Betty White on Surviving 63 Years in Show Business With No Backbone

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Putnam

You talked about how you tried to turn down your role in Hot in Cleveland multiple times because you didn't have time in your schedule for it. Are you glad that you ultimately worked out a way to accept it?

I'm so glad I took it. But I have the backbone of an eel. I said I would do a guest shot on the pilot. I was happy to, provided I would not be obligated in any sense if it got picked up to series. Well, you know how many pilots that are done that never get picked up to series. And a lot of times you'll do a pilot, say in February, and you don't know what its fate is until maybe May or June. Well this one got picked up in three weeks. It was just amazing. TV Land picked it up for 10 shows, and they came and asked if I would do some extra shows. I said, "Well no, that wasn't our bargain. My schedule is absolutely jammed. I can't, but thank you very much." But they kept saying what if this, what if that. And of course Miss Jellyfish here, I ended up doing all 10. Then they picked us up for 34, and the same thing went on. Well guess who's doing all 34. I have no sales resistance. When you're having this much fun it's awfully hard to say no.

But how do you keep up the energy for it?

Well, I'm blessed with good health, and my energy—I never get tired. I should, but I don't.

You should sell your secret to that.

I'm going to be 90 in January, so I feel so lucky. Sooner or later, the bottom's got to drop out somewhere. But it hasn't yet.

Do you wish you were less busy?

I love this busy-ness. I really love it. I got another book that I just contracted for that I have to start now to hopefully get it out by next summer. But I enjoy being busy, I really do. Remember, I'm the stub end of the railroad. I have no family, so I'm not taking busy time away from people that I should be spending it with. So I'm just relaxing and enjoying it.

What's this new book?

I've worked with the Los Angeles Zoo for 45 years, and we have this magnificent photographer, Tad Motoyama. He takes these wonderful, wonderful animal pictures. All through the years he's given me copies of these pictures. Well, I have all these gorgeous ones, so I said, "Tad, I want to do a book with your picture on one side." And remember, when I've been at the zoo for so long, those animals in the picture are personal friends of mine. So I use his pictures and write a little anecdote about that individual animal. Not "a zebra." This isn't "a zebra;" it's Fred.

If you ever have the chance to watch episodes of some of your earlier series in repeats, are there particular episodes or scenes that reliably make you laugh?

I don't get a chance to watch much television of any kind, so I haven't seen those shows in a lot of years. But once and a while if I happen to catch part of one when I'm flipping to the news or something, I must admit sometimes it makes me laugh out loud. And that's the blessing of good writing.

Do all the memories of filming those scenes come back to you?

Oh sure, of course. Losing all of our Golden Girls was a blow. We thought Ruesie [Rue McClanahan] was going to make it. She wasn't feeling well and stuff, but we thought she was going to make it, and she didn't. Losing all of the Golden Girls and being the only one left is kind of tough.

Do you have a favorite memory so far from working on Hot in Cleveland?

Oh just being around those girls. They are the most wonderful—and for me to be able to say that after the Mary Tyler Moore group and the Golden Girls group—these are the most delightful gals. We just hang out together. We don't go back to our dressing rooms. We just stick together and have a wonderful time. It doesn't take much to break us up. We're doing just fine until Valerie's eyes start to dance, and then pretty soon somebody gets the giggles, and we're off and running.

You mentioned in your book that you'd "rather go to the dentist for a root canal" than do red carpet interviews and these kinds of things, so I hope this wasn't too painful.

Oh, I appreciate all this, and I appreciate that you read the book. Now just stick with me.

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Kevin Fallon is a reporter for the Daily Beast. He's a former entertainment editor at TheWeek.com and former writer and producer for The Atlantic's entertainment channel.

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