As she turned the calendar on another year, actress, cookbook author and Food Network personality Valerie Bertinelli had a message for her fans: “Indulge in your life. The good, the bad and the ugly. Feel it all, then do your best to release what doesn’t belong to you,” she said on Instagram. “Please don’t tolerate the intolerable. You deserve better. We all do. We deserve the best this life has to offer.”
The past year has been a roller coaster ride for Valerie, 63, with high points, including the wedding of her only child, Wolf Van Halen, and devastating lows, such as the cancellation of her Emmy-winning series Valerie’s Home Cooking after 14 seasons. “Gratitude is about finding the goodness in a challenging day,” notes Valerie.
That’s a lesson she learned directly from Betty White, her late Hot in Cleveland costar, who passed away at age 99 in 2021. “Betty just oozes gratitude and she glows,” Valerie once said. “I’ve never met another human being that glows. She’s just not of this world.”
In 2010, Valerie’s interest was piqued when she heard that Betty, a former star of The Golden Girls and The Mary Tyler Moore Show, had agreed to guest-star on the Hot in Cleveland pilot as landlady Elka. “I was told the show was talking to [costars] Jane Leeves and Wendie Malick and that Betty White had already been cast,” Valerie recalls. “Though I didn’t know which part they wanted me to play, I heard the names of these other women and said, ‘OK, I’m in.’”
On the set, Betty turned out to be just as kind, humble and witty as Valerie expected. “I just remember being in awe of her,” she says. “And she was just like, ‘Oh, it’s no big deal.’ I mean, she’s Betty White, but she just thinks it’s no big deal. She wanted to be treated like everybody else. And that was important to her, [but] I never could quite do that.”
Betty only planned to do a guest appearance on the show, but the cast’s chemistry and the sparkling writing convinced her to become a series regular. “Betty loved them all, but she was closest with Valerie and Wendie,” a Cleveland insider tells Closer exclusively. “She was a great storyteller, and Valerie loved to ask her about the good old days. She ate it up.”
Of course, there were no showbiz novices among the accomplished women on Cleveland. After Betty, Valerie had one of the longest résumés, going back to her teenage years on One Day at a Time. Jane, meanwhile, had spent over a decade on Frasier, while Wendie starred for seven seasons on the hit comedy Just Shoot Me! Despite their years of experience, everyone took Betty’s advice to heart. “Betty would tell her fellow costars that showbiz was great, but it was job, and once you stopped enjoying it, it was time to walk away,” recalls the insider.
Betty encouraged Valerie to trust her instincts in life and work. “She said that you should only take jobs that capture your heart because it’s a very hit-or-miss business,” says the insider. “One day you’re up on top of the world. The next, you’ve been written off as a has-been. You can’t take it personally.”
The four women became close and liked to get together for an occasional night on the town. “We’d usually go to one of Betty’s favorite restaurants and just hang out with the girls,” confides Valerie. “We’d have a cocktail. It was just relaxed, and she was just so lovely and so funny.”
Beyond show business, Betty’s favorite topics of conversation were her late husband Allen Ludden and her work in animal welfare. “She loved being married to Allen, and she missed him every single day. Losing him was her biggest sorrow,” says the insider. “Also, her compassion and kindness toward animals was contagious. Valerie became a better advocate because of Betty.”
As Valerie weathered a storm of personal problems over the past few years, she couldn’t help but remember Betty as an example of how to overcome heartbreak and continue to live with grace. “It’s been quite the journey this year,” said Valerie, who needed time to recover from her divorce from Tom Vitale. During their marriage, Valerie revealed that she had been verbally abused. “I have been screamed at so many times and told how fat and lazy I am,” she said on Instagram. “I realize…that was someone just projecting on me whatever they needed to project on me, but my part in all of it was believing it, and I don’t believe it anymore.”
She knows that Betty would be proud of how she’s turned the page on her life. Valerie has done therapy, taken a break from alcohol, spent more time with family, and written a new cookbook, out this spring. Her pets — cats Batman, Tigger, Henry, Bubba, Beau and Nelson, and rescue dog Luna — have provided unconditional love and a constant reminder of Betty, who so loved animals. “There was just a light around her because she was so kind and grateful for her life,” Valerie recalls. “It was a huge lesson to be able to watch that and watch her just live in gratitude.”