Monday, January 17, 2011

All Hail The Betty White. Betty White At 89

The Betty White is probably right when she says she is 'overexposed', but if it weren't for the fact that America loves The Betty White as much as it does, we wouldn't be seeing her renaissance. For those who wonder why I refer to her as THE Betty White, it's quite simple.

For some reason(s), Betty White has transcended being a mere actress. She's become an Icon, a Beloved Figure who brings joy just by the mention of her name. She therefore can't be just plain Betty White. She is THE Betty White.  Also, I like calling her The Betty White.

What is it about The Betty White that endears her so much to the public at large? I think part of it has to do with just her name. Betty White. That has the ring of a sweet, dear lady. What danger, what harm, could possibly come from a Betty? Her screen persona is such that when we hear "Betty White", we do think of a nice, little old lady. We see Rose, the character she played on The Golden Girls: sweet, naive, an innocent. We love that about both Rose and The Betty White, although The Betty White is anything but innocent.

That is a second aspect of her appeal: the fact that she turns that image completely on its head. She can be sassy and shockingly risqué, and oddly, that makes us love her all the more. I think the biggest aspect of her appeal is that she is not only in on the joke, she adds to it. She plays on her image as a sweet little lady and laughs all the way to the bank.

It should be remembered that it was her reputation that put her on the map. The Mary Tyler Moore Show was looking for a man-hungry tramp who was 'sickeningly sweet, a Betty White-type'. With that description, The Betty White thought she would be perfect for a Betty White-type, and it's a sign of her talent that she turned a guest appearance as The Happy Homemaker Sue Ann Nivens into a recurring character on one of the best sitcoms in television history. She can get away with saying the most shocking and outrageous things, but she knows that her delivery makes it hilarious rather than vulgar. In a case of history repeating itself, The Betty White had agreed to appear in Hot In Cleveland on the understanding that she would appear in the pilot only, but once the show got picked up she was convinced to be a regular character.

In short, people just love The Betty White. The fact she can play on her image is a plus, right down to her now-famous Snickers ad. Under normal circumstances, the fact that an eighty-eight year old woman is tackled into the mud would be shocking. However, the fact that it's The Betty White makes it funny because she knows not to take any of it seriously. That's part of her appeal: she is in on the joke, so we never laugh at her, but with her, and she does it with such humor (and more importanly, talent), that she can get away with it.

Think on it: few characters can be as different as Sue Ann Nivens and Rose Nylund and that she can play both of them so well shows her extraordinary range as an actress. Moreover, if she so wished she could play dramatic parts well: there were scenes in The Proposal where she was quite touching, and her role in both The Practice and its spin-off Boston Legal showed she was not a nice lady when she had to be. Even her guest turn in Ugly Betty (where she essentially played a parody of herself) showed she could play on her image for laughs. In short, The Betty White's One Smart Cookie.

We also recognize that she is a caring person. Her work with animals has few equals with the possible exception of Doris Day. There doesn't seem to be any ruthlessness, any vindictiveness in her nature, which makes America love her more.

Finally, I think people love the fact that she still is working, at age 89 as of today. Americans admire and respect hard work, and few people have worked as much and as hard on television as The Betty White. Why she hasn't received a Kennedy Center Honors for her career is a puzzle. Hey, Kennedy Center...Wake Up!

Sassy, brassy, funny, outrageous, generous, and more importantly, talented, a lady who can be innocent and deviant...sometimes all at once. What can we say: America Loves The Betty White. She makes our Homes Happy. She is a Golden Girl.

At Rick's Cafe, drinks are always on the house for The Betty White. All kidding aside, we wish Happy Birthday to Betty White.


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