Betty White Looks Back and Ahead on Her Golden Career
Betty White and the word "retire" don't go together. The word isn't even in her vocabulary, she says.
"Why should I retire from something I love doing? You can't get rid of me that way!" she tells TVGuide.com. "It's been 61 years. It doesn't seem that long, but I've been so lucky to kind of do a little of everything. How lucky can one person be?"
Watch clips of Betty White
Longevity in show business requires a little bit more than luck. White, who turned 88 on Jan. 17, is working more than ever these days, proving that her charm and wit are timeless. In six decades, White's ubiquity on the big and small screens has made her an indelible part of entertainment, netting her six Emmys and a place in the Television Hall of Fame. She will get another honor Saturday: the Life Achievement Award at the 16th Annual Screen Actors Guild Awards (8/7c, TNT and TBS).
"I keep waiting for them to call and say, 'Whoops! We made a mistake! We got the wrong name.'" White says. "I can't be coy about it. I am so excited. I nearly fainted. It's just a tremendous honor and I'm just so appreciative."
Sandra Bullock, her co-star in The Proposal, will present the award. White says she does not have a prepared speech. "Everybody works differently, but that's just the way I work," she says. "But I have to put my mental editor to work because I kind of have a bawdy sense of humor and I have to watch it!"
See photos of White throughout the years
That saucy humor, combined with her sweet but sassy personality, has been White's trademark since she got her big break in 1949, flexing her ad-libbing skills on Hollywood on Television, Al Jarvis' live variety show, six days a week — a daunting task sure to flummox many performers. "What a great way to learn about television. It kept you on your toes," she says.
She started hosting the show in 1952, the same year she launched a sitcom, Life With Elizabeth — for which she won her first Emmy — and then racked up a slew of hosting gigs and guest spots on sitcoms and game shows, most notably on Password. "I loved Password for not only the game, but I also kind of liked the guy in the middle," White says, referring to host Allen Ludden, whom she married in 1963. Ludden died from cancer in 1981.
Merging her two "great joys" — show business and animals — White created The Pet Set in 1971, a spotlight show on celebrities and their pets that made her feel "like a kid in the candy store." "We'd do an interview with the pet and we'd send the pet off, but I'd keep the celebrity as my co-host through the show," she says. "Whatever kind of dog or cat or whatever he had, I would do a breed spot and show all the varieties of that particular breed. So I was up to my derriere in dogs and cats, which was wonderful!"
Betty White: Animal work gives me the greatest joy
Then came the tart and man-hungry "Happy Homemaker," Sue Ann Nivens, on The Mary Tyler Moore Show — for which she won two Emmys. She struck Emmy gold again for her charmingly dim Rose Nylund on The Golden Girls. Unsurprisingly, she names both iconic roles as career highlights.
"That was such fun. But it's the writing that you get. Trust me, an actor can't do it unless it's on the page! Actors will take all the credit in the world, but if it's not on the page, it doesn't work. I've been blessed," she says. "And how great that [The Golden Girls] still re-runs? Flipping the dial, some rerun from 100 years ago comes on and I watch and go 'I never did that!' I have no recollection of it at all!"
In the last two decades, White has also dipped into drama with turns on The Practice and Boston Legal, and an extended arc on The Bold and the Beautiful. "I never imagined any of this would happen," she says. "It's the typical actor syndrome. Once a job is over, you'll never work again, until the phone rings. It's been wonderful lately. And I have no regrets at all. A couple of them, I'm glad I didn't take!"
White has already shot a Disney comedy, You Again, starring Kristen Bell, Jamie Lee Curtis and Sigourney Weaver, and has booked a guest spot in the TV Land comedy pilot Hot in Cleveland.
And after that?
"What else do I have lined up? Well, it's only ... the morning!" she quips. "I don't have anything else right now, but I'm available!"