They are two of the most successful sitcom actresses in television history and starred for seven seasons together on The Golden Girls.
But the late Bea Arthur had an intense dislike for Betty White, the 88-year-old phenomenon whose career is currently on fire thanks to Facebook and her own enduring stamina and comic timing.
Betty, the recent Saturday Night Live host whose new sitcom Hot in Cleveland is off to a strong start in the TV ratings, played the sweet and innocent Rose Nyland opposite Bea’s acerbic Dorothy Zbornak, Rue McClanahan’s slutty Blanche Devereaux and Estelle Getty’s feisty Sophia Petrillo.
After Bea died last year, Rue (who herself died earlier this month), addressed the issue in an interview with TV Guide and shed some light on the strained Bea-Betty relationship: “Bea never confided in me why she felt the way she did about Betty. … Betty always asked me, ‘Why?’ And I’d always say, ‘You know how Bea is, Betty. Bea gets a bee in her bonnet, and just doesn’t like certain things…and I don’t know why.’ Bea, for instance, didn’t like people who wore their baseball caps backwards. That really got to her. We were interviewing directors one time and if someone came in with a baseball cap worn backwards, he didn’t stand a chance.”
Ironically, Betty did not feel the same way toward Bea and even attended her Tony Award-nominated show three times.Said Rue: “Betty was a big fan of Bea. Bea’s feelings about Betty were not mutual. She really did love Bea.”
I witnessed Bea’s coldness toward Betty first-hand at an event at the Museum of Television in Beverly Hills where the three women did a Q & A. With Rue planted between them like a referee, Bea did not engage Betty once despite Miss White’s efforts to draw her in.
Then after the event ended, I was standing near the stage as Bea hugged Rue goodbye but left without saying anything to Betty who followed her backstage and called after her. (The bottom photo is from that evening in Beverly Hills).
It made me feel a bit sad for Betty. But that’s not to say that I didn’t think Bea was terrific. Not only was I a huge fan, but I was in attendance about six months before she died and was inducted into the Television Academy Hall of Fame. We were briefly introduced and she promised an interview. When we didn’t have the time to do it that night, she called the next day, we had a nice chat, and she could not have been more lovely.
So, whatever their personal relationship, Betty and Bea were total professionals and just utter magic together on television!