Joyce Bulifant Shares How Betty White Gave Her ‘Permission To Tell Naughty Jokes’


Years in the industry can inevitably form special bonds that breach beyond that of colleagues into proper friendship. Such was the case for Joyce Bulifant when she met and worked with Betty White, not once but multiple times on different projects.

The Golden Girls star passed away on December 31, and although her approaching 100th birthday did not make her death sudden in the traditional sense, White had been as lively as ever and emerging testimonies from those she knew further reveal the zeal for life and fun and laughter White carried and encouraged others to bask in. As a result, Bulifant learned some important lessons about letting go thanks to her Mary Tyler Moore co-star.


Joyce Bulifant meets a friend for life in Betty White

LOVE THY NEIGHBOR, Joyce Bulifant, 1973 / Everett Collection

It was the early 1970s and The Mary Tyler Moore Show was introducing audiences to the kooky cast of the WJM news program. Sprinkled in there were noteworthy appearances by White and Bulifant. White was the Happy Homemaker herself Sue Ann Nivens while Bulifant was Marie, wife of Murray Slaughter and mother of several children. The two actresses would cross paths several times throughout their careers and the common denominator was always unabashed laughter, joy, and fun.

THE MARY TYLER MOORE SHOW, Betty White, (1974), 1970-77 / Everett Collection

RELATED: Betty White Filmed A Special Video For Her Fans Just Before Her Death

“We were together on set, but also on game shows too,” Bulifant explained. “We appeared on ‘Match Game,’ and I sat in the same seat that she did to keep it warm for her until she came back. I just remember her being so warm, joyful and welcoming to me. She was always so kind, not just to me, but to everyone she met.” Privately, though, even White had her worries; she had reservations against joining The Mary Tyler Moore Show and dragging down the successful program.

But outwardly, she pushed an agenda of humor Bulifant recalls easily to this day.

Permission to relax instead of worry

Bulifant confirmed that White’s fears were unfounded, asserting, “She brought her own wonderful sense of humor to that role. She made Sue Ann flirtatious and deliciously fun for everyone. She was able to make innuendos without being salacious. She certainly had a gift.” Indeed, she allowed others to try the same tastefully salacious approach for themselves. “One thing I loved about her is that she gave me permission to tell naughty jokes,” Bulifant added. “She said that whenever I told her naughty jokes, it sounded like a nursery rhyme. So that gave me permission.” White’s husband, the late Allen Ludden, shared this mentality, “made everyone feel right at home” when playing Password, and relentlessly supported White in her career as she supported his, according to Bulifant.

HOT IN CLEVELAND, Betty White, (Season 3, ep. 308, aired Jan. 18, 2012), 2010-15. photo: ©TV Land / courtesy Everett Collection

White’s impact is a large footnote in Bulifant’s career and her reflections of the years spent in the industry. “We all felt that Betty was going to live forever,” shared Bulifant following the actress’s death just two weeks shy of her 100th birthday. “But she will live forever in all of our hearts because wherever she went, she just made you feel fun and joyous.” Just as so many people feel that warmth in their hearts thanks to White, she kept hers open for any who needed a place to call home; Bulifant recalls White joining her without question in supporting an organization for abused children, and when White was honored, she took time to thank Bulifant by name for getting her there. Travel and personal loss saw the two lose contact for a time, but White’s was an impact on her life Bulifant feels to this day.

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