She attended grade school at the Horace Mann School in Beverly Hills where she aspired to be a writer. With that in mind, she wrote the eighth grade graduation play and ended up starring in the lead role. It was then that she discovered her keen interest in performing and becoming an actress became her focus. She graduated from Beverly Hills High School in 1939 and began visiting Hollywood studios looking for work as an actress.
While no doubt disappointed, she was not deterred when she was told time and again that she was not photogenic enough. She turned to radio where she was a writer, the voice of various characters and read commercials. She broke into television by singing on a station in Los Angeles. Her continued pursuit of acting finally landed her first professional role at a community theater. Just as her career began to gain some momentum, World War II broke out – she did her part for the war effort as a volunteer.
At the same time, she continued to be active on radio – appearing on a variety of shows. By the end of the decade she had her own radio show. In 1949, she became co-host of a television variety show called Hollywood on Television. The next year, the girl who was not photogenic enough, was nominated for an Emmy as Best Actress on television. She became the solo host of that show and the same year started a production company along with two men – a writer and a producer. Using the variety show as inspiration, they created – and she was the lead character – in a sitcom which became nationally syndicated. It was highly unusual at that time for a woman to have total control of creative on a TV show – both in front of and behind the camera. Imagine, a successful show co-produced and owned by a twenty-eight-year-old woman who still lived with her parents – in the 1950’s.
She finally made her ‘big screen’ movie debut in 1962, where her role as a U.S. Senator was well received. She also pursued a position as a television game show host – a genre coming into its own at that time. Rather than being discouraged when told that the public wasn’t ready for a female hostess, she shifted her focus to becoming a celebrity participant on a variety of game shows.
That exposure, coupled with being the voice of the Rose Bowl Parade for over a decade, resulted in growing fame, as well as a strong bond with audiences. In 1973, she landed a supporting actress role on a sitcom, playing the role of Sue-Ann Nivens. Her performance resulted in winning two of her three Emmy nominations for Outstanding Supporting Actress.
She had created a nearly thirty year career as an entertainer, comedienne and actress which would have fulfilled the dreams of countless women – and men. Yet this woman who was not photogenic enough for film, was the wrong gender to host a game show and the twenty-eight year old who had to create her own production company to pursue her dreams had barely scratched the surface.
After four more decades, her accomplishments and credits boggle the mind. On television alone she’s done sitcoms, game shows, movies, variety shows and more. She’s done countless commercials and authored seven books. Seven Emmy wins – including one, ironically, for Best Game Show Host. Multiple lifetime achievement awards – including one twenty-five years ago. There are just too many appearances and awards to list. None of this makes her a fearless brand. This incredible body of work – these amazing accomplishments – are because Betty White built a fearless brand.
Fearless brands are resilient, positive and tenacious.
Betty White can be summed up in two words – America’s Sweetheart. She’s 92 now and is showing no signs of letting up – saying she has to keep working in order to continue her many efforts in support of animal rights. Given the length, variety and success of her career, it’s hard to pick one role or accomplishment for which she is best known. Many will say The Golden Girls – others The Mary Tyler Moore Show. Millennials may know her best from the show Hot In Cleveland, Betty White’s Off Their Rockers or even Betty White Goes Wild!.
She was featured in a Snickers commercial which debuted in the 2010 Super Bowl. That appearance sparked a social media campaign to have Betty White host Saturday Night Live which she did in May of that year, becoming the oldest person to ever host the show. Her episode generated the show’s biggest ratings in eighteen months and earned Betty her seventh Emmy.
In addition to the happiness and laughs Betty White delivers – there is much to learn from her about building your fearless brand.
Be resilient – Throughout her career, White would not get discouraged at the many roadblocks in her path. Not photogenic enough? Fine, I’ll work in radio – for now. A woman cannot host a game show? Well, I’ll become one of the most popular celebrity participants – for now. Rather than allowing herself to get derailed, she kept an eye on her goal but focused on what she could do in the present that would allow her to reach her goal over time. Stay on the path to your goals – even though it will always include unexpected twists.
Be positive – White says that she’s always positive – and that was the reason Bea Arthur of The Golden Girls didn’t care for her. Her positive attitude allowed her to focus on the possibilities of every situation rather than getting derailed. Look for the opportunities that exist regardless of setbacks and disappointments – they always exist.
Be tenacious – Don’t give up on your hopes and dreams – even if you’re 92.
When asked what in Hollywood has she not yet done that she’d like to, she responded “Robert Redford”. Certainly that’s a funny line – but it also shows that she has realized virtually all of her goals. I submit that it’s because she built a fearless brand that she’s realized such incredible results. Embrace your passions and drive – recognize and continuously improve your skills – be relevant and you too can achieve stratospheric success. That’s the magic of building your fearless brand.