Look up the term “consummate pro” in Webster’s Dictionary of Showbiz Lingo and you’ll find a picture of Betty White.
White was at the Shrine Auditorium Friday afternoon to zip through a rehearsal for her Life Achievement Award acceptance segment on Saturday’s SAG Awards telecast.
You gotta figure that a woman who has spent more than half of her life in front of the camera didn’t really need to rehearse a three-minute speech — and who would have complained if she had begged off — but Betty being Betty, she was only too happy to don a pale green raincoat and brave the wet for the run-through.
Even in rehearsal, she received a whole-hearted standing ovation from every crew member, publicist, decorator and set dresser who was running around the Shrine putting together the tables, seating arrangements and such for Saturday’s kudocast and dinner gala. After Betty did her thing — adding a cute ad-lib and gesture to the TelePrompter script, which I’ll be curious to see if she does on the telecast — producers surprised her (and three other staffers) with a big cake and a chorus of “Happy Birthday.”
Betty turned 88 this past Sunday. At the risk of sounding condescending, I marveled at how genuinely spry and sharp she is, in every way. After she blew out the candles on the cake, she hustled back to the podium to quip: “We had a chance to be in show business but we just blew it.”
Afterward, Betty moved to the back of the Shrine to endure another 20 minutes of questions she must’ve heard 30,000 times before from a clutch of reporters — all of us smiling ear-to-ear and lining up for pictures, and she indulged every one of us. I don’t believe the woman has a disingenuous bone in her body. I don’t think it’s possible for her to know just how beloved she is by so many people.
By the accounts of all who know her well, the Betty White you see on screen is Betty off screen. Like her onscreen persona, White is the master of being sweet without being saccharine. She’s saucy — occasionally even a little bawdy — without ever getting crude or cringe-worthy, and she’s fearless in her pursuit of whatever her character calls for. And she has a deep respect for writers. Actors “can help a good show, but you can’t save a bad show,” she said when asked about the showbiz lessons she’s learned. “There just ain’t no way, if it ain’t on the page.”
She went on and on about how much fun it was to work with “Sandy” Bullock on “The Proposal.” And she didn’t mind her easy-on-the-eyes co-star Ryan Reynolds, either. “I kept telling him that I wasn’t too old for him but he just wouldn’t hear it,” she told us with a wink.