AGORA
: Dragged from her chariot by a mob of fanatical vigilante Christian monks, the revered astronomer was stripped naked, skinned to her bones with sharp oyster shells, stoned and burned alive as possibly the first executed witch in history. A kind of purge that was apparently big business back then.


CRITICAL WOMEN HEADLINES

1/25/12

Betty White On Senior Girl Power in 'Off Their Rockers.'


By Winnie Bonelli 

“I’m the luckiest old broad on two feet and I don’t take it for granted, not for one single minute,” proclaimed the perpetually young actress, comedian Betty White. “I’m just at one of those good times in your life, and there’s been so many of those through my 90 years. But I’m at one of the high spots and healthy enough to enjoy it and. I’m surrounded by friends I adore. Isn’t that kind of the best way to sign off?”

It’s going to be a long time before this particular gal ‘signs off,’ as White’s popularity continues to mount among, first, second, third, and even fourth generation fans.

 Any actress, regardless of age, would be thrilled to have one series. White’s juggling two, with any spare time left over for her animal-related charities, and literary efforts, such as the best-seller, If You Ask Me (And of Course You Won’t).

The first, TV Land’s Hot in Cleveland, casts White as a sharp-tongued Polish caretaker shooting judgmental retorts in costars Valerie Bertinelli, Jane Leeves, and Wendie Malick’s direction. Barely into its third season, Hot in Cleveland has been picked up for a fourth. Without a moment’s pause, NBC is launching Betty White’s Off Their Rockers this spring, following a preview aired last month.

An age-reversal spin on the Punk’d format, this adaptation of the award-winning Belgium series, Benidorm Bastards, sets a group of sassy septuagenarians loose on the unsuspecting younger generation.

Naughty, sexy, and ready to party, an airport grounded, gray-haired traveler implores a 20something “mark” to join her in the Mile High Club. In another snippet from the premier episode, an elderly woman attempts to coax individuals to sign a petition baring ugly people from reproducing.

The series wasn’t a difficult sell for White, who admits, “I love Candid Camera. It was always a surprise. And also, Allen Funt was always being confused with Allen Ludden, who was my beloved husband. So I had to watch it just because the names were so much alike. I think hidden cameras are fun if you keep them from being mean-spirited. They let you see people as they really are. We take ourselves so seriously these days.”

Best known for her long running stints as the sardonic, man-hungry Sue Ann Nivens on The Mary Tyler Moore Show and St. Olaf, Minn.-native Rose Nylund on The Golden Girls, has witnessed a lot of changes in her 63-year career on the small screen. White interjected, “Except technically, the audiences have changed more than television. When I started out, I did my first television show in my high school graduation dress. The senior class president and myself did our version of The Merry Widow. We were up on the fifth floor and the audience was standing around among the cars in the Packard Showroom. Here we were, these people on a box in the corner, it was something terribly exciting. Everything was new to people.”

She continued, “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 or write for. It’s highly competitive now, because the audience has gotten so much more sophisticated.”

Sophisticated or not, there’s no denying that people of all ages still relate to White’s irreverent sense of humor. For in January 2010, a grassroots campaign on Facebook called Betty White to Host SNL (Please), drew nearly 500,000 names by the time NBC slotted her in for May 8, 2010.

In her opening monologue, White thanked Facebook and quipped that she “didn’t know what Facebook was, and now that I do, I have to say, it sounds like a huge waste of time.” Apparently, viewers embraced the backhanded compliment for the appearance earned her a 2010 Primetime Emmy Award for Outstanding Guest Actress in a Comedy Series. That Emmy joined her shiny trophies from six previous wins.

Despite the many accolades, life doesn’t always play fair. Growing uncharacteristically quiet, White said wistfully, “I have a major regret, that Allen Ludden isn’t with me.” One of Hollywood most loving and devoted couples for 18 years, Ludden succumbed to stomach cancer in June of 1981.  

Winnie Bonelli writes for Life & Style Magazine, The Independent [Hamptons], New Jersey Monthly and The Herald News. She is a member of The Women Film Critics Circle.

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