07 May 2010

Betty White

America exults now in the full throes of a Betty White Moment, demanding with one voice that the actress host NBC’s Saturday Night Live (tomorrow, in case you haven’t heard) and reveling in a giddy parade of cameos that play ironically off of her sweet, grandmotherly demeanor. United as a people, we love to see her groping Sandra Bullock, cussing at Craig Ferguson, manipulating Wilhelmina Slater, or playing tackle football against a team of taller, younger, heavier, manlier men. It’s great fun.

Yet my enjoyment has been tempered somewhat, because, you see, I already had my Betty White Moment. And I’m still sorting it out.

The night I quit CBS News was not a good one for me or for my boss. At the tail end of an Affiliates Meeting in Las Vegas, we let our tempers get the better of us, and what’s worse, we did so in public, concluding at the Las Vegas airport. I left him at the gate and stormed off toward the ticket counter to book myself on some other plane.

Here, Betty White looks the way I felt.

That’s when I saw Betty White coming toward me. I resolved to salvage what I could of the evening — by introducing myself to a much-loved actress.

She was wonderfully gracious, as her escorts, an older man and a younger woman, stood by. Surely they’d all heard many times before the sorts of things that I said: how much I admired her vivid characterizations of Sue Ann Nivens and Rose Nylund, and how I wished her well on whatever new sitcom she had come to Las Vegas to promote.

But Betty White wanted to know about my work: “What an interesting job! What’s it like to work with Dan Rather?”

“Well, to put it in WJM terms,” I said, “he’s a lot more like Lou Grant than he is like Ted Baxter.”

Neither of these men is Dan Rather.

“Oh, you know, it was just awful, when we were doing The Mary Tyler Moore Show and making station visits,” she said. “No matter where we went, somebody would always pull us aside and say, ‘You know Ted Baxter? We’ve got one of those here!’”

“Really, Dan’s a good guy,” I said, still concerned about his public image even though — as I told her — I’d just fought with my boss and quit my job.

“Well, don’t you worry,” Betty White replied. “I’m sure that in no time, you’ll be throwing your cap up in the air and turning the world on with your smile!”

It was a lovely remark, and it made me feel better. For the first time in what seemed like ten years, I started to laugh. What do you know? Talking to Betty White had salvaged my evening.

So I can absolutely vouch for the witty, sweet, grandmotherly part of her persona.

But if — and I’m just saying — if she proceeded to board the very same plane that my boss was flying to Los Angeles, and if she spent the entire trip pumping him for details of our fight, humiliating the poor guy, who was visibly upset and surely didn’t want to talk about it with her — if she went on in this fashion, such that any chance I might have had of begging to get my job back perished somewhere in midair between Las Vegas and L.A. — and if a certain CBS News executive happened to tell me all of this during my exit interview —

Well then, I might have reason to believe that there’s some basis in truth to the flip side to her persona that we’ve been seeing in all those ironic comedy sketches lately.

Golden: Betty White & Bea Arthur

Over the years, whenever I tell about my meeting Betty White, other people never fail to respond with an account of the celebrated incident, which every single one of them claims to have witnessed personally, when her Golden Girls colleague Beatrice Arthur is reported to have declared, “Betty White is a @%#÷! A funny @%#÷, but a @%#÷.”

I repeat that anecdote now so that you won’t have to. (And so that I won’t have to censor you if you try to use the offending locution in my squeaky-clean comments section.) I doubt that the incident ever took place, least of all in a New York City restaurant where, apparently, 38 thousand people were sitting at the table next to Bea Arthur’s and eavesdropping intently on her conversation.

Moreover, I remind you that, only moments before Betty White allegedly drove the final nail in the coffin I’d constructed for my career, she had done her charitable best to encourage me. (And a similar kindly impulse might have motivated her to speak with my boss.)

However, if you’ve ever seen the little promotional video for the movie The Proposal, in which Betty White surreptitiously terrorizes the actor Ryan Reynolds — yeah, I kinda know how that would feel, if it ever happened to me.

Thank you for being a friend.
For a few minutes, anyway.


Brightshadow said...

Spellcheck appears to have missed this in your quotation of Ms. Arthur's apocryphal phrase, but in "@%#÷," doesn't the # come before the %?

William V. Madison said...

I use a variant, French spelling of the word. My readers insist on this kind of erudition in all my #$%&*! work.