Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Betty White Turns 90

Perhaps one of the most amazing phenomena of recent years has been the surge in popularity of actress Betty White, who is 90 years old today.

I would be tempted to compare her to Grandma Moses — except that she didn't begin this career in her golden years.

Most people probably know she's no newbie — but still, I think, a lot of people probably don't realize just how long she has been around. Her career spans seven decades. She started out singing on an experimental TV station in Los Angeles right out of high school, but her early career was spent mostly on radio.

By the early 1950s, she was on TV, by that time an established entertainment medium, and, by and large, that is where she has remained. And she made it her own in a career that has had its share of ups and down.

She really appeared to make the medium her own as Sue Ann Nivens, the Happy Homemaker, on the Mary Tyler Moore Show and the bubble–headed Rose Nylund on The Golden Girls, but she had some flops, too, like her short–lived sitcom, The Betty White Show, that followed the wrapup of the former and served as something of a bridge to the latter (although people often forget that she had recurring roles on The Love Boat and Mama's Family between the two).

She is still influencing entertainment as an immensely popular and award–nominated star of the hit cable sitcom Hot in Cleveland. Not bad for a gal who just hit 90, huh?

Frankly, I've never really been able to comprehend what it was that people liked about her. Even in the '70s, when she starred in her own series, I felt she was capitalizing on the success — and longing for — the Mary Tyler Moore Show and tried to ride piggyback on that series's success.

If that was her intention, it failed. I think the series was canceled after just a few months. And I remember hearing a lot of jokes from the late–night crowd of the day (mostly Johnny Carson) about it.

But, I suppose, neither White nor those affiliated with the show could be blamed for trying to strike while the iron was hot. After all, isn't that a guiding principal behind just about every endeavor?

Sometimes, such gambles pay off. Other times they don't.

I suppose enough have paid off for White over the years — or else we probably wouldn't be observing her 90th birthday today.