For many of us, we cannot imagine Hollywood without Betty White.
The actress and comedian has been a fixture on television for over 70 years, which is longer than most of us have been alive, and has made us laugh even at our lowest.
But did you know that acting was not her first career choice?
A crushed dream
Years before White ever considered working in the entertainment industry, she was very passionate about nature and wildlife.
White’s love for all things nature, started when her parents, Horace and Tess, moved from Illinois to California when she was just two years old.
The family would go on adventures in the High Sierras, and camp at Yellowstone National Park for weeks at a time.
She credits her doting mother and father for being “directly responsible for my passion for nature in general and animals in particular. We wound up with 26 dogs once.”
As she grew older, it was a no-brainer for White to want to work with animals, so she decided to become a park ranger.
Unfortunately, White never realized her dream of working as a ranger because back then only men held those positions.
However, this did not deter her from using her platform when she became famous to advocate for animals. Thanks to all of her contribution, she was finally recognized as a honorary forest ranger by the U.S. Forest Service in 2010.
“I am sorry you couldn’t join us before,” U.S. Forest Service Chief Tom Tidwell told White. “Judging from your illustrious career, you would have made marvelous contributions to our agency and to the cause of conservation across the United States. Betty, you are a role model for little girls – for all of us – never to give up on our dreams.”
White remarked, “In my heart I’ve been a forest ranger all my life, but now I’m official.”
Although White was disappointed when she wasn’t allowed to become a ranger, she later claimed that she doesn’t regret choosing acting.
Plan B, C & D
After she was denied the opportunity to become a ranger, White decided she wanted become a singer. She even “took very serious singing lessons.”
“My mind and heart were set on an operatic career,” she said in an interview. “Unfortunately, my voice had no such plans. This didn’t deter me one total!”
After singing didn’t pan out, White turned to plan C: writing.
She even created her school’s graduation play, and wrote herself into the lead. White received a standing ovation at the end of the show, and according to her, “that’s where the ham in me first showed.”
Fresh off the high, White decided to pursue a career in showbiz.
Sadly, Hollywood wouldn’t welcome her with open arms at first, so she tried everything, from modeling to reading commercials and hosting a radio show, before getting her big break on television.
In the 1940s, she landed the co-host position alongside Al Jarvis on the show Hollywood on Television, and it was the beginning of White’s lengthy film and TV career.
White went on to appear on numerous popular sitcoms like The Mary Tyler Moore Show and The Golden Girls, for which she won Emmy Awards. She was also a staple on many game shows including Match Game and Password.
It was during her stint on Password that she met her third husband, Allen Ludden.
White later admitted that while she and Ludden enjoyed a blissful marriage, there was something that happened early on in their relationship that turned into her one and only regret in life.
“I fell in love with her opening night…”
For someone who has been around for nearly a century, you would think White would have a list of regrets, but it turns out she only has one, and it has to do with Ludden.
Having already been through two failed marriages, White was cautious about falling for another man, so she and Ludden remained friends at first.
The Golden Girls actress recalled how kind Ludden had been to her while she appeared as a guest on the show.
He was “never too busy to say a warm goodbye after the last show finished.”
They both went on to star in a play called Critic’s Choice, and it was then that Ludden, who lost his first wife to cancer a year before, fell in love with White.
Their chemistry on and off set was undeniable and Ludden’s children quickly took to White. “I fell in love with her opening night,” the TV host once admitted in an interview.
Unfortunately, their busy schedules and the fact that they lived in different cities would get in the way for a while.
After the play ended, White returned to California and Ludden to New York City. However, they didn’t give up on their romance and maintained a long-distance relationship.
Ludden proposed a couple of times over the course of their relationship, but White kept turning him down. He still persisted, and even wore the engagement ring on a chain around his neck until she finally said yes.
“In love as I was, nonetheless marrying and moving east was still not in the equation,”White explained, adding that Ludden “truly believed in what he was selling and kept the pressure on.”
White eventually agreed to get married, and the couple tied the knot on June 14, 1963. They moved to Chappaqua, NY, but White struggled to adjust. It took a few tragedies, including the death of her father and the assasination of President John F. Kennedy, for White to finally realize that she needed Ludden.
“It finally penetrated my thick skull that [Allen and I] were a unit,” White said. “From that day forward, any problem we had… came from the outside. [Ludden] had taught me to stop running.”
Over the next 18 years, the couple found success in their individual careers and in their marriage. They eventually moved to California and build their own home.
Unfortunately, Allen was diagnosed with cancer in the midst of the planning, but he lived long enough to see the finished house. He died four months later in 1981 at the age of 63.
It wasn’t until decades after his death that White finally revealed what her biggest regret is.
If White was given a do-over, she would go back to the 60s and spend more time with her late husband.
“I spent a whole year, wasted a whole year that Allen and I could have had together, saying, ‘No, I wouldn’t marry him,'” she told Oprah on Where Are They Now. “I wasted a whole year we could have had together, but we made it. We finally did.”
Ludden proposed multiple times before White finally agreed. Knowing White was an animal lover, he sent her a stuffed bunny wearing flower-shaped gold earrings with diamonds, rubies, and sapphires along with a note that said, “Please say YES.”
“It wasn’t the earrings that did it,” said White. “It was the goddamned bunny. I still have it.”
Although White does regret not spending that extra year with Ludden, she is still thankful for the years they had together.
“You better realize how good life is while it’s happening, because before you know it, it will all be gone,” White said.
White confessed that moving on wasn’t easy, and “there’s no formula,” but “you can’t become a professional mourner.” She continued, “It doesn’t help you or others. Keep the person in your heart all the time. Replay the good times. Be grateful for the years you had.”
The funnywoman has never remarried, and she hadshe best reasons for why she made the decision not to commit to anyone else.
“I made two mistakes before Allen, but the love of your life doesn’t come along in every life, so I am very grateful that I found him,” she told Daily Mail in 2011.
Instead of pursuing another relationship, White has focused all her energy into her career and philanthropic work, which of course includes wildlife and animal causes.
She admitted that she missed “having someone to hold,” but added, “if you’ve had the best, who needs the rest?”
She also reflected on her relationship during an appearance on Piers Morgan Tonight, and she admitted that Ludden was the one.
“I had 18 wonderful years with Allen Ludden,” she told Piers Morgan. “The first two were rehearsals.”
If what White and Ludden shared wasn’t true love, then I don’t know what is.