Betty White: Status as national treasure confirmed

Veteran actress' timeless appeal spans the generations.

LOS ANGELES, May 5, 2012 – Betty White’s busy, energetic career already spans sixty years. And the nonagenarian shows no signs she’s about to slow down. An integral part of the television industry virtually since its inception, she’s become nothing less than a national treasure, a singular woman who’s known and loved across the nation.

The actress’ latest show, “Betty White’s Off Their Rockers,” is proof positive that, although 90 years old, she still knows what it takes to make Americans of all ages laugh.

Betty White.

A vintage year for Betty White, now 90 and going strong.

Born in Illinois in 1922, White moved with her family to Los Angeles during he Great Depression. There, she got her start in the earliest days of television working as an assistant at a local station. 

During the 1940s, she also worked in radio, appearing as various characters in popular broadcasts and even hosting her own program, “The Betty White Show.” Her first television show was “Life with Elizabeth,” an early ‘50s program in which she starred in as well as produced. 

After that, she routinely made guest appearances on a variety of other TV programs, as well as becoming a perennial favorite on talk shows. It’s clear that her direct and irreverent nature was cherished as much in the earlier days of television as it is today. 

Over the years, her career has included some of the most beloved characters on television, including Sue Ann on “The Mary Tyler Moore Show,” and Rose Nylund on “The Golden Girls.” More recently she’s appeared as Elka Ostrovsky in the TV Land sitcom, “Hot in Cleveland.” 

In 2010, a Facebook campaign that landed Betty White as a guest host on “Saturday Night Live” garnered the show its best ratings in 18 months.

In her opening monologue on that show, White quipped that Facebook seemed like a waste of time. But in real life, the media savvy White now has a personal Facebook page, as well as pages for “Hot in Cleveland,” and for her new NBC comedy-reality show, “Betty White’s Off Their Rockers.”

Though White has obviously become a favorite of the younger generation, this doesn’t keep her from “punking” them on her new show. “Off Their Rockers’” premise is simple: do and say outrageous things to young people for our entertainment. “Seniors behaving badly” sums this show up well. To their credit, her victims are almost always willing to help, most often shaking their heads in wonder and amusement at what’s just been done to them.

Betty White's star.

Betty White’s star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.

True to form, the show’s skits are often bawdy and gently mocking, just like Betty White. Obviously too well known to participate in the gags, White makes her presence known on the show with short skits focusing on her home life, in which she embraces the pop culture of a younger generation and makes it her own.

The first episode’s opening skit featured a member of White’s geriatric posse asking a young woman to help her unlock her car with her keyless entry. Acting as if she’s unable to operate it, she solicits the help of the young woman, who comes to her aid without question. But when the helpful woman pushes the button, the trunk pops open and a naked elderly gentleman climbs out of the trunk and runs away.

This week’s episode featured two elderly nuns on a sidewalk asking for donations for the fight against breast cancer. As each person makes a donation, the two nuns flash their brassiere-clad breasts as a way of saying thank you.

Betty White in blue, circa 2009.

Betty White in blue, circa 2009.

Sophisticated humor this is not. But for those weary of the talent and reality shows pitted opposite “Off Their Rockers’” time slot, White’s show is an excellent alternative. Better yet, for viewers unable to tear themselves away from “American Idol” or “Survivor” Wednesday nights at 8 PM, every episode of the new show is also available for viewing online.

In addition to her work in TV, another constant in Betty White’s lengthy career has been her tireless work as an animal advocate. In an interview with “The Hollywood Reporter” White explained, “I have to keep acting so that I can afford to keep doing my charity work.” 

White has worked with the Los Angeles Zoo and the Morris Animal Foundation for more than four decades. More recently, she appeared in a campaign ad for California representative Howard  Berman’s reelection campaign, praising his animal-rights work.

Whether amusing us by playing tricks on a younger generation, appearing on a live show like her “Late, Late Show with Craig Ferguson” appearance last October, or portraying one of her many sitcom characters over the years, it’s easy to understand why, whenever Betty White’s name comes up in conversation, the response is almost always, “Oh I just love her.”

She truly is a genuine national treasure.

(Below: Betty White’s “Late, Late Show” appearance last October, 2011.)


Read Lisa King’s latest Appalachian Chronicles column at The Washington Times Communities.

This article is the copyrighted property of the writer and Communities @ Written permission must be obtained before reprint in online or print media. REPRINTING TWTC CONTENT WITHOUT PERMISSION AND/OR PAYMENT IS THEFT AND PUNISHABLE BY LAW.

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Lisa King

I was born and educated in Southwest Virginia, traveled with my job all over America in my twenties and early thirties then came back to the mountains to raise my daughter.

I’ve been employed as everything from a quality control technician in industrial construction, to a mail processing plant manager, to postmaster of a small town. I’ve been to forty nine of the fifty states, as well as many other countries. Traveling will always be a passion I indulge, and something I’ll call upon often in my writing. 

I come from a long line of story tellers, and will shamelessly exploit a family tree resplendent with colorful and unique characters, both past and present.

In short my perspective will reflect the pride and familiarity I have of my Appalachian heritage. My stories will be a reflection of the values I believe we hold dearest here, all embellished with a healthy dose of Southern Appalachian flare.


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