By MIKE CIDONI
AP Entertainment Writer
LOS ANGELES — Betty White couldn’t believe it.
“They told me about the SAG Lifetime Achievement Award, and I thought they were putting me on,” White said. “I really did. I thought, ‘Oh, sure.’”
She’ll finally have tangible proof Saturday night, when Sandra Bullock, her co-star in ‘The Proposal,’ hands over the statuette from the Screen Actors Guild, paying tribute to White’s more than 60-year career. The SAG Awards will air live on TNT and TBS from the Shrine Exhibition Hall (8 p.m. EST).
Starting in local Los Angeles television during the medium’s earliest days, White’s first 20 years in the business included a 1951 Emmy for the sitcom ‘Life With Elizabeth,’ and various talk-show and game-show gigs. But it wasn’t until 1973 that she became part of a TV classic, as sex-crazed ‘Happy Homemaker’ host Sue Ann Nivens on ‘The Mary Tyler Moore Show.’
“Ethel Winant, the casting director, had said, ‘We want a sickeningly sweet Betty White type,’” White recalled. “Well, they couldn’t find anybody sickening enough.”
So, they hired White, who eventually became a regular on the series, won back-to-back Emmys, and a place in TV history.
In 1985, she was earmarked for the role of Blanche on ‘The Golden Girls.’ “It was Jay Sandrich, who directed most of the ‘Mary’ shows, who, in his wisdom said, ‘If Betty plays Blanche, another neighborhood nymphomaniac, they’re going to think it’s Sue Ann all over again.’ And he said, ‘Let’s switch them.’” Co-star Rue McClanahan took on Blanche. White got the naive Rose. They both went on to win Emmys, and eternal lives in reruns.
White is nearly as well known for her love of animals. “My mother always told a story. We had a beautiful orange-marmalade kitty who would sleep on the edge of my crib. And she said, ‘If Toby hadn’t taken to you, you would have gone right back to the hospital.’ But it is such a big part of my life. I not only love them – I’m not into animal rights or anything political. It’s animal health and welfare.”
She was previously married, but White said the love of her life was game-show host Allen Ludden, to whom she was married from 1963 through to his death from cancer in 1981. She never married again. “When you’ve had the best, who needs the rest?” White asked. “Oh, I’ve had friends, some of them even better friends than others. But no.”
At 88, Betty is White-hot again, coming off a scene-stealing stint as Ryan Reynolds’ grandmother in the blockbusting ‘The Proposal,’ and with a handful of TV and big-screen projects in the pipeline.
“I think the most surprised person is my agent,” White said. “‘They still are using YOU?’ But it’s beyond-belief exciting.”
Is there anything in show business she’s yet to do?
“Robert Redford,” White replied, with a sly smile.
TNT and TBS are owned by Time Warner Inc.
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