Betty White’s escapades on television go so far back her late husband used to say that she started on “silent TV.”
Allen Ludden’s joke still makes White chuckle. And just because White has been around since the dawn of television, doesn’t mean she’s any less enchanted by it. Happily, it’s a mutual love, which is why the National Academy of Television Arts & Sciences’ Daytime Emmys will present her with the 2015 Lifetime Achievement Award.
“I can’t be coy,” she says of the honor. “I was thrilled.”
Some of White’s daytime work is well-known, such as her guest stint on “The Bold and the Beautiful” and constant appearances on gameshows including “Password,” “Match Game” and “The $25,000 Pyramid.” Her television debut, though, was for a lesser-known program that defines early daytime TV. For “Hollywood on Television,” White was on camera, 5½ hours a day, six days a week, for four years.
“Anybody who came through town, any celebrity, any political figure, anybody,” would stop by, she recalls. In between interviews, “I would sing three or four songs, and then we would do little drama scenes that we would make up as we went along. The audience liked that because we made fools of ourselves. I spent more time on television than anyplace else.”
She even did most of the commercials. During the few pre-recorded commercials, White bolted off-stage for a bathroom break. The marathon show “was a wonderful experience because you had to think on your feet,” she says.
She continues to apply that lesson and will not write a thank-you speech for the live kudocast. “I always ad lib, but it is not ad libbing, speaking from your heart,” White says.
She’s also skipping another awards show tradition: no shopping or agonizing over what to wear. Rather, White will rifle through her closet for a gown she wore to another occasion. “I have been in the business for 102 years,” jokes the lively 93-year-old star.
Her career may not be quite that long, but David Michaels, senior vice president of the Daytime Emmy Awards, explains why White is so deserving of this honor.
“No. 1, she is the first woman to ever win a Daytime Emmy for hosting a game show, ‘Just Men,’ ” he says of the show that had White flirting with gorgeous guys. “No. 2 is, she’s the queen and pioneer of the celebrity guest on gameshows.
“There is no part of television she wasn’t and isn’t iconic in,” Michaels says. “This is probably the only award in the world she hasn’t won.”
Back at White’s home, her golden retriever, Pontiac, barks. You can practically hear her smile as she talks to him. Is there anything on daytime TV that she would still love to do?
“Robert Redford doesn’t do television, does he?” she says, not missing a beat.
Incidentally she’s never met Redford nor intends to. “I take his name in vain,” White says. She has a good laugh over her running joke, then grows serious about whether there is any gig she wants.
“I don’t think there is anything,” White says. “It sounds so self-serving and I don’t mean it that way. I have done drama and comedy and ad lib and daytime and nighttime. And I just love it and I still do after all these years.”
Having just taped the finale of “Hot in Cleveland,” which she calls “the wettest show you will ever see — we all cried our eyelashes off,” White is weighing what’s next. Retiring is not an option.
“I don’t want to rest,” White says with finality. “I just like to work.”