Turner Classic Movies
White, Betty Interview
Written by Diana Saenger   

betty-white.jpgThe Golden Girls was one of the funniest and most popular sitcoms on TV in the late 1980s and early €˜90s. Not only did the series bring hilarious laughs into our homes each week; it won an Emmy Award-winner for Outstanding Comedy in its first year €“ and for a good reason. The show had fantastic writers; the actresses €“ Beatrice Arthur, Rue McClanahan, Betty White and Estelle Getty €“ were terrific; and the plot about four South Florida seniors sharing a house, found an audience at just the right time. I was excited to speak with Betty White in regards to Buena Vista Home Entertainment €™s release of the Complete First Season of The Golden Girls on DVD in 2004. All eight seasons have now been released.

Before The Golden Girls, Betty Marion White starred as Ellen Harper in Mama's Family and worked with Vicki Lawrence and Rue McClanahan until the show was cancelled by NBC in 1984. Including her appearances on game shows, Betty White is a Television Hall of Famer and has acted in successful television shows, such as The Mary Tyler Moore Show. White is still busy years after the series making guest appearances on TV shows and games shows. However, she is probably best known as Rose Nylund in The Golden Girls series.

White, still as spry on the phone as she appeared in the show, spoke about the show and her career. She says the actresses had chemistry together right off the bat. "That first day when we got that great script from Susan Harris, it got our attention. We sat down for the read through around the table, threw out lines, and it was like batting a tennis ball over the net. Then it just continued through the series."

golden_girls.jpgThe comedic timing of all the casts was so perfect, Betty. Did it take much rehearsal? "We rehearsed all week and did the shows on Friday. In rehearsal if something tickled us, we just threw it in, but most of the time, they'd throw it out. But, let me just say with all my heart that we were so blessed with good writing. You don't get writing like that very often. And the writers were so ahead of the game and they had our characters so beautifully sorted out. We were like four points on a compass, each one distinct from the other."

You claim Jay Sandrich, who directed the Mary Tyler Moor" and the pilot of Golden Girls, is responsible for your Golden Girls career. "Yes. They kind of wrote the show with me in mind for Blanche. But Jay said, €˜If Betty plays another man-hungry woman, they're going to equate it with Sue Ann and think it's just a continuation of that show. Why don't we give her Rose and Rue can be Blanche. And Rue took Blanche out into orbit where I would never have dared go. Blanche had a sex life everybody would be shocked at. But being an older woman, she got away with it. And we all got away with stuff because we were passed that youth thing."

Do people ask you if you're more like Rose or Sue Ann Nivens, the neighborhood nymphomaniac on the Mary Tyler Moore show? Well they used to ask my husband, Allen Ludden. I think I'm closer to Rose because she always thought there's going to be a happy ending, and she'd always looked at the upside not the downside which annoys a lot of people, but I can't help it, I think the positive beats the alternative."

The cast members seemed to work remarkably well together. Was that so? "We knew each other so well; it's like a family where you don't have to explain anything.   And Bea would come in with a new joke and nobody can tell a joke like Bea. It may not be the cleanest joke in the world, but it's bound to be funny.   Or we would commiserate with each other.   It was just heaven. It was like being with the family everyday."

Do you miss that show? "I've missed Golden Girls since we went off the air. But in any sitcom, like with Alfred Molina on Ladies Man, that when you work together, if it's a happy set and you set that tone at start of the show, that you get that family feeling. But I think we extended it more than normal because we were so close. Rue and I still are. She lives in New York, and we talk about every five or six weeks just to catch up and blither on. Bea and I both travel a lot, and we're real busy but ...we meet each other in the market and catch up. Estelle (passed away July 2008) is not as well as we would like, but we all keep tabs on her.   So we don't see each other a lot, but there's still a closeness.

Occasionally you take a step away from comedy, like your roles in Lake Placid and Bringing Down the House. Was it easy to play those blunt characters? "As a guest on a regular series, you have the privilege of saying yes or not to an idea. I know that the language was horrendous in Lake Placid, but the character was within the framework of the movie. It kind of worked.   And I go across an airport now when I'm traveling and a grandmother will come up with her little granddaughter or grandson by the hand and say, €˜Oh, I loved you in Lake Placid.' I apologize for the language and she says, €˜No, no, that was fine. That was funny.' So, you never know."

But all those game shows you did like Match Game and To Tell the Truth are still running and still so popular. "Isn't it amazing how they hold up?   I do have a friendly little game of poker about every six weeks with all the old Goodson-Toddman people - like Bob Stewart who invented Password, Pyramid and To Tell the Truth. So we have our own game, a live game show here about every six weeks."

And you've found another venue with animation like in Wild Thornberrys, The Simpsons, and Father of the Pride. "Yes, it's so amazing that I can't tell my voice if I hear it. But the little kids will hear your voice and they'll pick you out. Don't tell anybody else, but the work is stealing. You don't have to put your eyelashes on. You read the copy in front of a microphone. You do each line a couple of times and go home. I mean, that's really larceny."

You're very passionate and very involved with animals. "Yes, I'm so lucky. Show business and my animal work are the two things that I love the most. I've been with the Morris Animal Foundation; a health organization headquartered in Denver for 35 years and make six trips a year to Denver for board meetings and executive committee meetings. We fund humane studies and the specific health problems of dogs, cats, horses in zoo and wildlife. I'm a Zoo Commissioner at the Los Angeles Zoo. I've worked with them for over 30 years. I have to stay in show business to pay for my animal business."

What role do you still want to play? "I guess opposite Robert Redford in a wonderfully romantic..." White says with her generous laugh. "No, no, I was just daydreaming there for a minute. I used to answer that question by saying I'd like to do a love story.   I don't mean a sex story - a love story, a romance."

And they wrote one Betty, you played opposite Leslie Nielsen. "It was a chance of a lifetime, a sweet, romantic comedy. I've done Annie's Point, a Hallmark movie of the week (about a recently widowed grandmother who is determined to grant her husband's last wish that she set his ashes free over the idyllic bluff they called Annie's Point." When her son Richard refuses to let his mother make the two-thousand-mile trip, she takes off anyway with her free-spirited granddaughter in tow) it will be out January 22.

"Then I have an independent film that I did with Jenna Mattison, Third Wish, that will out on Valentine's Day. And then I just did Complete Savages, that'll be out very soon on Friday nights with Mel Gibson. It's his comedy package, and we had fun on that."

It's so amazing how you keep going and seem to enjoy everything you do. "I have a lot of things in the hopper, and hopefully I'll just keep (wheezing) away, because I sure am having a good time."




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