The Betty White renaissance continues in full force with another new TV show. She is a regular on TV Land’s Hot in Cleveland and now she’s hosting the NBC hidden camera show Off Their Rockers. White hosts a series of pranks where the elderly perform outrageous acts in front of real people on the street.
For someone who just turned 90, White continues to keep busy. The last few years have had her starring in movies, hosting Saturday Night Live and returning to television. She met with the Television Critics Association to discuss Off Their Rockers, so we got to inquire and enjoy the wit and wisdom of Betty White.
Q: Do you have time to watch TV since you’re on so many shows?
BW: I’m afraid I don’t and that’s bad because it’s my business and I should, but there’s just no time.
Q: What have you watched?
BW: The news and then I turn it off and try to play catch up because I’m busy all day. I’ve got to play catch up with the mail. My dining room table is a disaster. I can’t have anybody over to eat though. That’s one good thing because the table is like this.
Q: Are you watching the election, any funny thoughts on the candidates?
BW: Oh yes. That right now in a presidential election year, news last longer for you than normally and I find it fascinating.
Q: What are your thoughts on the candidates?
BW: I think by now they’ve tried long enough, shouldn’t the Republicans get a candidate?
Q: What do you do with all your awards? Do you keep them on your shelf?
BW: They don’t fit on my shelf. No, they’re ego trips. Of course they’re ego trips but you appreciate each and every one. It’s very exciting, and the every nomination. The nominations are the exciting ones. You don’t have to win. Just get nominated.
Q: What’s going on with your animal charities?
BW: I work in show business to pay for my animal business. That’s my whole life.
Q: You’ve had one great love in your life. What advice do you have for people looking for love?
BW: Try to keep a perspective. Don’t just get carried away with each one where you think you’re madly in love and then two months later that’s not so good, and you’re madly in love again. Then all of a sudden when something starts to feel a little different, get very quiet and pay close attention. All of a sudden you’ll find you just can’t move away form that person on a long range basis, not just an up close and personal or physical or whatever. For a lifetime. I wasted a whole year Allen [Ludden] and I could’ve been married. No, I won’t move to New York. No, I won’t leave California. No, of course. I had been married twice, failed both times. No, I won’t take another chance. But he was a pretty good salesman. We missed 18 years by three days but they were the best 18 years of my entire life.
Q: Where did you find all the other seniors to do the pranks on Off Their Rockers?
BW: I take no credit for that. That was all done by our wonderful staff. They found these people who enjoyed kind of playing along with the gag. My only function really in the production is to be sure that it's not mean-spirited. Things aren't funny if it's mean-spirited. Sometimes I think the comedy gets a little banana peel comedy. You laugh at somebody slipping on a banana peel instead of an intellectual joke. It's not that kind of a show. It's just a silly, fun show, and I think one that will appeal to all ages, because younger people might get a kick out of seeing the oldsters get a jump on somebody, and oldsters might see it and say, "Hey, go get 'em!"
Q: Do you think the role of Elka on Hot in Cleveland inspired this show?
BW: That she's a mean son-of-a-gun? Is that what you're saying? I don't think there's really any relationship, but I think maybe Elka should watch this show and get some ideas on how to handle the other girls.
Q: Did you want a big 90th birthday celebration or do you treat birthdays like any other day?
BW: Well, there's so much going on. Everybody is celebrating it for me. And they're all saying, "Oh, my goodness! You're 90!" And I keep trying to explain, "Don't give me any credit. I didn't do anything to get to be 90. It just happened. I didn't accomplish anything. It just came up on me." But I'm blessed with good health for which I'm deeply grateful, so for that reason, I feel so good. Everybody else is far more excited about the 90 than I am.
Q: How much are you working these days between all of these shows and the animal work you do?
BW: Well, I'm having the time of my life. I mean, usually you're sweating out when is the next job coming up and all that. Who at this age is lucky enough to be working as much as I am, first of all on a series that I absolutely love with three of the most wonderful gals that ever drew breath? It's a laugh session every day. My book got published, and it's doing very well, my second book this year. I'm the luckiest old broad on two feet, I promise you, and I don't take it for granted for one single minute. And everybody says, "You're too busy. You've got to simmer down. That's not good for you. You must be so tired." I'm not only blessed with good health, but good energy. I can credit my folks for the genes that put that together. But I can't get over that at this age, I don't feel this age. I'm not trying to be any younger. I'm not lying about my age. If I were lying about my age, I would say I was 89. I'm just at one of those good times in your life, and there's been so many of those through those 90 years, but I'm at one of the high spots. I'm healthy enough to enjoy it. I'm surrounded by friends I adore. Isn't that kind of the best way to sign off?
Q: Do you have any regrets?
BW: Yes. I have a major regret, that Allen Ludden isn't with me. That's my big regret.
Q: Have you just had the Midas touch in your career, or did it evolve more slowly?
BW: I was so lucky to luck into certain situations. When I started in the business, live television, it was a local show, The Al Jarvis Show." I got $5 for doing a half-hour over on KTLA, and then I got this offer from Al Jarvis for five-days-a-week, five-and-a-half hours a day, live, with no script, and I got $50 for it. I thought I'd get another five. Well, after we were on for two weeks, I think, Don Fedderson called us into the office and he said, "The show is really going well. I think we'll add a day. We'll do six days a week, Saturday too." So they raised me from $50 a week to $150 a week for six days a week. I thought I had died and gone to heaven. What had really evolved out of that was that I had a solid show every single day for six days, so I didn't have to worry about the next job, so then I could do other things. That wasn't enough hours on television, so I started a half hour variety show at night where I could sing. It was like going to television college, because everything that happened to you happened on camera. You had to handle it. You didn't have a choice. I don't know of any area these days where a young starter-outer in show business can get that kind of experience. It's like you sign up to take a specialty course in television. Every single day, you have to do it, and that's Christmas and New Year’s and Thanksgiving, holidays and all. It's an experience that you can't buy. That's why I'm still in the business, because people have gotten so used to me they can't get rid of me. Not only their children, but their grandchildren have grown up with me. It's a legacy, and I appreciate it with all my heart.
Q: After being in television that long, what can you conclude about the industry?
BW: Well, everybody says how has it changed in all those 63 years that you've been doing it. I don't think television has changed. Of course, technically, in all the finite things like that. But I think the audience is the one that's changed. When I started in television, I did my first television show in my graduation from high school dress, and we did a version of Merry Widow. The senior class president and I went downtown, and the audience was standing around in the Packard Showroom, and we were up on the fifth floor doing a version of The Merry Widow. And it was very exciting and all that, but never thought it would go. It was starting pretty well in New York, but out here it wasn't at all. They had to stand around, as I say, among the cars to watch it. So when I got the job, the long range job with Al Jarvis, I mean, everything was new to people. These people on a box in a corner in their room was something terribly exciting. Well, today, the audience knows they've heard every joke. They know every plot. They know where you're going before you even start. That's a tough audience to surprise and a tough audience to write for. So it's highly competitive now because the audience has gotten so much more, I say sophisticated and then I show you a show like this. I think sophisticated is the wrong language. But it gets tougher every day.
Q: Off Their Rockers has a lot of naughty jokes. Why is sex with seniors so funny?
BW: Well, look at yourself. If you had a sense of humor, you would laugh to beat the band." Sex is pretty funny, let's face it. And the more seriously we take ourselves, the funnier sex gets, I think. But then, I'm looking at it from a different perspective. I don't think just sex is funny. I think it's the fact of people are funny and people are so preoccupied with sex, we might as well admit it. I mean, everything gets back to be sexually oriented that if you can't laugh at it, then you're going to be in terrible trouble, unless you look like some of the young girls look now. But I guess you still get in trouble, don't you?
OFF THEIR ROCKERS