2021’s wasn’t a terribly great year and in fact it took several talented folks from us, but it threw one final gut punch with the news of Betty White’s death on New Year’s Eve. Just a few weeks ahead of her much publicised 100th birthday, the vaunted actor passed away, leaving behind a pretty lengthy career spanning several decades.
Through White’s lifetime, she had a handful of nerdy roles that she jumped into with gusto, some of which we’ve assembled here. Some you may remember, others you may have forgotten you remember, but she was fun all of them for the time she was in them.
This is perhaps the big one. As Greendale professor June Bauer, White first showed up in the season two premiere “Anthropolgy 101.” She already makes a strong impression when she casually uses a blowgun on Starburns, but then she shoots a homemade gun at Jeff (Joel McHale) and immediately tries to choke him out. Already delightful in a show full of weirdoes, but it gets better when she raps with Troy (Donald Glover) and Abed (Danny Pudi) to close out the episode.
The Grim Adventures of Billy & Mandy
Billy and Mandy was a great and strange show back in the day, and a strange supporting cast that helped carry it to cult classic greatness. White only showed up for an episode in the first season, but as Mrs. Doolin, she’s a lot of fun for the limited time she has. She’s casually strange in a way that would later help define the show, and her knack for beating the Grim Reaper at anything demanded more episodes to flesh that out. And her laugh is still pretty chilling to this day.
Studio Ghibli’s 2008 hit Ponyo had a fairly stacked cast of celebrities for its English dub, and White was among them. In the film, she voiced Yoshie, one of the senior citizen members who takes a shine to young Sōsuke and Ponyo. Ghibli films are known for their charming characters, and Yoshie was no exception. Yoshie played off her cohorts Toki and Noriko extremely well, and White’s voice was just a natural fit for the warmness that typically encompasses Ghibli movies.
Prep & Landing Stocking Stuffer: Operation: Secret Santa
White had previously voiced Mrs. Claus before in a 1996 CBS animated special, and she returned to that role again for an Emmy-winning Disney short in 2010. The short itself is pretty good, but there’s just something fun about hearing White’s voice transition from a sweet old lady to giving a mission briefing like she’s in a spy thriller. She’s got the perfect voice for both, and it’s a shame she only got to do this particular role once.
Back in the days where Disney movies would later receive TV spinoffs, there was a two-season series for Hercules. As the Goddess of Family and Hearth, White’s take on Hestia was that of a domestic housewife who took pride in her extravagant cooking. But because it was the 90s, the punchline would always be that it would then get ruined somehow.
Tina Fey’s workplace comedy was always a weird show with often larger than life takes on the assortment of celebrity stars that graced the series. When Tracy Jordan called White to feel out if she’d be the third in a string of celebrity deaths, things took a reversal as she proudly declared that she’d be the one to outlive him. Short as it was, it was a fun rivalry all the same.
Return to the Batcave: The Misadventures of Adam & Burt
This 2003 made-for-TV film based on the original 60s Batman series was a fun send up of the characters was both a fun spoof and celebration of the characters that Adam West and Burt Ward inhabited for two years. When it came time for the requisite wall climbing scene, which had already featured a good run of guest celebrities, the film brought in White to give the Dynamic Duo a verbal lashing. She’s maybe the only one who could get the two to tiptoe up a building.
Steve Miner’s 1999 horror film about a big arse crocodile in a Maine lake is an absurd cult classic you can’t help but love. As Mrs. Bickerman, White brings a strangeness to an already strange movie as she treats that aforementioned croc like another pet on her farm. (Is it safe to feed bread crumbs to baby crocodiles?) You could argue that this movie helped White endure as a piece of pop culture through the 21st century and to her passing. Whether that’s true or not is up to you, but one thing that is true is that her backtalking the cops is just great.
In one of her final roles, White shows up very briefly at the start of Toy Story 4, as Bonnie’s old toy Bitey White. More substantially, she returns for the spinoff series, Forky Asks a Question to give Forky (Tony Hale) some advice on what love is. It’s a funny segment, helped by the other old toys, all of which have cute names named after their respective actors: Carl Reiner as Carl Reineroceros, Carol Burnett as Charol Burnett, and Mel Brooks as Melephant Brooks. If you’ve ever wanted to see old TV actors get caught in a love square as children’s toys, it’s not a bad way to spend 7 minutes.