Expressing My Gratitude to Miss Betty White on Her 91st Birthday
06 Feb 2013
Dancing around the dial on a rare quiet evening last night, I came across “Betty White’s Second Annual 90th Birthday Celebration” on NBC. Since comediennes from Lily Tomlin to Amy Poehler and even President Bill Clinton offered their congratulations and praise for Miss White’s wonderful accomplishments and groundbreaking work on television all these years, I had to add my two cents about this talented and wonderful lady.
I moved to Los Angeles in 1991 to pursue an acting career in TV and film. My first job was two lines on the last season of “Matlock” as a Beverly Hills busybody who encounters a dead neighbor. I gasped in horror at the sight of a gigantic knife sticking out of his chest. An auspicious beginning. My second job was four scenes in an NBC movie of the week entitled “Chance of a Lifetime” with none other than the late, great Leslie Nielsen and Miss Betty White. The movie captured them falling into an autumn romance. I played Mr. Nielsen’s secretary. The three of us were the only actors in an office building one weekend shooting all the scenes that took place in my “bosses'” office.
I was thrilled to meet both of them, of course. Mr. Nielsen insisted I call him Leslie. Some may remember that in the 80s and beyond he had an amazing career resurgence as a comedic actor — a far cry from all the basso-profundo strait-laced characters he used to play in the movies years earlier. In a quiet moment, waiting for the next lighting set up, I asked him how he got movie studio bosses to see him as someone who could handle comedy. Apparently, he liked to carry a “whoopie cushion” in the breast pocket of his suit. And while they were interviewing him, he would quietly “pass wind” during their meeting in an effort to “break the ice.”
“I find, about two farts usually does it,” he said.
He would occasionally use his whoopie-cushion during our scenes to try to crack me up. I’m sure Betty had a few choice comments for him about that…
But the high point of my day was Miss Betty, who sat off camera during my scenes with Leslie. She had no reason to sit there, and certainly no obligation. But between takes, she would lean in to me and whisper, “You are doing a wonderful job, dear.” As a newbie to the town, trying to build a resume, her kind words both calmed and reassured me. It was a gesture I have never forgotten and speaks to her generosity and old-school class.
She taught me the value and meaning of comportment. Her warmth and kindness are something I will carry with me always. Thank you Miss White, for taking the time to pay it forward and show kindness to a “Newbie” when she needed it most.
And how wonderful that these past three years, she is hotter than ever in a career that has spanned the last sixty!
Happy birthday, Miss Betty! Thank you for showing us how it’s done.