Betty White is one of the true pioneers of television, making her debut on the nascent medium in 1939. More than seven decades on and she remains a star of the small screen, headlining a new sitcom, "Hot in Cleveland," which debuted to record ratings for TV Land Wednesday night.
White was interviewed in 1997 by the Archive of American Television, an offshoot of the foundation of the Academy of Television Arts & Sciences. She is just one of scores of TV legends to have granted this invaluable resource in-depth video interviews. Other subjects include two of the other "Golden Girls" -- Bea Arthur and Rue McClanahan -- along with Dick Clark, Norman Lear, Mary Tyler Moore, Bob Newhart, Carl Reiner, Isabel Sanford, William Shatner, Aaron Spelling, Ted Turner, and Barbara Walters.
The archive has released the embed codes so that compelling conversations, such as this one with White, can be shared with the blogosphere. In part one of this five-part interview, the actress discusses her early days in radio and television and her first Emmy win. See the other parts at the archive website.
As White recounts, her connection with television dates to an appearance on an experimental Los Angeles channel in 1939. She and her high school classmate sang songs from the light operetta "The Merry Widow." They were sweltering in a small studio on the sixth floor of the Packard building while the viewing audience gathered in the ground floor auto showroom.
After WWII, White landed a variety of gigs on live TV shows on which she was spotted by local DJ Al Jarvis, who was transferring his hit radio show to television. Soon, White was playing "girl Friday" to Jarvis for 33 hours per week of live lively TV during the day. The pair also hosted a weekly variety show in the evening and from that evolved White's first half-hour situation comedy, "Life with Elizabeth."
As she recalls, the live edition of that show landed her an Emmy bid in 1952 where she was pitted against Zsa Zsa Gabor for "Bachelor's Haven." White won -- much to both their surprise -- and began a love affair with the Emmy Awards that has continued for nearly half a century.
Photo: Betty White with her local Emmy Award for "Life with Elizabeth" in 1952. Credit: Los Angeles Herald