BETTY WHITE: THE AP ENTERTAINER OF THE YEAR
What BETTY WHITE did in 2010 doesn’t usually happen: an 88 year old actor with more than six decades in Hollywood suddenly became the object of adulation of the Facebook connected masses, which campaigned for her to host SATURDAY NIGHT LIVE, boosting the show’s viewership and helping her set ratings records for her own show.
After a spectacular twelve month period for a star of any age, BETTY WHITE has been voted the ENTERTAINER OF THE YEAR by the members of THE ASSOCIATED PRESS.
“It’s ridiculous,” BETTY said of the honour, in an interview from her home in Los Angeles.
“They haven’t caught on to me…and I hope they never do.”
But more than acclaim, her unlikely, age defying success resonated deeply with people who saw in her a spirited, hilarious aberration, a woman not dimmed by age but enhanced by it: the genuine article in a pop culture awash in imitators.
There were 102 ballots submitted from U.S. news organizations that make up the AP’s membership. Voters were asked to cast their ballots for who had the most influence on the entertainment world and culture in 2010.
BETTY’S exquisitely memorable 2010 began with her acceptance in January of a LIFETIME ACHIEVEMENT AWARD from the SCREEN ACTORS GUILD. Her speech, in which she thanked SAG “from the bottom of my bottom,” reminded many of her talent — showcased for years on THE MARY TYLER MOORE SHOW and THE GOLDEN GIRLS — as a sharp comedic force cloaked by warm charm.
Gesturing at presenter SANDRA BULLOCK she asked, “Isn’t it heartening how far a girl as plain as she is can go?”
The appearance led to a fan created Facebook campaign urging SNL to make her a guest host. After BETTY’S award winning Snickers Super Bowl ad, more than 500,000 were supporting her on the social networking site.
It wasn’t a new idea to the NBC sketch program, though. BETTY said that she had turned down SNL three times before.
“I thought I was so Californian and it’s so New York oriented that I would be like a fish out of water. This time, my agent said, ‘No, you’ve got to do it.’…But I was scared to death.”
“It was the insecurity, I think, that had me scared,” she stated, noting that she can’t stand using cue cards, a necessity for a live show that’s revised until minutes before broadcast. A tip to focus on the cue cards instead of the other actors helped, but she still had to adjust.
“I thought, ‘How do you not look at Tina Fey when you’re standing right next to her?”’
But the show came off incredibly well. Airing on Mother’s Day weekend in May, most of the recent female performers on SNL returned for the program, including TINA FEY, AMY POEHLER and RACHEL DRATCH.
BETTY appeared in every sketch and the episode was watched by 12.1 million viewers, one of the show’s biggest audiences in years. The appearance also won Ms. White her seventh EMMY, for GUEST ACTRESS IN A COMEDY SERIES.
WILL FORTE, a long time cast member who has since left the program, wasn’t alone in describing it as the best show he had ever done.
“Each week is not always super fun. From every step of the way, (that week) was just a joy. There was this energy about her that was so wonderful.”
For those who didn’t know BETTY, she was a breath of fresh air. For others, it was like they were seeing her for the first time.
All of the feting has come as a huge surprise to Ms. White.
“It’s been phenomenal, but everybody keeps congratulating me on my resurgence and my big comeback. I haven’t been away. I’ve been working steadily for the last 63 years.”
So what changed?
“I don’t know,” she remarked.
“I’ve had my own following all that time. If they want me to go away, if they get tired of me, just stop asking me because I keep saying, ‘Yes.'”
Thanks to her eagerness, BETTY WHITE was everywhere in 2010. She guest starred on COMMUNITY and THE MIDDLE and appeared in the movie YOU AGAIN.
Though she had initially signed up for only the pilot to TV Land’s comedy HOT IN CLEVELAND, she stuck around for its 10 episode first season and is currently filming its 20 episode second season. The show’s first episode set a record for TV Land with nearly 5 million viewers.
“How do you walk away from something that’s that much fun?” BETTY said of her new show, which also stars JANE LEEVES, WENDIE MALICK and VALERIE BERTINELLI.
“It’s the happiest set in the world. My sales resistance is not very good. I have the backbone of a jellyfish.”
The season debut on JANUARY 19 will guest star BETTY’S good friend MARY TYLER MOORE.
BETTY has plenty of other irons in the fire as well, including an upcoming Hallmark Hall of Fame movie THE LOST VALENTINE and two books due out: IF YOU ASK ME (& OF COURSE YOU WON’T) and a photographic volume of animals from THE LOS ANGELES ZOO.
Animal welfare is an ardent passion for BETTY, who is a trustee of THE MORRIS ANIMAL FOUNDATION and a member of the board of directors of THE GREATER LOS ANGELES ZOO ASSOCIATION.
During a recent interview, her golden retriever PONTIAC could be heard in the background: “I like to think of him as the Indian chief – not the car,” she stated.
Next month, BETTY will return to the SAG AWARDS, where she’s nominated for BEST ACTRESS IN A COMEDY SERIES. HOT IN CLEVELAND is also up for BEST COMEDY ENSEMBLE.
“It’s just been a lovely year, I must admit.”