If you grew up on Betty White’s shows in the early days of television, you probably had an inkling of her humor and grace. Ever the inventive hostess on her talk shows, she brought sunshine into an otherwise dreary black and white medium. With dimples that put Shirley Temple to shame, Betty and her love of animals could talk you into liking dogs, cats, squirrels or whatever–even if you were not an animal lover. To this day she is a supporter of animal causes.
Thank goodness, she didn’t have to rely on her cuteness to propel her into one of the longest productive careers in entertainment. At 88 1/2 Betty White is at the peak of her career when most of her peers are blowing bubbles in the nursing home for old actors. She may have shrunk a few inches but she put those young whippersnappers to shame last Saturday night.
SNL is known for cutting edge comedy and imagination. The show has produced some marvelous talent such as Mike Myers, Dana Carvey, Tina Fey, Amy Pohler, Chevy Chase, Al Franken (now a Senator,) Gilda Radner, Martin Short and Billy Crystal just to name a few. SNL grads have gone on to change the face of movies and television as far as comedy is concerned. But the show has lacked a little spark during the past couple of years for whatever reason. Sometimes the show was not well written. Sometimes it was not well performed. Other times the hosts seemed to be odd choices and really didn’t enhance the production.
But all that changed last Saturday night. Betty rode in on her White charger and put the “LIVE” back into Saturday Night Live. Having been at the forefront of live television (she once had a live five hour talk show daily!) Betty showed those kids a thing or two. She was in virtually every skit except the News. She knew her lines–as opposed to most of the guests who read their lines from cue cards. She hit her marks. She bounced down those steps at the beginning of the show without even looking down to be sure her feet were in the right place. She had wigs of every color and hairstyle. She had costume changes aplenty. She danced and shook with the youngest of them.
And when it was time for her to introduce the musical guest, she did it so convincingly you would have sworn she knew who Jay-Z was!
Betty White’s magic is is signaled by her sparkling eyes and mischievous smile. When she delivers those loaded punch lines, you can see what is coming in those baby blues. Whether she is rolling her eyes or batting her lashes, her timing is perfect. She may give the appearance of a little old lady grandma but grandma was nothing like this.
How I wish her co-conspirator in life Allen Ludden had been there to witness not only her flawless performance but also the esteem in which she is held by performers generations younger than she. How pleasing to see this talented little old lady (HA!) full of life and energy
doing what she does best. And by the way, it is reported that she partied with the cast until 3 a.m Sunday morning. She probably would have stayed later but she had to get back to Los Angeles to start filming her new situation comedy, “Hot In Cleveland,” Monday morning.
Word on the street has it that Betty White’s SNL had the highest ratings it has had in over a year and a half. With that in mind, I suggest that the “nerds” in her promo last week for SNL definitely start typing frantically: ACADEMY AWARDS…BETTY WHITE FOR HOST!”
As Allen Ludden used to say: “And the Password is…….fantastic!”
By Carolyn M. Gilbert