On this day in 2010, 88-year-old actress Betty White, known for her former roles on “The Golden Girls” and “The Mary Tyler Moore Show,” becomes the oldest person to host the long-running, late-night TV sketch comedy show “Saturday Night Live” (SNL). White’s hosting gig came about, in part, after hundreds of thousands of her fans signed onto a Facebook campaign rallying for it.
Born in Oak Park, Illinois, in 1922, Betty Marion White attended high school in Beverly Hills, California, before launching her career in radio and television, an industry still in its infancy at the time. She was a pioneering TV talk show host and producer in the 1950s, and also became a frequent celebrity panelist on TV game shows. In the 1970s, she played the acerbic, man-hungry “happy homemaker” Sue Ann Nivens on Mary Tyler Moore’s hit sitcom. Beginning in 1985, White co-starred as naïve, St. Olaf, Minnesota, native Rose Nylund on “The Golden Girls.” When the popular program ended in 1992, White went on to guest-star in a long list of TV shows, often using her sweet, wholesome appearance and sharp, sometimes raunchy, sense of humor to great comedic effect.
In late December 2009, a 29-year-old fan started a Facebook campaign dubbed “Betty White to Host SNL (please?)!” That March, after nearly half a million fans had joined the campaign, it was confirmed White would host the show on May 8, 2011. Lorne Michaels, SNL’s Canadian-born creator and executive producer, later said the show had tried to get White to host at least three times in previous decades but was unable to make it work with her schedule.
“Saturday Night Live,” which debuted in October 1975, is known for its topical parodies and impersonations, and for pushing boundaries with its sketches. The show has introduced a long list of memorable characters and catchphrases that have become part of pop-culture history. Over the years, it also has launched the careers of such performers as Bill Murray, Eddie Murphy, Chris Rock, Mike Myers, Adam Sandler, Chris Farley, David Spade, Jimmy Fallon, Amy Poehler and Tina Fey. SNL features a different guest host and musical act each week. Comedian George Carlin hosted the first-ever episode of SNL in 1975; that same year, actress Candice Bergen was the first woman to host the program. In 1982, 7-year-old Drew Barrymore became the youngest person ever to host SNL.
As SNL’s eldest host, White earned generally glowing reviews, and the show, which featured musical guest Jay-Z, drew its highest ratings in 18 months. The octogenarian actress later won the seventh Emmy Award of her career for her SNL appearance.