Hollywood icon Betty White became famous playing “Happy Homemaker” Sue Ann Nivens on The Mary Tyler Moore Show, but she’s hardly a homebody. At least once a week, she brings a group of friends to dinner at the old-school Pacifc Dining Car in Santa Monica. “She’s really funny, always making jokes,” reported an employee. “And Grey Goose on the rocks is her drink.”
Her co-stars confirm that the Golden Girl is still a good-time gal. Lea Thompson, who worked with Betty on 2003’s TV movie Stealing Christmas, has said, “She can drink me under the table, she can swear me under the table, and she can remember her lines better than me. She’s a rock star!” You couldn’t blame Betty if she wanted to rest on her laurels, considering her remarkable career in TV over the past 60 years. “Saying Betty White paved the way for women in comedy is almost too limiting,” TV Guide critic Matt Roush explained. “She is one of the true pioneers of the industry, every bit as groundbreaking in her way as Lucille Ball and Barbara Walters.”
Betty with her Hot in Cleveland co-stars. (Photo Credit: Getty Images)
And Betty keeps on breaking ground. In 2017, she appeared on two episodes of Freeform’s Young & Hungry and also received a special tribute at the Paley Center for Media’s Gala Celebrating Women in Television. “The fact that people still ask me and nd things for me to do, I’m thrilled,” she shared. “There are those who think I’m going to be around forever, and they could be right!” While her former Hot in Cleveland co-stars Wendie Malick, Valerie Bertinelli, and Jane Leeves are decades younger than Betty, they “sometimes tease her about having more stamina than they do,” said a friend. “She’s such an inspiration,” said Wendie, who credits Betty with teaching her that “as you get older, life can be sweeter and richer if you just take good care and keep a good sense of humor about yourself.”
By all accounts, Betty’s life is full of love and laughs. According to pals, Betty’s an early riser who wakes up each day around 6 a.m. and enjoys some alone time doing crossword puzzles and needlepoint or writing (she published two books in 2012 alone!). While she has a full-time assistant and a part-time housekeeper, she still drives herself everywhere and has “an amazing amount of energy,” another friend shared. The early bird is also a night owl, often going to bed around midnight. “Six hours or so of sleep is all she needs to feel rejuvenated,” her friend reported.
Her eyesight is still strong, and aside from occasional minor back pain, she’s in great shape, stretching every morning; she’s also known to work out with a personal trainer twice a week. “The fact that I have this kind of health at this age is really a blessing,” Betty said. She still lives in the same home that she shared with her late husband, Allen Ludden, in LA’s Brentwood neighborhood. “She’s comfortable there — she’s surrounded by the things she loves,” the friend said. “Betty is a very forward-thinking person — it’s what’s kept her going in show business for so long — but she sometimes likes to put on music (opera or 1950s crooners), go through old photographs and take a trip down memory lane.”
Betty also has a house in Carmel, CA (near her close friend and fellow animal lover Doris Day), which she and Allen built shortly before he died. When she’s there, “Betty toasts Allen every sunset. She very clearly waits for that moment when the sun touches the water, and then she toasts her husband,” said Tom Sullivan, a longtime close friend. “There’s absolutely no change in how she feels about him.” The friend said, “Before her career got red-hot again she was eyeing retiring there, but so many wonderful opportunities arose to keep working, and she was happy to accept them.” She hasn’t accepted many dates since Allen passed away in 1981, however. “Men never became a critical part of her life after Allen,” Tom said. “She said there was one love, and that was it.”
Betty with her late husband Allen. (Photo Credit: Getty Images)
Betty credits animals with helping her through her grief after Allen’s death. “There were two other gentlemen in my life — my dogs, Timmy, a coal-black miniature poodle, and Sooner, a Labrador-golden retriever mix,” she remembered. “They missed Allen, too, but were not about to let me just wither away.” These days, “my life is divided into exact halves,” Betty said. “Half my animal work, half my show business work. I have to stay in show business to pay for my animal work!” An active member of the Los Angeles Zoo for more than 50 years, “she talks to the animals, and she swears they talk back,” her friend said. “Betty knows those animals so well, she really feels like she can communicate with them.”
Betty’s lifelong passion for animals that started “in the womb,” she joked, also keeps her active. In addition to her work with the zoo, since 1971 she’s been involved with the Morris Animal Foundation. “Betty reads every page,” Tom promised of the Foundation’s 70 to 80 studies per year. “She knows more about the health of animals than many veterinarians in the world.”
Betty with a furry friend. (Photo Credit: Getty Images)
“My work with animals [is my fountain of youth],” Betty said. “I think everybody should cultivate a passion. Don’t be afraid to really get hooked on something, because that will [replenish] your energy.” And the die-hard sports fan, who loves the LA Dodgers, certainly keeps things swinging. “She watches golf on Sundays, and then she’ll call me and say, ‘I’ve been working on my golf swing in the living room and I just can’t get my flat-iron swing right!’” Tom said.
All these pursuits don’t prevent her from seeing her friends. “She always makes time to meet for a lunch date so we can catch up,” said her former co-star from The Mary Tyler Moore Show Ed Asner. And whenever Ed needs a helping hand, Betty comes through. “Betty never refuses a favor,” he said. “I’ve asked her to sign stuff for charities I work with to auction off, and she does it right away.”
(Photo Credit: Getty Images)
Betty brings the same positive spirit to the issue of her own mortality. “My mother had a wonderful approach to death,” Betty said. “She always said nobody knows what happens at that moment when it’s over. So whenever we’d lose somebody very close and dear, she’d say, ‘Well, now he knows the secret!’ It took the curse o it somehow, so I have no fear or dread of death.” Even so, the actress says with a laugh, “I’m happy as a lark to stay around!”
Betty’s dear friend and former housekeeper Edna McNair know firsthand that Betty still has a strong desire to stick around for more laughs. “Last I talked to her,” she said, “we were teasing each other about how long we’re going to live. We said we want to be like Moses and live to be 120!”
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