Betty White Loved Playing ‘Rotten’ Sue Ann Nivens on ‘The Mary Tyler Moore Show’

THE MARY TYLER MOORE SHOW, Betty White, (1974), 1970-77.
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Betty White was truly a national treasure. Best known for her role in The Golden Girls, she also shined as Sue Ann Nivens in The Mary Tyler Moore Show. At first, she was meant to only appear in one episode, since White was already good friends with Mary Tyler Moore and her then-husband Grant Tinker. However, producers loved her as Sue Ann, seemingly sweet but actually very competitive and snarky, and told her to expect to be called back.

White went on to appear in 45 episodes of the beloved sitcom as the star of The Happy Homemaker on the fictional radio station WJM-TV in Minneapolis, Minnesota. She often had perky yet bleak advice such as buying colorful goldfish and then using them as houseplant fertilizers when they inevitably die. Her shows were given silly names such as “A Salute to Fruit,” and while Sue Ann and Mary had a rocky start, they eventually became more friendly.

MARY TYLER MOORE SHOW, Mary Tyler Moore, Betty White, 1970-77

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White’s character came in and helped to change things up after characters Phyllis (Cloris Leachman) and Rhoda (Valerie Harper) left for their own shows. During the show’s final season, Sue Ann’s show is canceled and she has to continue to work at the station doing assistant work. In the final episode, she was fired along with many of the other workers at the WJM newsroom. She went on to become a traveling companion to a wealthy older man… perfect for her.

THE MARY TYLER MOORE SHOW (aka MARY TYLER MOORE), from left: Ted Knight, Georgia Engel, Betty White, 1970-77.

Everett Collection

White once said about the role, which earned her two Emmy awards, “Of course, I loved Sue Ann. She was so rotten. You can’t get much more rotten than the neighborhood nymphomaniac.” Sue Ann actually changed the casting of The Golden Girls too. Originally, White was cast as Blanche Devereaux. The producers quickly realized how similar Blanche was to White’s former character and thought that fans would compare the two roles too much. So, White was cast as Rose Nylund instead and nailed her performance. White once said that she was glad to have played Rose instead of Blanche, especially since Rue McClanahan was so great in the role.

What was your take on Sue Ann Nivens? Love her or hate her, you have to admit that White was incredible. May she continue to rest in peace.

1970s Fall TV
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1970s Fall TV

September 2023

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