Betty White recently celebrated her 96th birthday. Privately, she’ll tell you that she’s glad she became an actress because she loves her work, but also because it’s given her a platform to advocate for animals. And, boy, does she adore animals, and she been advocated for animals – both wildlife and pets for about as many years as she’s been around. I’ve interviewed her at least six or seven times, and while she at this time is not available for interviews – I thought I’d share this conversation with Betty from 2013.
Betty White is the energizer bunny. “It’s so silly, she says the 91-year old beloved actress by telephone. “I’m just an old broad who’s been around the block. People can’t get rid of me, it’s ridiculous.”
Thing is who would ever want to “get rid” of White. TV producers continue to seek out White because America can’t get enough of her. For her 90th, President Barack Obama read a “love letter” to the performer who began her career when television began 65 years ago.
No TV careers has been as celebrated or as durable. It’s not easy to maintain a career in show for one decade let alone six. Is it a matter of talent – as the expression goes – the cream rises to the top?
“No, not true,” the cream goes to the hips,” says White without missing a beat.
White has the sitcom midas touch, from “Life with Elizabeth” (in the 1950’s) to “The Mary Tyler Moore Show” to “The Golden Girls.” Today, she’s on TVland’s “Hot in Cleveland” co-starring Valerie Bertinelli, Jane Leeves, Wendy Mallick and fellow MTM show alum Georgia Engle, who played Georgette on the MTM Show.
White and Engle reunite with Valerie Harper (recently diagnosed with a terminal cancer), Mary Tyler Moore and Cloris Leachman (“Rhoda,” “Mary,” and “Phyllis”) on upcoming episode of “Hot in Cleveland.”
“Wonderful, isn’t it?” cheers White. “I love those girls,” she adds.
Still among all the myriad of TV appearances, one of White’s favorites was a short-lived series in 1971 which she co-starred celebrities and their pets, called “The Pet Set.” Folks like Bob Crane (“Hogan’s Heroes”) or Merv Griffin showed up with their pets. White recalls one show featured a water buffalo, not a celebrity pet exactly, but from the Los Angeles Zoo (where White has been involved for over 50 years), and her association with the Morris Animal Foundation goes back about as many years.
Check in Google images, and you can find White posing cheerfully with everything from a chimpanzee to a giraffe. However, her favorite might be a surprise. Aside from a dog or cat, if she could “come back to earth” as any animal – she chooses, a moose. “I know, everyone laughs, but I’m not joking,” she says.
Moose are known for their nasty tempers, charging first and asking questions later, which doesn’t sound like the amiable Betty White America loves. “Well, you haven’t caught me on my bad days,” she says.
But she most of all she wants to talk about cats these days.
“It drives me crazy when I hear people say what they do about cats; oh, that cats are so independent they don’t care or that they are conniving. I know instantly these people have never had a cat,” she says. “They see cats from a distance, they don’t really know cats.”
She continues, “Cats can be so devoted. They think cats don’t love you like a dog loves you. That’s not true.” She pauses and adds. “My last cat was a beautiful Himalayan, he found me, just appearing one day. I thought I’d keep Mr. Bob (as in ‘Bob-Cat’) for a few days until I found the owners. Well, Mr. Bob wound up staying with me for 11 years. He was such a people-oriented guy. As my knees bent down to sit down, he was on my lap.”
She continues, “Our pets are constantly telling us things, with a purr, a bark, a tail-wag, a smile, a paw in our lap,” she says. “We’re not always so good at paying attention to them, but they’re sure good at paying attention to us. We should talk to our pets, too! What else can we do? We don’t have a tail to wag. I’d like to talk to Robert Redford, but otherwise dogs and cats are more interesting – I think – than many people.”
Instead of counting sheep or puppies, White says, “I sometimes put myself to sleep going back to the beginning, thinking about how that first relationship between dogs and people happened; I think it’s fascinating.”
Will she slow down? “From what?” she asks. “I just keep going as long as my health holds out, you won’t be getting rid of me anytime soon.” And that’s just the way America wants it.