Betty White conquered America through defining characters over a career that spanned nearly eight decades. She’s portrayed a multitude of characters in Hollywood films and TV shows, playing each with fine nuances and transforming beautifully to play the naïve Rose Nylund in The Golden Girls, the promiscuous Sue Ann Nivens in The Mary Tyler Moore Show and, more recently, the energetic and indomitable Elka Ostrowsky in Hot in Cleveland.
In 2014, I had the chance to see Betty White at work during the taping of an episode of the sitcom Hot in Cleveland, which aired on TV Land. This trip to Los Angeles completely changed my perception of older people in general, beyond the fun I had.
Indeed, on Thursday, December 4, 2014, I took the plane with a certain nervousness in my stomach to go to Los Angeles. I had succeeded, with almost disconcerting ease, in exchanging workdays at the school where I was teaching. It was easy since my precarious status as a teacher then imposed a schedule far from full-time. The next day, December 5, 2014, a date that will forever be etched in my memory, I was to attend the taping of an episode of the sitcom Hot in Cleveland, in which Valerie Bertinelli, Wendie Malick and Jane Leeves starred at the alongside Betty White, who was part of the main cast.
The challenge was great: in Hollywood, too many tickets are given out to fill the audience seats when recording a live sitcom. So get there early to be sure to get a seat in Studio 19 at the CBS Studio Center.
Since Betty White’s triumphant return to Saturday Night Live in 2010 at the venerable age of 88, making her the oldest host to host an episode of hit network NBC and a woman admired by all generations, if it was not already done, she was offered many appearances on television and in the cinema, then she was offered a role which was, at the beginning, reserved only for the « pilot » of the program I attended. A “pilot” is the test program that American production companies do to try to sell a series to a broadcaster. Betty White had agreed to star in the ten-episode first season, telling herself that it would not go any further… but the series ultimately lasted six years. And the age of the actress has not been an obstacle to all that she has been made to play: stays in prison, Jack Daniel’s in cereals to replace milk, numerous romantic idylls and shenanigans of all kinds, Elka Ostrowsky’s character was tasty!
On December 5, 2014, we were filming the ninth episode of the sixth season, which had been officially announced on November 21 as the last. « It ain’t over ’til it’s over », said the actresses, surrounded by the entire production team, in a video on Facebook. That was my cue to book my plane and take this chance to see an idol in person.
Because I was impressed to see a lady of her age being so active (funny, dapper, bubbly), as if it were an anomaly of nature, it was normal for me to fly to see her work live from LA Betty White was 92 at the time. One observation amazed me: my grandmother of the same age no longer had the same abilities, suffering from dementia with Lewy bodies. My bearings as to age and work were disrupted.
Aren’t we supposed to rest at this age? I now realize the extent of the insult. The best way to be alive is to live.
Seeing the four stars of Hot in Cleveland enter the stage holding hands to greet the audience, including myself, was a particularly magical moment. It was the first time I had seen her in real life and it would be for a few hours.
That evening, I was struck by two observations. The first: she was relaxed and at ease in the studio, knowing her lines well and not seeming tired between scenes. She loved her job, that was clear. The second finding surprised me greatly: Betty White needed help moving around in the studio between scenes, which didn’t show up on screen since she was constantly moving around on her own and seemed solid on her own two feet. An excellent actress, you will tell me!
Then, beyond the physical, his mind was sharp. She knew her lines, she made jokes and seemed perfectly at ease between takes, doing crosswords without a pencil, with the tip of her finger on the sheet. The crowd leader explained to us that it was his way of relaxing and that his dressing room was full of it.
That night, Betty White became much more than an idol: she now inspires me in every way. His secret? Doing what she loves, staying surrounded by people of all generations. She said she was blessed with good health and, indeed, as long as we are healthy, we can do anything, I am now convinced of that.
She was also very fond of vodka and … hot dogs, according to actors and actresses who shared the screen with her. Is it more what allowed him to live to be 99?
My efforts allowed me to obtain a photo signed in my own name and some scripts that belonged to her personally, in which we can see the playing notes she took during rehearsals. I got them at auctions she organized to fund what was most important to her: animal welfare.
Betty White, thank you for inspiring all generations and for living your life in such a way that the entire world, currently so divided, is unanimous in saying that 99 years was not enough.