She may be 87 in chronological years, but Betty White refuses to act old. “Honey, I’m living the same life I lived 50 years ago,” she says in a telephone interview from her Los Angeles home. And I’m not joking about that. I don’t mean that I’m jogging around the block at my age, but I do keep moving, and I keep busy and have passions.”
The TV legend’s most famous passion is pets. And her dog, she says, also keeps her young. “I play with my Golden Retriever for physical exercise. And I do crossword puzzles for mental exercise. I’ll tell you how hooked in I am to crossword puzzles, I’m so hooked that when I puppy train a dog, and put papers down, when I see a crossword puzzle I grab it so the dog doesn’t tinkle on it.”
White continues, “I think it’s terribly important to look forward to another day, a new day to be excited about. Sure sometimes you don’t feel like it – we all have our problems. But do your best to look through them. Notice things, be curious, say ‘there’s a new bird, I wonder what that is? Or I wonder about that new bug.’ Ok, maybe not the bug. But keep going forward.”
That’s exactly what White is doing. In fact, she made the Academy Award broadcast last month. As a part of the broadcast, trailers from upcoming movies were shown. White appeared in one of those, she’s in “The Proposal” which is scheduled for release this summer, with Sandra Bullock and Ryan Reynolds. In the trailer White is measuring Bullock’s chest, and it’s not her stomach. “Honey, I mean her boobs,” says White. “In the movie Sandra is marrying Ryan, my grandson, and she’s going to wear my wedding dress. So, I’m altering the dress for her. I have to take a lot of material out.”
At her age, lots of actors have hung it up. And even for those who want to continue working, memorizing lines can be challenging. “We’ll I’ve always been really lucky that I can memorize and memorize fast. Somehow the lines stick with me. I think it’s the crossword puzzles.”
Forever White has been a familiar face on game shows, including “Password,” which her late husband Allen Ludden hosted in the 1960’s. In the 1950’s White starred in a then fairly popular program called “Life With Elizabeth.” Arguably, TV sitcoms in the 1970’s were defined by “The Mary Tyler Moore Show.” White played Sue Ann Nivens, the nymphomaniac happy homemaker. “What a juicy role that was,” she says. “But we were blessed with the best writers, and the same for (1980’s hit) “The Golden Girls.”
Aside from forever being a regular on game shows, she’s also a frequent walk on with Jay Leno, Bonnie Hunt, Ellen De Generes and Craig Ferguson. “I think he’s (Ferguson) wonderful,” she says. “We do all these sketches that are nonsense,” White’s played Sen. John McCain’s speechwriter, a girl scout and an IRS agent.
While she’ll do anything for a laugh, when you speak with White about animals her demeanor changes Animal welfare has been her life 40 years. That’s how long she’s been associated with the Los Angeles Zoo.
“Listen some people say zoos are so terrible,” she says. “They’re judging zoos on what they may have been many years ago. Today, they’re like an ark. If we don’t captive breed, species will go away. And the education is priceless, most people can’t go to Africa to see cheetahs. So, zoos are the next best thing, and without them people may not care. And we need people to care if cheetahs and all these other species are going to be saved. A big problem with zoo animals for years was boredom. Now, there’s this whole behavioral (enrichment) thing. They stash food in the enclosure having the animals search it our, keeping them mentally active and giving them some exercise. And they train the animals to, for example, offer a paw – so they voluntarily give blood for a veterinary exam without stress.”
She continues, “People say I’m an animal activists or in animal rights. No, that’s not true – I’m in animal health and welfare. That’s why I’ve been with the Morris Animal Foundation for 40 years. We’re an organization which funds humane health related studies. For example, Morris funding led to the cure for feline leukemia and the parvo virus in dogs. Now, one focus is cats because they get short changed on the funding side, so we have the Happy Healthy Cat Campaign. (learn more at, www.research4cats.org).”
It nearly sounds like White is too busy for anyone your typical 47-year old, let alone an 87-year old. “Too busy? Impossible,” she says.