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Betty White's big break was being the golden girl from the golden days of television

DAVID GURA, HOST:

For seven decades, Betty White was a pioneer and a mainstay of television. She starred in "Life With Elizabeth" in the 1950s, the "Mary Tyler Moore Show" in the 70s and, of course, a decade later. She was the good-hearted yet somewhat dingy Rose in "The Golden Girls."

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "THE GOLDEN GIRLS")

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR #1: (As character, vocalizing).

BETTY WHITE: (As Rose Nylund) Kaflugenachen.

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR #2: (As character) What?

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR #3: (As character) What?

WHITE: (As Rose Nylund) Kaflugenachen. It's Scandinavian for someone who docks his boat in a handicap slip.

(LAUGHTER)

GURA: Betty White also hosted and produced variety shows, did commercials and was a favorite celebrity contestant on "Password," "Match Game" and a number of other game shows. And well into her 90s, Betty White starred in yet another sitcom - TV Land's "Hot In Cleveland."

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "HOT IN CLEVELAND")

WHITE: (As Elka Ostrosky) I got a spray tan.

(LAUGHTER)

VALERIE BERTINELLI: (As Melanie Hope Moretti) You look very tropical.

(LAUGHTER)

WHITE: (As Elka Ostrosky) Oh, no. I look like a [expletive] Oompa Loompa.

(LAUGHTER)

GURA: Betty White died yesterday, just a few weeks shy of her 100th birthday. Our colleague Danny Hajek caught up with her in 2014 on the set of "Hot In Cleveland" as part of the NPR series My Big Break.

WHITE: I was in the graduation play from high school. And the president of our senior class and I sang "The Merry Widow" and did a little dance. And oh, I thought - I think that's when the show biz bug bit me - and they haven't been able to get rid of me since (laughter).

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

WHITE: My big break came when a local disc jockey, Al Jarvis, in Los Angeles invited me to be his Girl Friday on his talk show "Hollywood On Television" - so would I be his Girl Friday? Sure, Friday, that's great.

Well, what he meant and I didn't realize was Friday, Saturday, Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday. Five-and-a-half hours a day, six days a week live.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

WHITE: Whatever happened, you had to handle it. There was never any rehearsal or script or anything. Whoever came in that door, it was on, and you were interviewing them.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "HOLLYWOOD ON TELEVISION")

WHITE: How old are you, Ralph (ph)?

RALPH: Ten.

WHITE: Is it all right if I call you Ralph?

RALPH: Mm-hmm.

WHITE: Will you call me Betty? What do you like to do mostly?

RALPH: Mmm.

WHITE: Do you have any favorite games you like to play?

RALPH: Mm-mm.

WHITE: The beauty of it is if it didn't go well, it was over (laughter). People either sell their television sets or tune you in (laughter).

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "THE BETTY WHITE SHOW")

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON: The second half of "The Betty White Show" from Hollywood.

WHITE: (Singing) Maybe I'm right. Maybe I'm wrong.

Every once in a while, they'll run something that we did years ago, and that's always fun. You think, my God, I had hair then (laughter).

DANNY HAJEK, BYLINE: That's funny. I actually - I found a commercial you did back in the '50s.

WHITE: You did?

HAJEK: Would you like to watch it?

WHITE: Oh, I'd love - can we do that? Oh, my Lord.

HAJEK: 1954.

WHITE: Oh, for heaven's sake.

(SOUNDBITE OF AD, "GERITOL")

WHITE: Let's talk about you a little bit. How are you feeling? Do you get the feeling that you just don't have enough energy to finish out the day? That weak, rundown condition may be due to undernourished blood. Doctors have a special name for it. They call it iron-deficient blood.

Oh, my Lord, it was Geritol. Oh, that was a hundred years ago.

(SOUNDBITE OF AD, "GERITOL")

WHITE: To feel stronger fast, I wish you'd give Geritol a try.

Oh, my goodness. I hadn't even thought about that.

(SOUNDBITE OF AD, "GERITOL")

WHITE: And it's good-tasting, too.

To be able to talk to that camera - the camera became your best friend. You're looking into that little camera lens, and they're looking into your soul because they're right in your eyes. You can't be phony. You can't fake it 'cause they'll pick up on it like that. I'm so lucky to still be blessed to be working in it. I love television.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

GURA: The inimitable Betty White talking to NPR's Danny Hajek in 2014. She died yesterday at the age of 99.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.