Estimated read time: 2-3 minutes
This archived news story is available only for your personal, non-commercial use. Information in the story may be outdated or superseded by additional information. Reading or replaying the story in its archived form does not constitute a republication of the story.
THE SET — As the world now knows, actress, comedian, and animal activist, Betty White, died at the end of 2021 just 16 days shy of her 100th birthday.
White began her television career in 1945 and always stayed active as an entertainer. As part of her birthday celebration, she even recorded a message to her fans just 10 days before her death.
She is best known for two television shows: "The Mary Tyler Moore Show" and "The Golden Girls." But what she's really known for is her comedic genius, whether she's playing a character or being herself on a talk show.
White's comedic timing is arguably unparalleled. It's in large part due to the fact that she never rushed through a scene or a punchline. She knew how to hold for as many beats as needed to make every punchline land with, well, a terrific punch.
Since her death, a clip from "The Golden Girls" has been in high circulation on the internet, and it's a perfect illustration of her control as an actress and comedian. The scene is referred to as "the herring war" from an episode called "The Way We Met" in the last season.
White's character, Rose Nylund, was known for telling the most ridiculous stories from the fake midwestern town, St. Olaf, and her Scandinavian heritage. It was clear in the series that it was sometimes difficult for her co-stars to not burst into laughter during St. Olaf stories, but "the herring war" broke them all.
Watch the video to hear Rose's full story and see her co-stars crumble out of character.
It is rumored (I've yet to find a reliable source) that the story was improvised by White, completely catching her co-stars, Rue McClanahan and Bea Arthur, by surprise. But they gamely played along and did their best to keep the ball moving. Meanwhile, Betty kept in character, piling it on and taking the long pauses she needed to make each punchline crack like a whip.
It's truly beautiful to behold.