By Frank Moher
The show hasn’t reached my time zone yet, but by all Twitter accounts Betty White is killing it on “Saturday Night Live” tonight. But all this amazement that she can still do the job is a bit misplaced, no? For one thing, she’s only 88-years old. My buddy Antony Holland, whom some of you will know as the farting grandfather in National Lampoon’s Thanksgiving Family Reunion (though he’d probably prefer I mentioned his recent performance as King Lear) just turned 90, and he’s still doing the acting deed. And on stage too, which is a heckuva lot harder.
As for White, she first appeared on TV in 1939, three months after graduating from Beverly Hills High. If that isn’t a formula for killing it on “SNL” 71 years later, I’ll eat my “Golden Girls” Signed Pilot Episode TV Script. She was on “Live with Regis and Kelly” earlier this week claiming to be terrified about the whole thing, but that’s just a very canny performer warming up the house — not so much lowering expectations as raising the “Aww, isn’t she cute?” factor, which will make it all the funnier when she says “shit” and they beep her.
Of course, it was White’s Superbowl ad . . .
. . . that gave her cachet with a generation of viewers who didn’t know her from “The Golden Girls,” or “The Mary Tyler Moore Show” before that, or “Password” before that. I expect that’s what she meant when the president of her fan club (as quoted in that CNN article above) told her “When you’re hot you’re hot” and she replied “When you’re old, you’re old.” Not “I don’t know if I can do this” but “Stick around long enough, honey, and they’ll applaud you for getting up in the morning.”
Still, we should be grateful she’s not only still getting up in the morning, but heading down to the TV studio. I also expect the outsized reaction to her appearance on “SNL” has to do with the fact that she brings more skillz to the job than most of the hosts. Seventy-one years on camera will do that for you.
And yet, and yet . . . I found a live feed of the show while I was writing this, and even I find myself thinking: “Cool. She can still read the cue cards.” Call it the “We all love our grannies” syndrome. Good for Betty White for taking advantage of it. Canny. Not cute. Canny.