Betty White and Allen Ludden were married for 18 years, until his untimely passing from stomach cancer in 1981, and by all accounts, they were blissfully happy together. Although she was only 59 years old when she lost her beloved spouse, White never remarried, famously saying, “Once you’ve had the best, who needs the rest?” After White’s death, just weeks before her 100th birthday, it was reported that the last word she ever said was “Allen.”
We asked noted Betty White fan Paula Bernstein, author of How to Be Golden, what made White and Ludden’s marriage so successful. “Betty took a chance on love twice with two brief ‘practice marriages’ before finding the real thing. She knew enough not to settle in a relationship that wasn’t working for her, which is why her first two marriages didn’t last long.” (White’s marriage to Dick Barker, her first spouse, lasted just six months; she was married to Lane Allen from 1947 – 1949.)
“Marriage was never the end goal for her,” says Bernstein. “She was looking for love — and someone who was supportive rather than competitive of her career, as her first two husbands were. Rather than stick around out of a sense of duty, she knew it was better to be alone than to stay with the wrong person. She was reluctant to marry when she met Allen, but there was no denying the special connection they had, and she, ultimately, decided to take the great leap one final time.”
Bernstein’s take on White’s last words? “Betty always said she wasn’t afraid of death because she would finally know ‘the answer’ of what happens to you when you pass. It was something her mother told her when she was young, and it stuck with her, and was a great comfort. Whenever she [was] asked over the years about what she hopes will happen after she dies, Betty said she hopes to go to Heaven and be reunited with Allen. So it makes sense she’d be thinking of him in her last moments.”
When White and Allen married, he was a widower with three children — not to mention, he lived in New York City while White was a longtime California girl (although she was born in Illinois, White moved to California with her family when she was just over a year old). Here, in an excerpt from her book, Bernstein shares the “relationship rules” that kept White and Allen feeling like honeymooners throughout their years together.
Betty’s Rules for a Happy Relationship
Be true equals.
Betty said that Allen was more than a husband and a friend. They supported each other’s professional endeavors. They were a team, always looking out for each other.
Betty hadn’t planned on getting married a third time, and she wasn’t counting on being a stepmother or moving to New York. But she knew that true love doesn’t strike often, and when it does, you sometimes have to move Heaven and Earth — or at least temporarily move to New York City.
Be honest, but gentle.
Allen would give honest, supportive feedback, and Betty tried to do the same in return. Betty felt honesty was crucial, but that doesn’t mean you’ve got to be blunt in your delivery. “Being frank is fine, but not to the point of brutality,” Betty said.
Don’t let the little things get to you.
Everyone has annoying habits and makes occasional mistakes. Overlook those little annoyances and be like Betty. Emphasize the positive. Easier said than done, we know. Try a simple tip Betty has shared: If you’re tempted to say something you may later regret, leave the room and take a deep breath.
From the book How to Be Golden by Paula Bernstein. Reprinted by permission of Running Press, part of the Perseus division of Hachette Book Group. Copyright © 2021 by Paula Bernstein. (Buy from Amazon, $20)
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