Thursday, February 25, 2010

Betty White: The New George Burns

This article is dedicated to my sister. Happy Birthday Emily!

In early 1976, George Burns became the oldest person to win a competitive Oscar for Best Supporting Actor. He was 80 years-old. That would have been predicted to be the sunset of his career. Having already lived past the average age of people in the United States, people would have probably predicted that he could live another few years and make another film or two. When you win an Oscar, opportunities open to you. What surprised everyone is that he lived another 20 years.

George Burns did not only live another 20 years, but he worked and worked and continued to work. He was not a face of classic television that children would see glances of while changing the channel on cable television. Instead, a new generation of audiences would see him in new movies for years to come. I remember in the early 1990s seeing him in an advertisement for Little Ceasars (Here is the commercial on YouTube). George Burns stayed in the spotlight until he died. I viewed him as the Grandfather of Hollywood. When he died in 1996, Hollywood was without its true elder statesman, or stateswoman.

There were other very famous celebrities who lived until their 90s or reached the age of 100, but most of them were done performing. Katherine Hepburn only died a few years ago. She had won an Oscar in the 1930s, two in the 1960s, and one in the early 1980s. But the last twenty years of her life, she was quiet and enjoying retirement. She is arguably the greatest actress of all time, but she was out of the spotlight. Bob Hope was considered to be a true entertainer. He is also the most honored entertainer of all time. But just like Katherine Hepburn, Bob Hope was essentially retired for years. With two of the most impressive careers in Hollywood history, neither Hepburn nor Hope had chosen to be highly visible in the public. They worked for many decades and then moved on.

Recently, I realized that the torch has been passed from George Burns to Betty White. I remember seeing Betty White on the Golden Girls in the 1980s. I remember seeing her in recent years on Boston Legal. She has received several awards recently for her long career in the entertainment industry. She even had the best commercial of the Super Bowl. She’s a funny woman and continues to make audiences laugh.

I must admit that my I have not been able to see her work from the decades prior to the 1980s. While she has acted since way before I was born, I am not familiar with her work when she was younger. To me, she is the Golden Girl who stayed in the spotlight. Betty White is 88 years-old right now and I hope that she can be around for years to come. She is not the oldest person in Hollywood, but she is the Grandmother of Hollywood with her warm, friendly personality and the talent to continue to be hilarious.

Recently, with the support of over 400,000 fans, it looks like Betty White will get to host Saturday Night Live. I am one of those fans.

It’s clear that Betty White has received a lot of attention in the last year. Probably more attention than she has received in the last 20 years. I would assume that Betty White is busier now than she has been in a long time. But that did not stop her from mailing an autograph to my sister. Regardless of how much attention that Betty White has received recently, she appreciates her fans.

Why should anyone retire when they are doing the work that they love to do? Betty White does not appear ready to retire. I look forward to seeing her continue her career. As the Grandmother of Hollywood, Betty White is continuing to make new generations of audiences laugh. I think what makes her so likeable is that she seems to appreciate her audience. Joy can help a person live long years of happiness. Betty White has the willingness to show her audience that she appreciates their support. Even in a time when she is receiving more attention that she has in decades, she still took the time to send my sister an autograph.

Many celebrities could learn something from Betty White. If you treat your fans with appreciation, you may keep them as fans even when you are receiving less attention. I think of celebrities who make millions of dollars for a few months of work on a movie. They are getting paid well because fans want to see their films. For a celebrity to refuse an autograph to a fan just shows a lack of appreciation. If that celebrity becomes a has-been in the future, I wonder if he or she would regret not treating the fans better.

Long live Betty White: The Grandmother of Hollywood.


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