Television made its formal American debut at the 1939 World's Fair in New York City where "pictures through air" drew huge crowds to the tube-shaped RCA Pavilion. It should come as no surprise that Betty White, then 17, sang songs from The Merry Widow later that year on an experimental Los Angeles channel.
Today, one would be hard-pressed to find a merrier widow than White, now 90, whose pioneering work in the medium, a thriving seven-decade-plus career and cherished place in the hearts of millions make her a celebrated cultural gem.
"I am the luckiest woman on two feet," says White. "I didn't plan that out. I'm the oldest broad in the business."
As her hit sitcom Hot in Cleveland wades deeper into its third season tonight, she is the first to admit she had no formal career plan, other than rolling with life's punches and keeping an upbeat attitude.
"I started out in this business on a talk show [Hollywood on Television], five-and-a-half hours a day, six days a week, for four years - with no script," she recalls. In 1950, she was nominated for an Emmy as Best Actress on Television - the first year a category for women came into being.
The rest, as they say, is history, for this hip actress, comedienne, singer, author and TV personality. "I'd love to keep doing what I'm doing, particularly Hot in Cleveland," she recently told The Wall Street Journal. "Working with those girls - to get blessed with another group of women like we had on Golden Girls - is such a blessing. It's like getting struck by lightning twice. Jane Leeves, Wendie Malick and Valerie Bertinelli - I can't say how much we love one another. We miss each other [in the off-season]."
Hot in Cleveland orbits around three fabulous LA women "of a certain age" who are best friends: the eternal optimist Melanie (Bertinelli), a fortysomething, recently divorced mother; the delightfully vain soap star Victoria (Malick); and Joy (Leeves), the eyebrow-styling queen of Beverly Hills.
Their lives are forever altered when their plane, headed to Paris for a girls-only celebration, unexpectedly lands in Cleveland. In this new "promised land", they soon rediscover themselves - living under one roof and battling their lippy caretaker Elka (White), an old-school widow who cooks for them and swings back into the dating game at their urging.
"Certainly, you wake up in the morning and you can't wait to go to work - that's a nice business to be in," adds White, the last living Golden Girl, who loves her role.
The new season of Hot in Cleveland spins much of its comedy about Elka's romantic entanglements. In the season opener a week ago, she was forced to choose between her thought-to-be-dead hubby Bobby (the insult-comedy legend Don Rickles), her ex boyfriend, Max, and her new boyfriend/fiancÚ, Fred.
In tonight's outing, Funeral Crashers, when the dry cleaners lose Melanie's favourite dress, Elka takes them funeral crashing to track it down. As well, Joy and Victoria are forced to confront their pasts as Elka is reunited with someone who may figure in her future: Roy (John Mahoney of Frasier fame).
Viewers of a certain age will enjoy a rare appearance tonight by Orson Bean, 84, White's game-show pal of the 1960s. Off-camera, White supports animal-welfare groups and enjoys a contented life with her golden retriever, Pontiac, in Los Angeles.
Younger stars can only envy her career, but she gets "ticked off" when they whine about the media and paparazzi. "If you consider [fame] a curse, then shame on you. You ought to be grateful for the people who have supported you. And make the most of it and enjoy it."
* Hot in Cleveland airs at 7.30pm tonight on OSN Comedy HD