting Hollywood on Television, a variety show that ran an astounding five and a half hours, six days a week.
One of the most popular bits on Hollywood on Television was a series of comedy sketches starring White as a suburban woman named Elizabeth. They were so popular that the show led to one of TV’s first ever spinoffs, a full-length sitcom called Life with Elizabeth. White also served a producer on the show, making her one of the first female producers in Hollywood history.
White is probably most famous for her role as sweet-but-ditzy Rose on the ‘80s sitcom The Golden Girls. She was supposed to play the flirtatious Blanche, until producers realized that role was too similar to Sue Ann Nivens, the character she portrayed on The Mary Tyler Moore Show a decade earlier. Rue McClanahan, set to play Rose, agreed to switch up roles with White. (Both wound up winning an Emmy Award for their performance.)
Who needs health food? White credits her long life—and staying relatively healthy for all that time—to her two favorite indulgences: “Vodka and hot dogs,” she told Parade. “Probably in that order.”