UM students reflect on life of Hollywood icon and pioneer Betty White

Just like much of the world, many University of Miami students were sad to receive the news of Hollywood’s iconic ‘golden girl’ Betty White’s passing this past December at 99 years old. An illustrious figure in television history, White pioneered the inclusion of women both behind and on-screen.

Regarded as the ‘First Lady of Television,’ White launched her career in radio and game show television, becoming the first female recipient of the Daytime Emmy Award for Outstanding Game Show Host. Her work on “Life with Elizabeth,” a sitcom that featured White as the first female producer in primetime television history, elevated White to A-list celebrity status.

Photo credit: Julia Monteiro Martins

Perhaps her most notable work came with 1985’s “The Golden Girls” and more recently TV Land’s “Hot in Cleveland.” With eight Emmy Awards, a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame and a Guinness World Record for longest television career by a female entertainer, White’s notable impact on Hollywood touched generations of adoring fans.

Kristina Manokas, a recent UM graduate, expressed how much White’s television work inspired her and her 99 year old grandmother.

“Her sassy and energizing personality made her such a lovable icon,” Manokas said. “Her passing was definitely upsetting. I have such fond memories of watching her with my great grandma.”

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Noah Jaccard, a senior computer science major, agreed with Manokas that White’s legacy will not be forgotten.

“She lived for a long time and left a significant impact in the media with her shows and talent,” Jaccard said. “She was very supportive and kind and she could entertain a wide variety of people. I’m sure she was happy and felt fulfilled with her life.”

Jaccard discussed White’s impact in breaking down racial barriers on television during times of segregation.

“I recall reading that on her show in 1954 she refused to allow the production team to cut a talented Black dancer from the entirely white cast,” Jaccard said. “For the 50s, this showed great reason for anyone to love her.”

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Paige Brala, a senior studying finance and marketing, acknowledged that White’s philanthropic work made her an admirable icon.

“I always looked up to Betty White because she was an icon in TV shows, but also for her advocacy for her philanthropic causes,” Brala said. “I was definitely a fan. I really looked up to her for her passion for helping other people and animals. Her smile was always very infectious and would always make me happy when I saw her on TV or in pictures.”

Brala referenced the sadness of White’s passing just weeks before what would be her hundredth birthday this January.

“I was really sad to hear about her passing,” Brala said. “It was so sudden and I was especially sad because it was right before her birthday. She was so iconic and will be missed.”

Despite the bulk of her filmography occurring decades ago, Jaccard mentioned that White’s films and television shows maintained relevancy.

“She continued to be relevant,” Jaccard said. “Parents loved her and so did their kids. I had no reason not to think she was an icon growing up, so she was.”