100 years ago today, in the town of Oak Park, Illinois, the only child of Horace and Tess White, named Betty, was born. The next year, the family moved to California, where young Betty would grow up and find her way into show business, first on radio and then, in 1949, moving to television, first as a co-host with Al Jarvis on his daily show and, eventually, on her own once he left, before moving on to the syndicated sitcom Life with Elizabeth in 1953.
A little further north, in Wisconsin, a youngster named Allen Ludden moved from town to town with his family. The Ludden’s eventually landed in Texas, where Allen majored in English and drama at the University of Texas. During WWII, Allen served as an officer in charge of entertainment, moving east after the war. He continued to entertain, hosting a radio show and writing advice columns for teen magazines. He moved to television in 1959, when the G.E. College Bowl debuted on CBS.
In 1961, their path’s crossed for the first time, thanks to the game show Password. Ludden, named the host of the new show, didn’t remember meeting White the first time she guested, as his concentration was torn from the show by his dying wife. When White returned a second time after the death of Ludden’s wife, the impression stuck, and Ludden knew who would be the next Mrs. Allen Ludden. Convincing Betty, however, took a while, but they eventually married in 1963. They continued to work and live together, feeling the ups and downs of Hollywood life, until Ludden’s 1981 death at the age of 63. Betty White never married again, though she ultimately became an even bigger star thanks to her 7-year run on The Golden Girls.
I don’t even know if I had heard of Allen Ludden before discovering the Buzzr channel a few years back. Since then, I’ve watched my fair share of the original Password and the late 70s revival Password Plus, which Ludden was hosting until he fell ill. It seemed like the world was prepping to celebrate Betty White’s 100th birthday today until her surprising death, or as surprising as a death can be when someone is 99 years old, on New Year’s Eve, less than three weeks before the big bash. It was in honor of them both that I found this biography from Adam Nedeff, who seems to have made a cottage industry looking back at old time game show hosts. I might just have to take a look at one of them down the line.