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Betty White always seemed like she was in on the joke

  • White would likely have found humor in People magazine prematurely celebrating her 100th birthday, says Susan Orlean. "White would have likely found this all quite funny, because she had a comic heart and an ironist’s appetite for weird reversals," says Orlean. "There was something about her that always made it seem as if she was in on the joke, whether she was playing a dim-bulb sexpot or a sassy elder or simply declaring her actual affection for vodka on the rocks and hot dogs. (There is a hot dog named for her at Pink’s Hot Dogs, in Los Angeles. 'The Betty White Naked Dog' is a wiener on a bun, no condiments, per her preference.) Having someone really old host Saturday Night Live, as she did when she was eighty-eight, would have been cringey if it were making fun of the idea, but White surely knew what she was doing. She was a funny person on a funny show who happened to be older than the usual hosts, and she was gleeful about it. There is a classic Hollywood joke, which is way too close to the truth and too painful to be purely a joke, that tracks the arc of an entertainment career. It goes: 'Who the hell is Joe Blow?' 'We need Joe Blow!' 'Get me the next Joe Blow!' And, finally, 'Who the hell is Joe Blow?' White herself lived a bit of that arc: when The Mary Tyler Moore Show was casting someone for the part of Sue Ann Nivens, the producers called for a Betty White type—that is, the next Betty White. Instead, they hired Betty White."


    • Hot in Cleveland producer recalls the "magical experience" of White as, initially, a guest-star: "When we did the pilot, it was such a magical experience and the audience loved her so much, that we looked at each other and said, 'Oh sh*t, we better sign her up for all of this,'" says Todd Milliner. "She was worried about committing to doing 24 episodes a year, but she liked working with the ladies so much as an ensemble that she was able to be convinced to sign up for the whole thing. She was all-in. She was game for everything. We purposely tried to stay away from the more risqué topics, but any time we brought something to her that we worried would cross the line, she’d say it at the table read and there’d be a ton of laughs. She was willing to go to a lot of places. Just like Golden Girls, the show was about a group of women who were having active sex lives at an age where women aren’t usually shown on TV having active sex lives. She was a generous performer. Even when the camera wasn’t on her in a scene, she’d be smiling in support of her co-star. Everybody adored her and her talent. There was never a complaint about Betty. On Hot in Cleveland, for maybe the only time in my career, there were no problems on the show over six seasons. And with Betty’s attitude on that stage, it set a tone from the top down that we all had to be kind and considerate to everybody."
    • Vicki Lawrence's memories of White are "nothing but sweet and happy and fun and raunchy and bawdy": "I don’t remember Betty ever missing a line. It was so rare," says Lawrence, who first met White on The Carol Burnett Show. "She was so prepared. The only outtake I can remember ever was on Mama’s Family. (Her character) was having an affair with Mayor Tutweiler. We got to the taping and she said 'Mayor Tit-willow.' And it got stuck in her brain, and she couldn’t get it out, and it just digressed into a laughing mess. She was the consummate professional — Carol used to call it 'playing in the sandbox.' She never called it working. And Betty is the best playmate in the world. On game shows, and playing games with her, she was smart and clever. She was on it. She was so good at that stuff. If you were playing against Betty, you better bring your A-game because she was there to beat your a**."
    • Desperate Housewives creator Marc Cherry recalls when "Betty was so supportive of me": “I was so broke and out of work for years before I sold Desperate Housewives and Betty was so supportive of me," said Cherry, a former Golden Girls writer. "She would say, ‘Yes, you must enjoy these successes when they come along because they don’t always come along…’ Those special moments where we just talked about stuff and personal stuff I wouldn’t necessarily share in public, but things where she opened up and she got very real, and that to me is so wonderful.”
    • White's longtime assistant urges fans to not focus on her death, but the way she lives and was kind to all people
    • Remembering Betty White as host of one of the best-ever SNL episodes, the result of a fan campaign
    • White's hometown of Oak Park, Illinois will celebrate "Betty White Day" on Jan. 17, what would've been her 100th birthday

    TOPICS: Betty White, Hot in Cleveland, Saturday Night Live, Marc Cherry, Todd Milliner, Vicki Lawrence