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Facts About Tess Curtis White, Betty White’s Mother

Born in 1899, Tess Curtis White was the mother of the famous actress and comedian Betty White. As well as having a famous daughter, Tess Curtis White led a long and fruitful life, living to the age of 86.

Early Life

Born 25 July 1899 in Chicago, Illinois, to Greek father Nicholas Cachikis, and Margaret Curtis Hobbs Cachikis, who was of English and Welsh extraction but born in Canada. She had a younger brother named Thomas born in 1907. At the age of 10, Tess was living with her parents, grandmother, and brother. Her father’s occupation was a wagon driver, working in the ice cream industry.

Marriage and moving to California

Tess married her husband Horace on February 17, 1921, their daughter Betty was born in 1922 whilst they still lived in Oak Park, Illinois, but by 1925 the family had moved to Pasadena, California. The Whites moved to California during the era of the depression when many people moved west in order to find work. Tess’s husband built crystal radios and sold them as a way of making money, according to Betty, her father’s radios would sometimes be swapped for other goods, including dogs.

By 1938 Tess and her family were living in Beverley Hills, the 1940 federal census lists Tess Curtis White living with her husband and daughter in Los Angeles. The census also shows that all 3 family members had graduated high school, but daughter Betty wasn’t listed as either in education or employment. Horace worked in the electric industry as a sales representative, earning over $5,000 a year. In today’s money, that salary would be over $100,000, so it’s fair to say that the Whites were living very comfortably.

Tess was a homemaker, it was usual at the time for wives to stay at home, but given her husband’s salary, she would not have needed to work. Tess and Horace would take their daughter on family vacations to Sierra, Nevada, which sparked young Betty’s interest in wildlife. So much so that Betty at one point aspired to be a ranger but was unable to do so as women were not allowed to be rangers at the time.

Famous daughter

Betty White became interested in performing in high school, where at Horace Mann School she wrote and played the lead in a graduation play. After leaving school, Betty and her friend sang songs from The Merry Widow on one of the earliest television shows, as in 1939 television was in early development. After World War Two, Betty looked for work with film studios but was harshly told that she wasn’t photogenic enough, so instead, she looked for work in radio.

After landing roles playing bit parts and reading commercials, Betty was given her own show, and in 1949 appeared as a co-host on a local television program with Al Jarvis called Hollywood on Television. After Jarvis left in 1952, Betty hosted the show alone, each show being five and half hours long and broadcast six days a week. By 1953 Betty was on national television, with the comedy sketch show Life with Elizabeth which ran until 1955.

First Lady of Gameshows

Betty was a staple of the talk show and gameshow circuits, earning the moniker First Lady of Gameshows. She appeared regularly on The Tonight Show during both Jack Paar and Jonny Carson’s tenure, and as a celebrity guest on Password, marrying the show’s host Allen Ludden in 1963. Betty continued to act as well, appearing as the fictional Senator Elizabeth Ames Adams in the feature film Advise & Consent.

In the 1970s Betty appeared in the fourth series of The Mary Tyler Moore Show as the character Sue Ann Nivens, a role that Betty described as the highlight of her career. However, the biggest hit of Betty’s career was playing Rose Nyland in The Golden Girls which ran from 1985 to 1992. For The Golden Girls Betty won an Emmy for Outstanding Actress in a Comedy Series.

Betty would continue to work for many years, her last television appearance being on Saturday Night Live in 2015. Betty was the oldest host of SNL when she hosted the show in 2010 at the age of 88. Betty received the Guinness World Record for the “Longest TV career by an entertainer” in 2014.

Tess Curtis White’s legacy

Sadly, Tess’s husband Horace passed away in 1963 at the age of 64. Tess never remarried and lived to the age of 86, passing away in 1985 when her daughter was at the height of her career. She was survived by her daughter Beth, who herself lived to the age of 99. Although Tess had no grandchildren, she brought one of the most beloved figures in 20th-century entertainment into the world, which is an extraordinary legacy.

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