Entertainment

A look back at Betty White’s three husbands


For Betty White, who died on New Year’s Eve less than three weeks before her 100th birthday, third time was the charm in the marriage department.

Her first marriage to Dick Barker, a wartime romance that went sour in peacetime, ended within a year in 1945.

From 1947 to 1949 she was married to talent agent Lane Allen, who wanted her to leave showbusiness behind, only to fall by the wayside himself.

Ultimately she found the ‘love of my life’ in game show host Allen Ludden with whom she had nearly two decades of happy marriage until his death of stomach cancer in 1981 – just four years before she began starring on The Golden Girls.

A full life: For Betty White, who died on New Year's Eve less than three weeks before her 100th birthday, third time was the charm in the marriage department

A full life: For Betty White, who died on New Year’s Eve less than three weeks before her 100th birthday, third time was the charm in the marriage department

Throwback to 1959: Ultimately she found the 'love of my life' in game show host Allen Ludden (left) with whom she had nearly two decades of happy marriage

Throwback to 1959: Ultimately she found the ‘love of my life’ in game show host Allen Ludden (left) with whom she had nearly two decades of happy marriage

Betty never married again after losing Allen, telling Anderson Cooper in an interview a decade before her death: ‘If you’ve had the best who needs the rest?’

Her first marriage to chicken farmer Dick Barker lasted less than a year at the end of the Second World War, which had brought them together.

When the United States entered the conflict Dick was an army pilot and Betty signed up with the American Women’s Voluntary Services.

Betty, who had already begun her TV career in 1939, was introduced to Dick at a dance according to her biographer Paula Bernstein.

Side by side: The duo are

Side by side: The duo are 

They quickly became engaged and then he was shipped off abroad, carrying on a romance with her in correspondence until the Allies won.

Dick and Betty married after his homecoming in 1945 – but she managed only four months of life on his Ohio chicken farm before getting fed up.

She told Closer she entered the ‘nightmare’ marriage ‘because we wanted to sleep together’ and vamped that ‘it lasted six months and we were in bed for six months!’

Two years after the beginning and end of her first marriage she tied the knot with talent agent Lane Allen who after two years decided she should leave the business.

‘We had a couple of very good years. But he wanted me to stop working. He didn’t want me to be in show business,’ she told Newsweek a few years ago.

In her Lifetime Intimate Portrait she revealed: ‘When you have a calling you have to follow it, so I made the choice, blew the marriage, and I’ve never regretted it.’

She joked to Piers Morgan on CNN that her first two marriages were ‘rehearsals,’ noting that in her time ‘you didn’t sleep with a guy until you married him.’ 

It took until 1961 for her to meet Allen, who was already hosting the smash hit game show Password in New York City.

Allen had been left a single father to three children when his first wife Margaret McGloin died of cancer – the very week he and Betty met. 

Betty, who was herself a dab hand on the game show circuit, drew Allen’s attention instantly but it took him multiple proposals to wear her down. 

They kept working together on the stage as he wooed her, starring together in the plays Critics’ Choice and Janus.

During Critics’ Choice on Cape Cod he proposed for the first time, Betty told the Television Academy, revealing she though he was kidding.

‘Well, we were up there for three weeks, and pretty soon he didn’t say hello, he’d say: “Will you marry me?” Well, it was a joke! And I’d laugh it off and he’d laugh it off and then pretty soon I came back home,’ she dished.

In fact Betty at the time was dating someone else, who saw her onstage kiss with Allen and objected to how long it lasted, audibly clearing his throat in the audience.

‘Well, I guess he knew I was attracted to Allen long before I did. So that went on for a year and Allen kept asking me to marry him and finally it wasn’t a joke anymore and I’d get mad and I said: “No! No way!”‘ she shared.

He proposed again, this time seriously with a diamond ring over dinner, but Betty refused him again as she did not want to leave her career in Los Angeles in order to move to New York where Password required him to stay.

‘When I think of how nuts I was…,’ said Betty in astonishment years later when she thought about how long she waited to marry him.

Allen kept proposing and visiting her in LA, and on Easter 1963 sent her a stuffed bunny with ‘beautiful little diamond and sapphire earrings in its ears.’

The night she got the stuffed animal he rang her up and she finally agreed to marry him, ultimately ‘regretting that year that I wasted saying no. I would’ve given anything to have had it back. It was a love affair. We really had – we missed 18 years by three days but it was still a honeymoon.’

Marriage to Allen also left her looking after three young stepchildren, after years of avoiding motherhood in order to have three children and even ending her second marriage over that husband’s desire to become a stay-at-home parent.

yet she revealed in her memoir that she and the children ‘got along great. So great that they called me “Dragon Lady” lovingly.’

She wrote in the book, which came out in 2011: ‘Even after all these years, we love each other dearly, and I am most proud of the children that this career girl inherited.’

Then in 1981, four years before The Golden Girls began, she lost Allen to stomach cancer when he was only 63 years old.

‘I think the toughest thing about loss, and the hardest challenge is the isolation you feel in its aftermath. You spent so much time sharing your life with someone, talking through issues, even disagreeing about things, and all of a sudden there’s a hole,’ she wrote in her memoir If You Ask Me (And Of Course You Won’t). 

‘There’s nobody there and you think, Well, who’s in charge? My God it’s me. I have to make the decisions. I can’t share the decisions any longer,’ she wrote.

‘And that’s tough because you don’t fully trust your own judgment,’ added Betty, whose star on the Hollywood Walk Of Fame is right next to Allen’s.

She mined her loss for a Golden Girls episode in which her character Rose Nylund shares the story of the heart attack that took her husband’s life.

The episode’s director Lex Passaris told Closer: ‘Rose tells a story about her husband Charlie’s death, and Betty’s basically talking about Allen.’

He recalled: ‘Betty’s voice kind of cracked and she took a breath and said to me: “I’d give anything to have that year of my life back again.”‘



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