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11 Wonderful Wunderkammer, or Curiosity Cabinets

Wikimedia Commons
Wikimedia Commons

The glass display cases called "curio cabinets" got both their form and their name from the historic "Cabinets of Curiosity." Though ubiquitous today, curio cabinets come from a rich history of passionate collectors and exultant status-seekers, looking for the flashiest proclamations of their presence in society.

Cabinets of Curiosity were also known as Wunderkammer, Cabinets of Wonder, or Wonder-Rooms. They first became popular during the Northern Renaissance, but that popularity didn't reach its apex until the Victorian era. Where amateur and professional scientists once kept their most prized specimens hidden away, society-folk now possessed the flashiest and rarest finds, and proudly displayed them for all to see. Though the traditional Wonder-Rooms—where entire rooms were filled with glass cases and collections—still existed in Victorian times, they were mostly the realm of royalty and academic institutions. The tradition of a personal collection to show off reached the newly burgeoning middle class, and the singular glass "curio cabinet" with one's most prized collection items skyrocketed in popularity. 

Among those collections, there are many fascinating and unexpected finds. Here are a few collectors and their curious collections.

1. Beatrix Potter 

Lactarius blennius, Beech Milkcap 

Best known for her self-illustrated children’s stories, such as The Tale of Peter Rabbit and The Tale of Squirrel Nutkin, Beatrix Potter was also an accomplished amateur mycologist, or one who studies fungus. She collected many volumes of illustrations and observations on lichens and mushrooms, and collected many dried specimens. In addition to mycology, she was also taken by the world of entomology—the study of insects—and botany, and acquired many insect and plant specimens, though she did not often keep them in her personal collection for long; many of the biological specimens given to her were passed along to London’s Natural History Museum. However, several cabinets of fossils and archaeological artifacts were kept in her possession and displayed proudly, even when she moved to the countryside to raise her award-winning sheep herd.

In addition to the Natural History Museum and National Art Library, a few of Potter’s archeological specimens, many of her original illustrations and paintings, and first-edition copies of all of her publications are found at the Armitt Collection in Ambleside, of which she was a member from its founding in 1912.

2. Franklin Delano Roosevelt

Smithsonian

President Roosevelt was a philatelist—that is, he collected stamps. Beginning in childhood, FDR loved stamps, and had amassed a huge collection by the time he came to office. When asked how he remained calm and collected in such troubled times as the Great Depression, Roosevelt said, “I owe my life to my hobbies—especially stamp collecting.” In fact, the president loved stamps to the point where the Postmaster General had to get his approval on every new design while he was in office. Roosevelt even had a hand in designing many of the stamps issued during his term, and was known to sit down with the Postmaster General to collaborate on new stamp concepts, especially during his worst times in office. His passion for stamps (and his ability to indulge in them to a degree very few other philatelists got to) is what kept him “level-headed and sane” during the most stressful periods, according to his son.

Though he was most well-known for his stamp collecting, and influenced the field of philately more than any other group collectors, Roosevelt also had large collections of ship models and naval art, coins, and Hudson River Valley art. While some of his stamp collection has been dispersed to private collectors and museums across the country, the majority of his other collections are now found at the Franklin D. Roosevelt Presidential Library and Museum.

3. Sowerby Family

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With four generations of conchologists (those who study shells), the Sowerby family amassed an incredible collection of shells and mollusc specimens. Confusingly for taxonomy historians and antiquarians, the son, grandson, and great-grandson of the naturalist patriarch (James de Carle Sowerby) had exactly the same name: George Brettingham Sowerby. They were almost always noted only as “G.B. Sowerby” in mollusca monographs and scientific papers, and even when the date of publication was known for the paper, the generations overlapped in their work. At least two of the three G.B. Sowerbys also illustrated both conchological and other zoological collections from various expeditionary voyages.

While initially known for their illustrations of the collection of the Earl of Tankerville during the 1810s, the Sowerbys later amassed a large collection of their own shells, and illustrated many times the number of specimens they personally owned. Unfortunately, the location of many of the Sowerby shells is unknown. However, their more than 4000 mollusca illustrations live on—as do many of the names given to the new species first detailed by the Sowerby family.

4. Ole Worm

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One of the most notable “cabinets of curiosity” belonged to 17th century naturalist, antiquarian, and physician Ole Worm. A rich man by inheritance, Ole Worm collected specimens from the natural world, human skeletons, ancient runic texts, and artifacts from the New World. As an adult, Worm was the personal physician to King Christian IV of Denmark, but continued to collect and write about everything he found interesting.

Worm’s thoughts on various objects in his collection were at once rational and pre-modern. While he scoffed at those who passed off narwhal tusks as “unicorn horns”—and would set other naturalists straight when they asserted they had such a horn—he conjectured that perhaps the traits attributed to the mythological unicorn horn (such as being a universal antidote) still held true to the tusk. He used his collection to teach others, and his specimens and illustrations showed that two myths of the era were demonstrably false: lemmings did not appear from thin air, but reproduced like normal animals, and the bird of paradise did, indeed, have feet.

Outside of his Cabinet, Ole Worm owned a now-extinct Great Auk, kept for several years (until its death, and subsequent inclusion in the Cabinet) as a pet. An illustration of this bird while it was still alive is the only known representation of the species from life; all other representations have been created from dead specimens or were drawn from accounts made by sailors who had encountered the live animals.

5. Tradescant family

Ashmolean Museum

Another family with all-too-similar names, the John Tradescants were at least referred to as “Tradescant the Elder” and “Tradescant the Younger” in contemporary texts. During the course of the 17th century, the Tradescants amassed a huge collection from the natural world, as well as the world of anthropology. As the younger John travelled west, to Virginia, and collected objects and specimens in that direction, the elder travelled east, to Russia, and expanded the collection in that direction, too. Both Tradescants gathered objects from nature, weapons, armor, traditional garments, jewels, royal artifacts, and any other objects that caught their fancy. Eventually, the collection was arranged in such a way to form the first truly public museum—the Tradescant Ark. Unlike other cabinets of curiosity, anyone could tour it, not just aristocracy or friends of the family. All were welcome, assuming you could afford the 6p entry fee!

Though the elder John amassed a small fortune as a master gardener for royalty across Europe, the collection also included many priceless objects donated by society elites. After John the Younger’s death in 1662, Elias Ashmole published a catalogue of the objects in the museum, but had the book written in a format that appealed to popular culture, not just academics. Ashmole eventually took over the collection, and it formed the basis of the eponymous Ashmolean Museum of Art and Archaeology at Oxford University. Though the museum no longer bears their name, the Tradescants are still honored in the name of the Tradescantia genus of flowering spiderworts.

6.  Lady Charlotte Guest

Classic Books and Ephemera

Despite being brought up in a family that discouraged education for girls, Lady Charlotte Guest found her own way to learn a half-dozen languages, and knew the mythology and history of cultures around the world, by the time she married at 21. Her passion for learning and languages meant that she would eventually become best known for translating English books to Welsh, and publishing a collection of traditional Welsh folk tales in English, entitled Mabinogion.

However, her pursuits spanned far beyond the world of language. Her love of history and her upper-class upbringing stirred a fascination with ceramics and china from a young age. After being widowed at age 40, she found that one of her sons’ tutors, Charles Schreiber, had a similar passion, and soon re-married. She and her second husband travelled far and wide within Europe to collect some of the oldest and rarest ceramics and chinaware. Their huge collection was considered an honor to be shown while Schreiber lived, as he was a notable Dorset elite, and MP for Poole.

After his death in 1884, Lady Guest made the collection public, viewable for free. When she, too, passed away, she bequeathed the ceramics and china to the Victoria and Albert Museum. During her lifetime, she also amassed a large collection of board games, cards, and fans in her travels, which she donated to the British Museum.

7. Johann Hermann

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Just like many university students, Johann Hermann started on one path, but ended up going somewhere completely different. Though initially studying philosophy, mathematics, and literature, Hermann eventually turned toward botany and medicine, receiving his M.D. in 1762 from the University of Strasbourg. Despite being a physician—and soon a Professor of Medicine at Strasbourg—he never stopped collecting specimens for his personal natural history cabinet, or cataloging the natural history around his region. He was soon made curator of the Botanical Gardens at the University of Strasbourg, and would head weekly natural history excursions into Alsace and Vosges.

During the French Revolution, Hermann was transferred to the School of Medicine at Strasbourg, and despite attempted suppression by the revolutionaries, he continued to maintain his collection, take students on cataloging excursions, and tend to the gardens at the University. Due to losing public and school funding for these projects, he put all of his own energy and wealth into them. Hermann even saved the statues of the Strasbourg Cathedral (due to be demolished by the Revolution, as they were “frivolous”) by burying them within the gardens.

After his death in 1800, Johann Hermann’s 18,000 natural history volumes formed the basis of the Natural History Museum of Strasbourg. His zoological and botanical collections formed the basis of the Zoological Museum of Strasbourg, and the gardens at the University of Strasbourg are still open to the public.

8. Robert Edmond Grant

Another physician who preferred the natural history world over medicine, Robert Edmond Grant collected one of the largest Cabinets of invertebrates in England during the first half of his life.

The Edinburgh-born Grant was a student of Erasmus Darwin’s writings—though the two never met—and learned the importance of dissection from none other than Georges Cuvier and Jean-Baptiste Lamarck in the late 1810s. He later used his practice in dissection to teach Charles Darwin how to dissect marine invertebrates under a microscope, in their natural habitat. Though the two later had a falling-out over research domains, Darwin continued to use the methods and habits that Grant had taught him, as he came to his eventual conclusions on evolution.

Grant taught comparative zoology at University College London between 1827 and his death in 1874, but during the second half of his life, the enrollment in his courses was too low to pay him a living wage. Rather than sell off his collection (which, despite personally collecting, he believed belonged to those who could learn from it), or take up practicing medicine in London, he chose to live in the slums.

Interestingly, Robert Edmond Grant would probably object to being included in this list of curious collections. He campaigned for the Zoological Society collections to be curated and run by professionals rather than by aristocratic amateurs, and for the British Museum to become a research institution rather than simply a place to admire and gawk at the unusual and bizarre.

9. Joseph Mayer

Liverpool Museum

At the other end of the spectrum from Robert Edmund Grant was Joseph Mayer, a well-to-do goldsmith of 19th century Liverpool, and a proponent of amateur contribution and control of large collections of antiques and curiosities. He collected potteries and Greek coins as a youth and jeweler’s apprentice, but eventually sold off his Greek coins to the French government.

The rest of Mayer’s collection kept growing, encompassing cultural artifacts, Wedgewood pottery, historic ceramics, ancient enamels, and the collections of many older amateur antiquarians who lived in the Merseyside and Cheshire regions. His successful goldsmithing business and the sale of his Greek coin collection gave him the funds to begin some of the first serious excavations of Anglo-Saxon artifacts inside England—up until Mayer, there was very little interest in that field, with antiquarians looking to Continental Europe and Egypt. Not that he didn’t love Egypt; one of the first truly Ancient Egyptian collections was held by Mayer for a time.

Despite the massive number of Egyptian acquisitions, Joseph Mayer’s passion was in England, and he’s been most known for his contributions to the field of Anglo-Saxon archaeology, and his contributions to the communities he lived in. Despite being an amateur collector and not thinking that he should leave the scholarly work and curation of artifacts to universities and researchers, Mayer and Robert Edmond Grant would have shared at least one conviction—that everyone is served when all levels of society are given access to lectures about the massive eclectic collections living right next door. Both the Mayer Trust (Joseph Mayer’s legacy) and the Grant Museum of Zoology (Grant’s legacy) give public lectures and provide for the public education to this day.

10.  Ida Laura Pfieffer

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One might assume that if you’re sailing at sea for over 100,000 km, travelling overland for 30,000 km, and spending your entire life after your sons have grown as a nearly nomadic explorer, there’s not much point in collecting things—after all, where would you keep them? Austrian lady Ida Laura Pfieffer saw things differently, though, and while making her record-setting and ground-breaking voyages and treks between 1842 and 1858, she collected and carefully documented thousands of plant, insect, marine, and mineral specimens, which currently reside in the Natural History Museums of Berlin and Vienna. Her 1856 collection of Malagasy (Madagascar) plants and insects was one of the first substantial looks at how unique the island was on a floral and entomological level, and many of her specimens were brand new species, even though she didn’t know it at the time.

On top of her biological specimens, Mrs. Pfieffer also collected an invaluable account of many of the world’s cultures, from the unique perspective of a female travelling solo, in a time when that was nearly unheard of for proper women. Despite her modesty, the fact that she was a mother of grown sons, and a widower (not simply a single lady riding the waves—far more taboo), her travels and travelogues were initially questioned and looked down upon as “lesser.”  By the end of her life, though, she was highly respected and sought after by many notable exploration and geographical societies. Because of her gender, she had gained access to many places and cultures that shunned and attacked men, and gave a new perspective to many cultures that had been previously documented only by male explorers.

11. Athanasius Kircher

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It takes quite a person to have a mineral named after them more than 300 years after their death, but in August 2012, kircherite gave Athanasius Kircher just such a distinction. Not that he was without distinction in his own time—he was a distinguished Jesuit polymath, wrote dozens of books on his observations of the natural and historical world, and had a massive and well-known Cabinet of Curiosities in Rome. Though he was not much of an inventor himself, he investigated everything he could, and his publications on many inventions (such as the “magic lantern”) gave much wider circulation and publicity to otherwise-unknown innovation.

Kircher was one of the first to take a scholarly interest in decoding Egyptian hieroglyphs, and he collected Egyptian statuary and artifacts in addition to manuscripts and transcriptions of carved hieroglyphic writing. Chinese artifacts, samples of minerals from his varied travels throughout Europe (including rocks taken while dangling from a rope inside the cone of Vesuvius), odd devices, and rare European antiquities rounded out the Museum Kircherianum—which Kircher founded in the 1670s—when his private residence was no longer large enough to house his entire collection. This museum was technically open to the public, but for most of its existence Athanasius found great pleasure in demanding scholarly letters of “recommendation” from nobility and clergy who would come through town and think to stop by. Even the pope wasn’t exempt from this requirement!

A notable exemption from Kircher’s Museum was one of the things he’s most known for: the “Katzenklaver,” or “cat piano.” While he illustrated the concept, it was in a work on how musical theories were universal in birdsong, instrumental pieces, and nature—thankfully for the cats, there’s zero evidence of him having created the “instrument,” or even having wanted to.

While Kircher himself was much more well-known than the Tradescant family thanks to his publications, his museum was less visited, especially after the Jesuits who owned the building it was housed in decided to move the curiosities to a less busy part of town. The plague ravaging Europe and Rene Descartes causing his personal popularity to dwindle probably didn’t help business, either. Despite the frustration with his treasures being moved towards the end of his life, Kircher continued to amass more objects and correspond with many academics and religious scholars until his death in 1680. It would take until nearly the 1700s before all of his artifacts (or at least the ones that were not sold off) were catalogued, and researchers are still coming across correspondences of his that had either been forgotten or never recorded in the first place.

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10 of Benjamin Franklin’s Lesser-Known Feats of Awesomeness
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Hulton Archive/Getty Images

We all know about Benjamin Franklin’s kite-flyin’, library-establishin’, Declaration-signin’, newspaper-printin’, lady-killin’ ways. But let’s celebrate some of his lesser-known but very cool contributions to society, on what would be his 312th birthday.

1. HE SWAM WITH THE FISHES.

As a youngster, Ben learned to swim in Philadelphia’s Schuylkill River and became somewhat of an expert. On a Thames River boating trip with friends, a 19-year-old Franklin jumped into the river and swam from Chelsea to Blackfriars (around 3.5 miles), performing all sorts of water tricks along the way or, as he described it, “…many feats of activity, both upon and under the water, that surprised and pleased those to whom they were novelties.” Franklin’s Phelpsian feats earned him an honorary induction into the International Swimming Hall of Fame in 1968.

He was such an excellent swimmer, one of the careers he considered (and seemingly one of the few he did not choose) was running a swimming school of his own. Of course, he also invented his own swim fins.

2. HE PRINTED BENJAMINS, BEFORE THEY WERE BENJAMINS.

Many people know that Ben Franklin owned a printing company and the Pennsylvania Gazette. But it may be new knowledge that his company also printed all of the paper money for Pennsylvania, New Jersey, and Delaware. Beginning in 1929, his face would grace the front of the $100 bill and people would call them “Benjamins” in his honor.

3. HE DEVELOPED AN ELECTRIC VOCABULARY.

Because the things Franklin was doing in his experiments with electricity were so new, he had to make words up for them as he went along. One scholar suggests that Franklin may have been the first to use as many as 25 electrical terms including battery, brushed, charged, conductor, and even electrician.

4. HE WAS NO DEBTOR.

Franklin was terrified of debt and viewed it as similar to slavery because he believed that, through the acquisition of debt, man essentially sold his own freedom. He was so anti-debt that he often spoke (seriously) about forming an international organization called The Society of the Free and Easy for virtuous individuals who, among other things, were free of debt and, therefore, easy in spirit.

5. HE WAS ALWAYS PUTTING OUT FIRES.

In addition to being a famously calming voice of reason and a frequent mediator at the Constitutional Convention, Franklin organized the first volunteer fire company in 1736: The Union Fire Company (nicknamed Benjamin Franklin’s Bucket Brigade). Among his many writings are articles on fire prevention, stressing that an "ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.” He was more eloquent than Smokey Bear.

6. HE INVENTED A TON OF COOL STUFF, INCLUDING THE ROCKING CHAIR AND THE ODOMETER.

Of course, you probably know that Franklin is responsible for the lightning rod, bifocal glasses, and the Franklin stove. But in 1761, Franklin also invented the glass harmonica (or "armonica," as he called it). It became quite popular during Franklin’s time and armonica-specific pieces were composed by the likes of Mozart, Beethoven, and Handel.

Some of Franklin’s other inventions include:
• The library stepstool, a chair whose seat could be lifted and folded down to make a short ladder.
• A mechanical arm for reaching books on high shelves. (Book retrieval—clearly a focus of Franklinian innovation.)
• The rocking chair—a chair that rocks.
• The writing chair—a chair with an arm on one side to provide a writing surface. (Activities one can do while seated were also a focus.)
• The odometer—used in Franklin’s time to measure distance along colonial roads used by the postal service.
• A pulley system that enabled him to lock and unlock his bedroom door from his bed.
• The flexible urinary catheter.

7. HE WAS PARTIALLY RESPONSIBLE FOR THE ESTABLISHMENT OF AMERICA'S FIRST HOSPITAL.

Established in 1751 by Ben and Dr. Thomas Bond, Pennsylvania Hospital was built “… to care for the sick-poor and insane who were wandering the streets of Philadelphia” (those sound like some wild streets). While the hospital was Bond’s brainchild, Franklin’s support and advocacy got the project off the ground. He galvanized the Pennsylvania Assembly and helped raise the necessary funds. It appears that Franklin was more proud of this accomplishment than most (even all those outrageous swimming tricks); he said later of the hospital’s establishment, “I do not remember any of my political maneuvers, the success of which gave me at the time more pleasure.”

8. HE HAD SEVERAL PSEUDONYMS.

Franklin was prolifically pseudonymous and his pseudonyms were pretty wonderful:

• Richard Saunders. Richard Saunders is Franklin’s most well-known pseudonym; it’s the one he used for his wildly popular Poor Richard’s Almanac, which ran annually from 1732 to 1758. Poor Richard was partially based on one of Jonathan Swift’s pseudonyms, Isaac Bickerstaff – Saunders and Bickerstaff shared a love of learning and astrology. The Richard character brought a comic frame to what was otherwise a serious resource in the almanac and, over the years of publication, the fun but likely unnecessary character gradually disappeared.

• Silence Dogood. When Ben was 16 years old, he desperately wanted to write for his brother James’s newspaper, The New England Courant, but James was something of a bully and wouldn’t allow it. So, Ben contributed to the paper as a middle-aged widow named Silence Dogood whose witty and satirical letters covered a range of topics from courtship to education. A total of 15 Dogood letters were published, resulting in the amusement of Courant readers, several marriage proposals for the pretend Mrs. Dogood, and, ultimately, a rise in the ire of James Franklin.

• Anthony Afterwit. Mr. Afterwit, a gentleman, wrote humorous letters about married life that appeared in Benjamin Franklin’s own Pennsylvania Gazette.

• Polly Baker. Polly Baker was a pseudonym Franklin used to examine colonial society’s unequal treatment of women. She was pretend punished by society for having pretend children out of pretend wedlock while the fathers of the pretend children went pretend unpunished.

• Alice Addertongue. Alice is another middle-aged widow who wrote what amounts to a gossip column for Franklin’s Gazette in the form of scandalous stories about prominent members of society.

• Caelia Shortface and Martha Careful. These pseudonyms were used by Franklin to settle a personal dispute; they wrote letters mocking Franklin’s former employer, Samuel Keimer, who had stolen some of Franklin’s publishing ideas. Shortface and Careful’s letters were published in The American Weekly Mercury, a publication by a Keimer rival.

Busy Body. Also published in The American Weekly Mercury, Miss Body’s letters were basically gossip stories about local businessmen.

• Benevolous. Benevolous wrote letters to British newspapers while Franklin was in London. The primary focus of the letters was to correct negative statements made about Americans in the British press.

9. HE WAS A TRAVELING FOOL.

During Franklin’s life, the average person never traveled more than 20 miles from their home. Franklin, on the other hand, crossed the Atlantic Ocean eight times (the first time at age 18 and the last time at age 79) and spent 27 years of his life overseas.

10. HE THOUGHT GETTING TOGETHER WITH HIS BUDDIES TO DRINK BEER AND CHAT WAS A FANTASTIC WAY TO IGNITE SOCIAL ACTION (AS IT TURNS OUT, HE WAS RIGHT).

Franklin formed a group that he called the Junto. The group’s purpose was to gather and debate philosophical questions on topics from ethics to business. Initially composed of 12 members, the group brought together people from different backgrounds (among the originals were printers, surveyors, a cabinetmaker, a clerk, a glazier, a cobbler, and a bartender) and gathered in a tavern on Friday nights. In his autobiography, Franklin described the group as a “…club for mutual improvement.” But the group discussions resulted in not only self-improvement, but societal improvement: The Junto has been credited as the breeding ground for some of Franklin’s greatest achievements, including the establishment of the first library, the first volunteer fire departments, the first public hospital, and even the University of Pennsylvania. Makes your Friday night pub trivia team seem like a bunch of underachievers, doesn’t it?

This post originally appeared in 2011.

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15 Things You Didn't Know About Betty White
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Frederick M. Brown, Getty Images

Happy birthday, Betty White! In honor of the ever-sassy star of The Mary Tyler Moore Show and The Golden Girls's 96th birthday, let's celebrate with a collection of fun facts about her life and legacy. 

1. HER NAME IS BETTY, NOT ELIZABETH

On January 17th, 1922, in Oak Park, Illinois, the future television icon was born Betty Marion White, the only child of homemaker Christine Tess (née Cachikis) and lighting company executive Horace Logan White. In her autobiography If You Ask Me (And of Course You Won't), White explained her parents named her "Betty" specifically because they didn't like many of the nicknames derived from "Elizabeth." Forget your Beths, your Lizas, your Ellies. She's Betty.

2. SHE'S A GUINNESS WORLD RECORD HOLDER.

In the 2014 edition of the record-keeping tome, White was awarded the title of Longest TV Career for an Entertainer (Female) for her more than 70 years (and counting) in show business. The year before, Guinness gave out Longest TV Career for an Entertainer (Male) to long-time British TV host Bruce Forsyth. As both began their careers in 1939, they'd be neck-and-neck for the title, were they not separated by gender.

3. HER FIRST TELEVISION APPEARANCE IS LOST TO HISTORY.

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Even White can't remember the name of the show she made her screen debut on in 1939. But in an interview with Guinness Book of World Records, she recounted the life-changing event, saying, "I danced on an experimental TV show, the first on the west coast, in downtown Los Angeles. I wore my high school graduation dress and our Beverly Hills High student body president, Harry Bennett, and I danced the 'Merry Widow Waltz.'" 

4. WHITE'S RISE TO STARDOM WAS DERAILED BY WORLD WAR II.

Before she took off on television, White was working in theater, on radio, and as a model. But with WWII, she shelved her ambitions and joined the American Women's Voluntary Services. Her days were devoted to delivering supplies via PX truck throughout the Hollywood Hills, but her nights were spent at rousing dances thrown to give grand send-offs to soldiers set to ship out. Of that era, she told Cleveland Magazine, "It was a strange time and out of balance with everything." 

5. HER FIRST SITCOM HIT WAS IN THE EARLY 1950S.

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Co-hosting the Al Jarvis show Hollywood on Television led to White producing her own vehicle, Life With Elizabeth. As a rare female producer, she developed the show alongside emerging writer-producer George Tibbles, who'd go on to work on such beloved shows as Dennis The Menace, Leave It To Beaver, and The Munsters. Though the show is not remembered much today, in 1951 it did earn White her first Emmy nomination of 21 (so far). Of these, she's won five times.

6. WHITE LOVES A PARADE.

From 1962 to 1971, White hosted NBC's Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade alongside Bonanza's Lorne Greene. But that's not all. For 20 years (1956-1976), she was also a color commentator for NBC’s annual Tournament of Roses Parade. However, as her fame grew on CBS's The Mary Tyler Moore Show, NBC decided they should pull White (and all the rival promotion that came with her) from their parade. It was a decision that was heartbreaking for White, who told People, "On New Year's Day I just sat home feeling wretched, watching someone else do my parade."

7. SHE HAS BEEN MARRIED THREE TIMES.


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White and her first husband, Dick Barker, were married and divorced in the same year, 1945. After four months on Barker's rural Ohio chicken farm, White fled back to Los Angeles and her career as an entertainer. Soon after, she met agent Lane Allen, who became her husband in 1947, and her ex-husband in 1949 after he pushed her to quit show biz. She wouldn’t marry again until 1963, after she fell for widower/father of three/game show host Allen Ludden.

8. HER MEET-CUTE WITH HUSBAND #3 HAPPENED ON PASSWORD.

Bubbly Betty was a regular on the game show circuit, but she met her match in 1961 when she was a celebrity guest on Password, hosted by Allen Ludden. Though White initially rebuffed Ludden's engagement ring (he wore it around his neck until she changed her mind), the pair stayed together until his death in 1981. Today, their stars on the Hollywood Walk Of Fame sit side-by-side.

9. WHITE ORIGINALLY AUDITIONED FOR THE ROLE OF BLANCHE ON THE GOLDEN GIRLS.

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Producers of the series thought of White for the role of the ensemble's promiscuous party girl because she'd long played the lusty Sue Ann Nivens on The Mary Tyler Moore Show. Meanwhile, they eyed Rue McClanahan for the part of naive country bumpkin Rose Nylund because of her work as the sweet but dopey Vivian Harmon on Maude. Director Jay Sandrich was worried about typecasting, so he asked the two to switch roles in the audition. And just like that, The Golden Girls history was made.

10. IF SHE HADN'T BEEN AN ACTOR, SHE'D HAVE BEEN A ZOOKEEPER.

"Hands down," she confessed in a 2014 interview. This should come as little surprise to those aware of White's reputation as an avid animal lover and activist. Not only does she try to visit the local zoo of wherever she may travel, but also she's a supporter of the Farm Animal Reform Movement and Friends of Animals group, as well as a Los Angeles Zoo board member, who has donated "tens of thousands of dollars" over the past 40 years. In 2010, White founded a T-shirt line whose profits go to the Morris Animal Foundation.

11. SHE DIDN'T DO AS GOOD AS IT GETS BECAUSE OF AN ANIMAL CRUELTY SCENE.

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White was offered the part of Beverly Connelly, onscreen mother to Helen Hunt, in the Oscar-winning movie As Good as It Gets. But the devoted animal lover was horrified by the scene where Jack Nicholson's curmudgeonly anti-hero pitches a small dog down the trash chute of his apartment building. On The Joy Behar Show White explained, "All I could think of was all the people out there watching that movie … and if there's a dog in the building that's barking or they don't like—boom! They do it." She complained to director James L. Brooks in hopes of having the scene cut. Instead, he kept it and cast Shirley Knight in the role.

12. A FACEBOOK CAMPAIGN MADE WHITE THE OLDEST SATURDAY NIGHT LIVE HOST EVER.

In 2010, a Facebook group called Betty White To Host SNL … Please? gathered so many fans (nearly a million) and so much media attention that SNL executive producer Lorne Michaels was happy to make it happen. At 88 years old, White set a new record. Her episode, for which many of the show's female alums returned, also won rave reviews, and gave the show's highest ratings in 18 months. White won her fifth Emmy for this performance.

13. SHE IS THE OLDEST PERSON TO EARN AN EMMY NOMINATION.


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In 2014, White earned her 21st Emmy nod—and her third in a row for Outstanding Host for a Reality or Reality-Competition Program—for the senior citizen-centric prank show Betty White's Off Their Rockers. She was 92. She also holds the record for the longest span between Emmy nominations, between her first (1951) and last (so far).  

14. SHE LOVES JUNK FOOD.

The key to aging gracefully has nothing to do with health food as far as White is concerned. In 2011, her Hot in Cleveland co-star Jane Leeves dished on White's snacking habits, "She eats Red Vines, hot dogs, French fries, and Diet Coke. If that's key, maybe she's preserved because of all the preservatives." Fellow co-star Wendie Malick concurred, "She eats red licorice, like, ridiculously a lot. She seems to exist on hot dogs and French fries." 

15. SHE WANTS ROBERT REDFORD.

A photo of actor Robert Redford
Getty Images

White once gave this cheeky confession: “My answer to anything under the sun, like ‘What have you not done in the business that you’ve always wanted to do?’ is ‘Robert Redford.'” Though she has more than 110 film and television credits on her filmography, White has never worked with the Out of Africa star, who is 14 years her junior.

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