- The Washington Times - Monday, June 6, 2011

ANALYSIS/OPINION:

IF YOU ASK ME (AND OF COURSE YOU WON’T)
By Betty White
Putnam, $25.95, 272 pages

I love Betty White. Who doesn’t? She’s 89 years old, still going strong and has no intention of quitting because she’s passionate about what she’s doing in both her professional and personal life. She can’t wait to get up every morning, sleeping no more than four hours. She gives us hope that we, too - if we’re lucky - could end up like her.

Ms. White says writing is her favorite thing to do, and she prefers longhand to a keyboard. In her sixth book, she shares her views about, well, pretty much whatever she wants. Take hot dogs, which she likes plain. Pink’s Hot Dogs named one after her and called it the Betty White Naked Dog. She also likes to be around animals more than humans because she doesn’t believe animals lie or criticize. Then there’s her desk, which is so messy she has started piling stuff up on her dining room table, and now she’s embarrassed to have friends over. “If You Ask Me” is essentially a Hollywood tell-all about Ms. White herself.

It sounds trite but somehow she pulls it off with her charm and self-deprecating wit. Her honesty is so disarming, it could even pass for wisdom, at least in Hollywood where disingenuousness is an art form. It’s no coincidence she doesn’t have a personal publicist.

Folks in the “Entertainment Capital of the World” are obsessed with age. They might be in denial about their own mortality but not about anyone else’s. It isn’t even considered impolite to ask a person’s age in Tinseltown. But then there’s Ms. White, who doesn’t mind telling anyone she’s 89 and a third.

She has somehow managed to turn old age into an asset. As she puts it, “I don’t feel eighty-nine years old. I simply am eighty-nine years old.” She says if she meets someone, she has to remind herself how old she is. She likes older guys, but at her age there aren’t any, although she has had eyes for younger guys who are about 80.

I do think the book has flaws, starting with the title: “If You Ask Me (And of Course You Won’t).” Ms. White says she has many fans who often approach her and send her letters. I have no doubt they will ask her some questions about this book, just as I am about to do.

Let’s face it. Ms. White is a little old lady who should have been washed up years ago, yet she has made an amazing comeback, and now is a bigger star than ever. How does that happen? She never addresses it, although she does give credit to several vehicles, including: “The Proposal” (2009), the hit film in which she co-starred with Sandra Bullock, the Snickers Super Bowl commercial (2010) and a hosting gig on “Saturday Night Live” (2010) for which she was awarded a seventh Emmy. Personally, I think she brought more to the struggling SNL than it did to her career, but I digress.

I believe it was “The Tonight Show With Jay Leno” that put Ms. White back on the map after “The Mary Tyler Moore Show” (1970-1977) and “The Golden Girls” (1985-1992). For years, Ms. White made frequent appearances with Jay, which kept her in the limelight. In a bit called “Will This Make Betty White Flinch?” she would stand behind a Plexiglas wall with her nose right next to it while objects were hurled toward her, including arrows, bullets, pingpong balls fired from a cannon and even a guy. Her reactions were incredibly funny. However, I may be biased here, as I worked as producer for Mr. Leno during that time.

I am also perplexed by Ms. White’s views on the afterlife. She’s certain there will be one, but doesn’t know what it will be like, although she implies when her time comes, her deceased family members and pets will be “up there” waiting for her. Yet she makes no mention of God or any deity anywhere in the book. I don’t want to get too heavy-handed, but I am curious, nonetheless.

Ms. White once played a character on “The Mary Tyler Moore Show” named Sue Ann Nivens, the Happy Homemaker. Sue Ann had a crush on Chuckles the Clown, who had a whimsical view of life, or as he put it, “A little song, a little dance, a little seltzer down your pants.” Hmm, sounds like something Ms. White would say. I love it when life imitates art.

Dave Berg was a producer for NBC News, “The O’Reilly Factor” and “The Tonight Show With Jay Leno.” He’s now writing a book about “The Tonight Show.”

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