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When Betty White died at the age of 99 on New Year’s Eve, the nation’s collective heart was broken. However, White endured her own heartbreak when she lost her husband, Allen Ludden, 40 years ago. She never remarried and seemingly never fully recovered from his passing.
According to Vicki Lawrence, White’s close friend with whom she worked on “The Carol Burnett Show” and “Mama’s Family” in the 1970s and ’80s, shared that White was thinking of her late husband just before her death.
Lawrence told The Hollywood Reporter she called Carol Burnett after she heard the news.
“She said she spoke to Betty’s assistant, who was with her when she passed, and she said the last word out of her mouth was ‘Allen,'” Lawrence told THR. “That’s so lovingly sweet. I hope that is true.”
She said the marriage of Betty White and Allen Ludden was unlike most Hollywood relationships.
“They were a lovely couple, and they were adorable together,” Lawrence said. “She drove the car he gave her for as long as I can remember. She wore the same ring he gave her as long as I’ve known her. That was her love story.”
Allen Ludden’s Early Years
Born Allen Packard Ellsworth on Oct. 5, 1917, in Mineral Point, Wisconsin, Ludden was the first child of Elmer Ellsworth, an ice dealer, and his wife, Leila M. Allen. Ludden’s father died during the influenza epidemic in 1919. His mother married Homer Ludden Jr. when Allen was about 5 years old, and he took on his stepfather’s surname. The family moved to Texas when he was still a small child.
Ludden studied English and dramatics at the University of Texas, graduating with Phi Beta Kappa honors in 1940 and receiving his Master of Arts in English in 1941. He served in the U.S. Army, where he received a Bronze Star. By the late 1940s, he had begun a career as a youth adviser in magazine columns and on radio, receiving a Peabody Award in 1950 for his radio show. He also wrote several books for teens and young adults.
Allen Ludden Becomes A TV Personality
Building on his experience with students, Ludden accepted the role of host on a radio/TV game show called the “G.E. College Bowl” in 1953. On the show, two teams of college students answered questions to win scholarship money.
In 1961, Allen Ludden became the host of the CBS series “Password,” which ran through 1975, ending each episode with the phrase, “So long, see you tomorrow, I hope.” He began hosting “Password Plus,” an updated version of the game, in 1979, but stepped down in 1980 due to health issues.
Ludden also hosted “Liar’s Club,” “Win With the Stars,” “Stumpers!,” the original pilot for “The Joker’s Wild” and a talk-variety show called “Allen Ludden’s Gallery.”
Allen Ludden As Husband And Father
Shortly after college, Ludden married Margaret McGloin. Together, they had three children, David, Martha and Sarah. Ludden and his first wife had been wed for 18 years when she died of cancer in 1961.
That year, Allen Ludden met Betty White when she appeared on the first season of “Password.”
White had married and divorced twice (her first marriage started and ended in 1945, while her second lasted from 1947-1949) before meeting Ludden on the set of “Password,” on which she was a guest. He was smitten with her early on, but she was hesitant to take another chance. After Ludden proposed several times, White finally said yes and the two tied the knot in 1963.
White once told Oprah that her only regret as far as Ludden was concerned was that she didn’t take him up on the offer of marriage earlier.
“I spent a whole year, wasted a whole year that Allen and I could have had together, saying, ‘No, I wouldn’t marry him. No, I won’t. No, I won’t leave California. No, I won’t move to New York,'” she told Winfrey in a 2015 interview. “I wasted a whole year we could have had together.”
“But we made it,” she added. “We finally did.”
Allen Ludden’s Death Took Place More Than 40 Years Before White’s—But She Never Forgot
In 1980, while the couple was in the process of building their dream home, Ludden was diagnosed with stomach cancer. He died a year later, just three days shy of their 18th wedding anniversary. He was 62.
“I don’t think Betty ever feared passing because she always wanted to be with her most beloved husband, Allen Ludden. She believed she would be with him again,” White’s longtime agent and friend Jeff Witjas said in a statement after White’s death.
Vicki Lawrence said she and her husband were watching a compilation of clips from “The Golden Girls” following White’s death.
“Al and I were watching them and laughing out loud, and thought, ‘This is exactly what she would want us to do,'” Lawrence told The Hollywood Reporter. “She would want us to laugh and remember and love and enjoy and believe that she’s in heaven with Allen.”