Betty White just celebrated her 90th birthday yesterday (January 17, 1922 is her birth date of record), although the big TV party for the now legendary actress was on Monday night.
Betty White has been a bit of a cultural phenomenon of late. Suddenly it was hip to be her.
But frankly she's been here all along, turning in saucy, spicy, amusing performances on TV game shows, series and variety shows for decades… upon decades.
I don't know exactly when her stock began to rise this time 'round — perhaps it was The Golden Girls gaining fans among the college crowd, culminating in a Facebook petition to have her host Saturday Night Live.
Not only did she not embarrass herself, she managed to perform with grace and be genuinely funny – three things that generally elude 95% of the other guest stars.
So why Betty ? And why now? Here's my evolving theory.
Yes, she makes us a recall a simpler time – Carl Reiner, Mary Tyler Moore, Carol Burnett and other TV legends speaking at her tribute were a testimony to when comedy was funny and life at least seemed easier.
But it's much more than just simple nostalgia.
Betty offers a balm to today's Boomer population. When the population that basically spearheaded the youth revolution moved into middle age, things got scary. How do you be what you were railing against?
Betty allows us to be middle aged, and make it really the middle. She makes us feel young. She's 90, for Pete's sake. She even makes my 70-something parents feel young.
I can't get over that at this age I don't feel this age," she has said.
Jane Fonda said something similar at 92Y – that looking at old age from a younger you is far scarier than actually being there.
Betty wears age-appropriate fashion: big shirts, bright colors, neck scarves, a lot of blue to bring out the twinkle in her eye. And red lipstick! Her birthday frock rocked – corset-style bodice and embellished sleeves, beautiful classy, a nod to the historic, glamorous – great.
Betty White is Workin' It
She's a salve to the current unemployment crisis. Betty White exemplifies older workers as still vital, energetic, current and competent (perhaps one reason why President Obama took time out to send her a card via video). If she's still working when she's 100 – so much the better!
Betty White may single-handedly be saving the Boomer generation from themselves.
For younger generations, she exemplifies why getting older may not be so bad. She actually makes it soothing and something to look forward to.
Betty White makes being old OK – and looking old. At a time when finding a genuinely aged face is a challenge, she shows that time doesn't ravage but can write lines well and lovingly.
At her Birthday Show, she said she really couldn't remember when age stopped being something you hid, and became something you were proud of. I like this quote too:
I'm not trying to be any younger. I'm not lying about my age. If I were lying about my age, I would say I was 89."
She's also a team player—at a time when we need team players so desperately.
Yes, she's had her own shows but has shone most when guesting on others' vehicles. Or as part of an ensemble, like Golden Girls or her current Hot in Cleveland which keeps racking up awards.
Betty White's been through career ups and downs certainly, maybe not as extreme as some, but she's gone from job to job to job, setting an example for how that can work – since now it's the norm.
It's kind of kept on the down-low but Betty White has had a Kardashian marriage(!), July to December 1945 -– although still that was longer. Plus a two-year version and an almost 20-year marriage to love-of-her-life Allen Ludden.
Her other longtime love – animals. Her dedication to their welfare has been unwavering.
Saucy not Sexy
Betty White's new show Off Their Rockers is a sort of Candid Camera for the senior set (my mom found it hysterically funny). It's about time this segment of the population was addressed and given their due!
If anything, the only thing I sort of object to is the over sexualization of seniors – as if sex is the only thing that makes them viable. Good lord, there's got to be some point when you can just let that relax a bit, no? She's amazingly fast on her feet (at 90!), isn't that enough?
If Betty White were a man, I think she'd be Santa Claus, although not as fat. Because, oh the gifts she brings.
She could be the dictionary definition of grace and good humor, charm, wit, comfort, charisma, flexibility, longevity, resilience, responsibility, acuity, joie de vivire, gratitude, perspective. Summed up, the personification of beauty – True beauty.
Most of all, Betty White exemplifies authenticity. And in doing so, she brings us back to our humanity – something we sorely need and have been sadly separately from.
And she gives us the gift of Time – a whole half a lifetime in fact.
Other exemplary midlifers:
Billie Jean King Keeps Breaking New Ground
Men of a Certain Sage
I Can See Clearly Now
Marlo Thomas Helps Kick Start Your Life!
May Day Celebrates Power, Feminine Style
Jane Fonda Is a Virgin