Betty White: A 90-year-old Action Hero

The parenting bloggers and Betty White. Guess which one is me.

When I told my teenagers I would be flying to California in February as part of a press junket about The Lorax movie, which is premiering this Friday, and would get to meet and interview some of the stars, one name jumped out at them.

No, not Zac Efron or Taylor Swift.

Betty White.

“Ohmigod, Betty White rocks,” exclaimed my college freshman daughter. My 16-year-old son agreed and was more impressed that I’d get to met her even over Ed Helms, one of his favorites from The Office. 

Of course, I had to tell Betty about this during the roundtable interview session for the parenting bloggers. Her reply was nearly instantaneous.

“You have very smart children!”

Well, I think so.

I asked what she thought it was about her that appealed to the younger generation so strongly and she said, “I think it’s honesty.  I think they’re pretty honest at this point, and if you start talking down to them, they’ll turn you off in a minute.”

Before anyone asks, yes, she’s just as sharp as she appears on television. She had several one-liners off the top of her head during the session. Asked whether she had angered anyone in her life because she seems so good-natured, Betty said “I have two ex-husbands.”

She talked about The Lorax and how thrilled she was to be a part of it.

“They called me and asked me. It’s all the things that I believe in and love.  And I think it’s a great message to send out to kids.”

And she said the experience of the voice acting was a lot of fun.

“Overall, the beautiful colors and the celebrating the environment and the caring about the environment, which is one of my big, big, big things, and the fact of looking for trees and wanting to find trees,” she said of her favorite part of the movie. “Dr. Seuss has a way of doing, you could get into it. I hope everybody else loves it as much as those of us involved in it.”

Grammy Norma doesn’t just give advice either. She’s quite involved with the big action sequence at the end.

She’d done animated movies previously, but White said at first she felt a little bit silly performing Grammy Norma’s parts alone in a studio.

“They ask you to make all these weird noises and you don’t know what they mean by, well, it’s a gasp, but you’re doing this.  So, you’re sitting there by yourself and you finally feel rather ridiculous. But, somehow, pretty soon, you get into it, and then you get into the beautiful visual thing that it is as well as the Dr. Seuss loveliness.  And so, I thoroughly enjoyed it.  I really enjoyed it.”

When asked if she would ever do an audio book of The Lorax, White said she’d jump at the chance.

“I would love it, yes.  I’d love that.  I just got a Grammy Award for reading my last book aloud.  And I thought, a Grammy nomination for what? For reading your book? That doesn’t seem like it takes a lot of talent, does it?”

She’s also pleased thrilled to be so busy right now. She said a network had just picked up a Candid Camera style show.

“When they did the birthday special [the television special for her 90th birthday], at the end of it, there was a half hour of a hidden camera show that I’m producing.  NBC is real happy with that.  And Telegdy [Paul Telegdy, President of NBC Late Night Programming] called and said, don’t go anywhere because we’re thrilled with the show and with the numbers.  So, we don’t have a time slot yet, but I think I’ll be busy on that.”

She said she intended to only produce but the network insisted as part of the deal that she do the framing segments so “you’ll be stuck with me again.”

Despite all her success with the Mary Tyler Moore Show and The Golden Girls, as well as her recent work on Hot in Cleveland, she said her biggest accomplishment was her work with The Greater Los Angeles Zoo Association and the Morris Animal Foundation.

“The thing that I’m happiest about, well, I’ve worked with the Morris Animal Foundation for over 50 years, I’ve worked with the Los Angeles Zoo for over 50 years. The Morris Animal Foundation is an animal health organization, and we fund humane studies into specific health problems – dogs, cats, horses and zoo and wildlife.”

She talked with pride about the money raised for a study on how animals react with pain and if pets needed pain treatment as part of their regular care, especially after surgery and other procedures.

“And at one point, I said nobody was addressing pain in animals. They took care of the animals and all that, but they didn’t think about the pain side of it. So, I said, we’re a scientific study organization. Why don’t we get some studies going on alleviation of pain, because that could be used in veterinarians, in shelters and everything?
They said, yes, but how would they fund that? Well, I had just gotten a commercial that was paying me too much money for the commercial for the work I was doing. I said, okay, I’ll start it. And so, bless their hearts, they sent out these brochures about anybody wanting to research that and study it. And now, there’s not a scientific study that Morris Animal Foundation funds–and they fund hundreds–that doesn’t have pain medication built into the research. And I think I’m happiest about that.”

She has her own beloved dog, Pontiac, a golden retriever who she says is very devoted to her and is always glad to see her settle on the couch. She talked about how he always gets happy when he sees her get out a box of her autobiography to sign in preparation for appearances because “he knows I’ll be in one place for a while.”

Grammy Norma from The Lorax

White talked lovingly of her time as a Golden Girl, saying sadly that she can’t believe she’s the only one left. She said they used to crack her up on the set, especially when Rose had to tell St. Olaf stories.

“When the other girls were sitting over there and the camera will cut to me when I’m telling a story, and they gave me these unpronounceable Scandinavian words, and the girls are all saying she’ll screw this up, watch this.”

She said she still has a ton of St. Olaf stories in her head and that, of all her characters, she felt closest to Rose because she had such a good heart.

But she did say of all her co-stars, Jane Leeves of Hot in Cleveland is the one that can crack her up the most.

Asked about the secret to her longevity, White said, “Well, if you don’t appreciate something as it’s happening, if you look back and say, oh, gee, that was a great time, I didn’t realize it at the time, you’ve missed it.  So, everything isn’t sweetness and light.  You get some bad times, too.

But, by appreciating and celebrating the good stuff, you can handle the bad stuff better.  And sometimes, you wonder how did you get this lucky, you’re going to owe it down the line somewhere along the line, but enjoy it now while it’s happening.”

Continued good health to you, Betty White, and my teenagers couldn’t have a better role model.