HAPPY BIRTH­DAY Betty!

Amer­ica’s sweet­heart on her celebrity crush, her bucket list and how to live long and healthy

Albuquerque Journal - Parade - - Front Page - By Sa­muel R. Mur­rian Cover and fea­ture pho­tog­ra­phy by Ari Michel­son

Ap­proach­ing a mile­stone birth­day in Jan­uary, Betty White has just one wish for a present: Robert Red­ford!

White’s No. 1 celebrity crush couldn’t be less of a se­cret. The hand­some, square­jawed, Os­car-win­ning ac­tor-di­rec­tor has been at the tip-top of her bucket list for a long time.

“But it never works. I try ev­ery year,” she says with a twin­kle in her bright blue eyes.

White has never col­lab­o­rated with Red­ford, and they’ve yet to even meet—quite sur­pris­ing, given that White, who’ll turn 96 on Jan. 17, has worked with just about ev­ery­one, done just about ev­ery­thing and charmed ab­so­lutely ev­ery­body.

Seated in a suite at the Luxe Sun­set Boule­vard Ho­tel in the Los An­ge­les neigh­bor­hood of Bel Air, White beams with her sig­na­ture dim­pled smile and ra­di­ates the in­de­struc­tible, re­lent­less wit that made her a TV sweet­heart for decades. A self-pro­claimed op­ti­mist, she says her thou­sand-watt out­look on life is “pretty much the same” as it has al­ways been. “I know it sounds corny, but I try to see the funny side and the up­side, not the down­side. I get bored with peo­ple who com­plain about this or that. It’s such a waste of time.”

The six-time Emmy win­ner has been work­ing in show busi­ness con­sis­tently for more than 75 years, and hers is the long­est tele­vi­sion ca­reer of any fe­male en­ter­tainer in his­tory.

Does she have any tricks or tips for liv­ing hap­pily and health­fully for more than nine decades? In­deed: “En­joy life,” she says. “Ac­cen­tu­ate the pos­i­tive, not the neg­a­tive. It sounds so trite, but a lot of peo­ple will pick out some­thing to com­plain about, rather than say, ‘Hey, that was great!’ It’s not hard to find great stuff if you look.”

She also loves vodka and hot dogs, “prob­a­bly in that order.”

SPUNKY OP­TI­MIST

Born in Oak Park, Ill., White moved with her fam­ily to South­ern Cal­i­for­nia when she was young, and she al­ways con­sid­ered her­self to be “a Cal­i­for­nia girl.”

She dis­cov­ered her love of per­form­ing in high school, and by the 1940s, in her early 20s, she was mak­ing the rounds to movie stu­dios. She was turned down over and over for be­ing “un­pho­to­genic,” but she was never de­terred.

“You just keep plug­ging away,” she says. “You don’t give up.”

Per­se­ver­ance paid off, and two of White’s ear­li­est break­throughs were host­ing six-day-a-week live TV va­ri­ety show Hol­ly­wood on Tele­vi­sion and pro­duc­ing and starring in the sit­com Life With

Elizabeth, about an or­di­nary sub­ur­ban cou­ple and their predica­ments.

To this day, White says her Life With

Elizabeth char­ac­ter (a spunky op­ti­mist who loves an­i­mals) is more like the real Betty White than the rest of her iconic roles over the years. But, she ad­mits, “there’s a lit­tle bit of Betty in ev­ery­thing I’ve played.”

White was a reg­u­lar guest on the hit game show Pass­word from 1961 to 1975, where she met the love of her life, host Allen Lud­den. They were mar­ried for 19 years—“Not long enough,” she says— be­fore Lud­den’s death from stom­ach cancer in 1981. White didn’t re­marry, and though they didn’t have chil­dren, she was step­mother to Lud­den’s three chil­dren from his first mar­riage.

SE­RI­OUS BUSI­NESS

White’s in­spir­ing, sto­ried ca­reer stands as a mon­u­men­tal ex­am­ple for any­one look­ing to build a ca­reer in show busi­ness. Does she have any tips for young up-and­com­ers look­ing to break in?

“Do your work, learn your lines and come in pre­pared,” she says. “Don’t think you can wing it, be­cause you can’t. We’re in show busi­ness, which is fun, but take your busi­ness se­ri­ously, be­cause it is a se­ri­ous busi­ness.”

As for the en­ter­tain­ment in­dus­try, White says she be­lieves it is “in good hands” with a new gen­er­a­tion of funny women (and men), and she’s hope­ful for the fu­ture.

“I think the busi­ness is in pretty good shape; I don’t have to fix it.” She smiles. “I

will, but I don’t have to.”

Look­ing back on her ac­co­lades over the years (which also in­clude a star on the Hol­ly­wood Walk of Fame and in­duc­tion into the Tele­vi­sion Acad­emy Hall of Fame), White says she cer­tainly hasn’t ever felt over­looked. “I got an award for ev­ery­thing,” she says. “In­hal­ing, ex­hal­ing . . . I’ve been so spoiled rot­ten.”

ANIMAL LOVER

Her body of work is im­pres­sive, but one source of White’s foun­tain of youth is her love for an­i­mals and her com­mit­ment to their wel­fare. White says it be­gan “in the womb” and was nur­tured by her par­ents. “I’m an only child,” she says, “and my mother and my dad loved [an­i­mals]. We had them as long as I could re­mem­ber.”

Among White’s beloved child­hood pets were sev­eral Pekingese, in­clud­ing her fa­vorite, a Peke named Ban­dit “be­cause he stole my heart.” To­day, she has a golden re­triever, Pon­tiac, “the star of the house.”

She has served for more than four decades as a trus­tee and on the board of the Greater Los An­ge­les Zoo As­so­ci­a­tion, and in 2012 pub­lished a book, Betty & Friends:

My Life at the Zoo, with pho­tos and anec­dotes of her fa­vorite an­i­mals there.

So how does she want to be re­mem­bered? “Warmly,” she says. “I hope they

White wants to keep her up­com­ing 96th birth­day cel­e­bra­tion a low-key af­fair. “Stay­ing home would be the best thing in the world,” she says.

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