MADISON, Maine — Betty White had a career in Hollywood that spanned decades, but she considered her marriage to Allen Ludden among her greatest accomplishments.
In a 2011 interview with Anderson Cooper, when asked why she never remarried after Ludden died of cancer in 1981, White responded, "I had the love of my life. If you've had the best, who needs the rest?"
White, who would have turned 100 years old on Monday, was married to the game show host and actor for 18 years. But it would take the widower a year to convince her to marry him — a year White would later describe as the biggest regret of her life. In 2015 she said, "I spent a whole year — wasted a whole year— that Allen and I could have had together, saying no, I wouldn't marry him.'"
The pair met in 1961 on Ludden's game show "Password," shortly after his first wife died of cancer. According to Jenny Oby, author of "Lakewood Theatre," Ludden was looking to make plans the following summer that would be fun for his three children. That's when he decided to do summer theater that would take him to Cape Cod, Massachusetts, and then to the Lakewood Theater in Madison, right outside of Skowhegan.
"It is the oldest continuously running summer theater in the country," Oby said of the theater, which opened its doors in 1901 and only shut down for two years during World War II.
White and Ludden played opposite each other as a married couple in "Critic's Choice." The actors lived for three weeks in cabins close to one another at the picturesque theater on the Wesserunsett Lake.
"Betty described it as being so quiet and peaceful, and they were the only ones around enjoying boating and swimming and hiking. And then at night, all these people would come out of nowhere to fill the theater seats," Oby said.
In Madison, White got to know Ludden and his children better, but she was also dating a man named Phillip Cochran, who was an officer in the U.S. Army Air Corps and the U.S. Army Air Force.
Betty White & Allen Ludden
One night, Cochran came to see his girlfriend perform. According to Oby, Ludden knew Cochran was in the audience and drew out a romantic scene with White at the end of the play. Cochran could be heard clearing his throat in the crowd.
When the summer was over, Ludden flew to Los Angeles often to pursue White. White had been married twice before, both short-lived marriages, and she was not eager to dive back into the institution. White declined Ludden's many marriage proposals.
"At one point [Ludden] even bought her a wedding ring and pushed it across the table at dinner and said, 'You might as well take this now because one day you are going to put it on,'" Oby said.
White declined, and Ludden put the ring on a necklace he wore until she finally consented.
The couple were wed in Las Vegas on June 14, 1963, and considered their summer trip back to the Lakewood Theater their honeymoon. The couple would perform one more time at Lakewood Theater, in 1968.
White and Ludden were only married for 18 years when Ludden died of stomach cancer. Maine played a small part in what was by all measure a legendary love story.