Meet Sue Ann Nivens–Betty White’s Other Great Role

Before she starred as Rose in The Golden Girls, Betty White delighted television audiences with her portrayal of Sue Ann Nivens, the Happy Homemaker on The Mary Tyler Moore Show. She made her first appearance in the initial episode of the fourth season of MTM. The show’s producers expected it to be a one-time guest shot for White, but audience reaction prompted them to bring her back–again and again. Here are four episodes featuring Sue Ann, some of the funniest episodes in the entire series.

The Lars Affair (Season 4, Episode 1)

Phyllis (Cloris Leachman) sprays Sue Ann (Betty White) with chocolate, all over Sue Ann's white apron.
Cloris Leachman, Betty White

Here’s where we first meet Sue Ann, and we quickly learn that the saccharine personality hides a less-than-charming side. She’s fooling around with Lars Lindstrom, Phyllis’ (Cloris Leachman) husband. It’s only when confronted with the possibility of losing her career that she gives up on him, but the road it takes Mary. Phyllis and Sue Ann to get to that point is hilarious. This episode has one of Leachman’s funniest performances of the series. Sadly, we also lost her in 2021.

The Dinner Party (Season 4, Episode 10)

Sue Ann (Betty White) checks the oven to see why her dessert failed.
Betty White

When Mary has 24 hours to plan a dinner party for a U. S. Congresswoman, Sue Ann steps in to prepare a gourmet meal for her guests. But that isn’t what makes this episode so revealing when it comes to the Happy Homemaker. Watch what happens when she discovers her on-air oven wasn’t plugged in, ruining the dessert she so meticulously prepared.

The New Sue Ann (Season 5, Episode 7)

Sue Ann (Betty White) proudly introduces her protege to the station manager.
Linda Kelsey, Betty White

A bubbly 23-year-old flatters herself into a job as Sue Ann’s stand-in, only to little by little reveal herself as the career-climbing Eve Harrington character that she actually is. But Sue Ann doesn’t take it sitting down. There’s no revenge like the revenge of a Happy Homemaker.

Sue Ann Falls in Love (Season 6, Episode 23)

Sue Ann (Betty White) breaks down after Mary (Mary Tyler Moore) reveals the truth about Sue Ann's new boyfriend.
Betty White, Mary Tyler Moore

Sue Ann has met a man good enough to make her forget Lou Grant (Ed Asner, who also died in 2021). He’s introduced her to the great outdoors, she’s introduced him to the great indoors. Well, you get the idea. But is he as good a man as Sue Ann believes? Only Mary knows.

I should mention that in addition to White, Leachman and Asner, we also lost Gavin MacLeod, who played Murray Slaughter, in 2021. It was a sad year for MTM fans, but the show lives on. The Mary Tyler Moore Show can currently be seen on Hulu, and probably some other places I don’t know about. Check it out!

4 Replies to “Meet Sue Ann Nivens–Betty White’s Other Great Role”

    1. I know her role in The Golden Girls was popular, but Sue Ann was my favorite and a complete change from Rose. I want younger viewers to check it out. In other words, I completely agree with you!

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