Betty White is 96 years old today. Privately, she’ll tell you that she’s glad she became an actress because she loves her work, but also because it’s given her a platform to advocate for animals. And, boy, does she adore animals. I’ve interviewed her at least six or seven times, and while she at this time is not available for interviews – I thought I’d share this interview with Betty from 2013.
Betty White is the energizer bunny. “It’s so silly,” says the 91-year-old beloved actress by telephone. “I’m just an old broad who’s been around the block. People can’t get rid of me, it’s ridiculous.”
The thing is, who would ever want to “get rid” of White? Television producers continue to seek her out because America can’t get enough of her. For her 90th birthday, President Barack Obama read a “love letter” to the performer, who began her career in television 65 years ago.
No other TV career has been as celebrated or as durable. It’s not easy to maintain a career in show business for one decade let alone six. Is it a matter of talent—as the expression goes—the cream rises to the top?
“No, not true,” says White without missing a beat. “The cream goes to the hips.”
White has the sitcom midas touch, from Life with Elizabeth (in the 1950’s) to The Mary Tyler Moore Show to The Golden Girls. Today, she’s on TVland’s Hot in Cleveland, costarring Valerie Bertinelli, Jane Leeves, Wendy Mallick, and fellow Mary Tyler Moore Show alum Georgia Engle, who played Georgette on the beloved sitcom.
White and Engle reunite with Valerie Harper (recently diagnosed with a terminal cancer), Mary Tyler Moore, and Cloris Leachman (“Rhoda,” “Mary,” and “Phyllis”) on an upcoming episode of Hot in Cleveland. “Wonderful, isn’t it?” cheers White. “I love those girls,” she adds.
Still, among the myriad of TV appearances, one of White’s favorites was a short-lived series in 1971, which co-starred celebrities and their pets, called The Pet Set. Folks like Bob Crane (Hogan’s Heroes), Merv Griffin, and Doris Day showed up with their pets. White recalls that one show featured a water buffalo, not a celebrity pet exactly, but from the Los Angeles Zoo (where White has been involved for more than 50 years), and her association with the Morris Animal Foundation goes back about as many years.
Check in Google images, and you can find White posing cheerfully with everything from a chimpanzee to a giraffe. However, her favorite might be a surprise. Aside from a dog or cat, if she could “come back to earth” as any animal, she chooses a moose. “I know, everyone laughs, but I’m not joking,” she says.
Moose are known for their nasty tempers, charging first and asking questions later, which doesn’t sound like the amiable Betty White America loves. “Well, you haven’t caught me on my bad days,” she says.
But these days, she wants to talk about cats most of all.
“It drives me crazy when I hear people say what they do about cats. Oh, that cats are so independent they don’t care or that they are conniving. I know instantly these people have never had a cat,” she says. “They see cats from a distance; they don’t really know cats.
“Cats can be so devoted. They think cats don’t love you like a dog loves you. That’s not true.” She pauses and adds, “My last cat was a beautiful Himalayan—he found me, just appearing one day. I thought I’d keep Mr. Bob (as in ‘Bob-Cat’) for a few days until I found the owners. Well, Mr. Bob wound up staying with me for 11 years. He was such a people-oriented guy. As my knees bent down to sit down, he was on my lap.”
She continues, “Our pets are constantly telling us things, with a purr, a bark, a tail-wag, a smile, a paw in our lap. We’re not always so good at paying attention to them, but they’re sure good at paying attention to us. We should talk to our pets, too! What else can we do? We don’t have a tail to wag. I’d like to talk to Robert Redford, but otherwise dogs and cats are more interesting—I think—than many people.”
Instead of counting sheep or puppies, White says, “I sometimes put myself to sleep going back to the beginning, thinking about how that first relationship between dogs and people happened; I think it’s fascinating.”
Will she slow down? “From what?” she asks. “I just keep going. As long as my health holds out, you won’t be getting rid of me anytime soon.”
And that’s just the way America wants it.