It's hard to imagine Hollywood without the iconic Betty White. The cheerful actress has been a fixture in the entertainment industry over the last seven decades, and despite being in her late 90s, she has no plans to retire anytime soon.
But what many people don't know about White is the fact that acting wasn't really her first choice when it came down to picking a career.
Just like many little girls, White dreamed of becoming a lot of things, including a singer.
"I took very serious singing lessons," she said. "My mind and heart were set on an operatic career. Unfortunately, my voice had no such plans. This didn’t deter me one total!"
When she realized she didn't have the voice of an angel, White decided to pursue writing. “I wrote the graduation play at Horace Mann Grammar School in Beverly Hills," explained White. "And, of course, as any red-blooded American girl would do, I wrote myself into the lead."
She received standing ovation at the end of the show, and she claims that "that's where the ham in me first showed."
Motivated by the success of her first play, White decided to try her luck in showbiz, but Hollywood didn't initially welcome her with open arms. It would take another couple of years of taking on unpaid roles, modelling, and reading commercials before she got her big break. She landed her own radio show and became the co-host of Hollywood on Television alongside Al Jarvis in the late 1940s.
In 1951, White received her first Emmy Award nomination for Best Actress on Television, and she has since starred in hundreds of television and film projects, and broke a number of world records.
Despite all her success, there was another, much different career path that White wanted to pursue well before she even started taking singing lessons.
White's parents, Horace and Tess, moved to California from Illinois when she was just two years old, which is also when her love for nature began to develop. She credits her doting mother and father for being "directly responsible for my passion for nature in general and animals in particular. We wound up with 26 dogs once."
Being an only child, White's parents would take her on adventures in the High Sierras, and the family would often spend summers camping in Yellowstone National Park.
"The guide would take the horses out and leave us there," White recalled in a interview a few years ago. "We wouldn’t see anybody for three weeks."
As she got older, White knew she wanted to work with animals, and had her sights set on becoming a park ranger. Unfortunately, White grew up during a time when only men held the position of a ranger, and she was eventually forced to place that dream on the back burner.
Even though White ended up becoming an entertainer, she has used her platform to advocate for animal welfare, and has dedicated a lot of her time and energy to protecting the wilderness.
Over the years, she even turned down projects that may have a negative impact on animals.
"It was the Jim Brooks’ movie As Good As It Gets," White told Smithsonian Magazine. "They had this puppy dog, this adorable puppy, that at one point they dropped down a laundry chute. It landed on a pile of laundry in the story line, and I turned down the role. There are a lot of people in apartments who would think that was a solution. It would either be funny to do that or it would be a solution to a barking neighbor or something like that. It certainly wouldn’t always have a happy ending. So I said as long as that scene was in the film, I wouldn’t do it."
In 2010, White's lifelong dream of being a ranger finally came true when she was recognized as an honorary forest ranger by the U.S. Forest Service.
"I am sorry you couldn't join us before," U.S. Forest Service Chief Tom Tidwell told White. "Judging from your illustrious career, you would have made marvelous contributions to our agency and to the cause of conservation across the United States. Betty, you are a role model for little girls – for all of us – never to give up on our dreams."
During her remarks, The Golden Girls star expressed her excitement over the honor and how happy her parents would've been.
"I cannot thank you enough," White said. "As excited as I am today, as grateful as I am – I know two people who would be over the moon – my mom and dad."
She added, "In my heart I've been a forest ranger all my life, but now I'm official."
These days, around 40% of rangers are women, and there's no doubt that White has inspired many of them to follow their dreams.