Miss Betty White celebrated her 93rd birthday yesterday and got a sweet surprise from the entire cast and crew of her show, Hot in Cleveland. I’ve had the pleasure of working with this hilarious, uber-talented lady and no one is more deserving of an outpouring of affection. Enjoy the video celebration, then read about my own encounter with Miss Betty!
No one can underestimate the value of a kind angel at a vulnerable moment. Beyond offering my congratulations and praise to Miss White for her groundbreaking work on television and film all these years, I owe her a debt of gratitude…
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’re 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 five years, she is hotter than ever in a career that has spanned the last sixty!
Happy 93rd birthday, Miss Betty! Thank you for showing us how it’s done.
Anita Finlay is the bestselling author of Dirty Words on Clean Skin — exposing media bias in a society not as evolved as advertised. #1 on Amazon’s Women in Politics books for 16 weeks.
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