ACTRESS BETTY WHITE

The beloved actress and Hollywood icon considers herself “the luckiest old broad on two feet.” Now, PBS pays tribute to the “First Lady of Television.”

Aired on September 19, 2018.

TRANSCRIPT

> AT 96 YEARS OF AGE TV LEGEND BETTY WHITE SHOWS LITTLE SIGN OF SLOWING DOWN.

THIS YEAR WHITE CELEBRATES AN AMAZING 80 YEARS IN SHOW BUSINESS OFFICIALLY THE LONGEST CAREER IN THE HISTORY OF TELEVISION.

KNOWN FOR HER ROLES IN 'THE MARY TYLER MOORE SHOW,' 'THE GOLDEN GIRLS' AND MORE RECENTLY 'HOT IN CLEVELAND,' WHITE WAS ALSO A TRUE INDUSTRY PIONEER.

SHE WAS THE FIRST WOMAN TO PRODUCE A NATIONAL TV SHOW, THE FIRST WOMAN TO STAR IN A SITCOM AND THE FIRST WOMAN TO RECEIVE AN EMMY NOMINATION.

AND NOW EIGHT DECADES INTO HER STORIED CAREER, BETTY WHITE HAS COME TO PBS.

BETTY WHITE, FIRST LADY OF TELEVISION, A DOCUMENTARY TEN YEARS IN THE MAKING CHRONICLES WHITE'S IMPRESSIVE CONTRIBUTIONS TO THE SMALL SCREEN.

HERE IS A PREVIEW.

IT'S HUMILIATING.

I TOLD YOU I'VE GOT A LUNCH DATE.

YOU CAN GO TO LUNCH ANYTIME.

HOW OFTEN DO YOU GET A CHANCE TO WEAR A WEDDING GOWN?

SHE CAN DELIVER A LINE LIKE NOBODY, AND THEY CREATED THAT CHARACTER AND SHE DID THAT WHOLE DIMPLES THING.

SHE ALSO HAD A LITTLE PROBLEM THAT SHE LIKED MEN, ANY MEN, ANYBODY'S MEN, SHE JUST LIKED MEN.

AND THAT WAS -- THAT WAS SORT OF WHAT MADE THE CHARACTER KIND OF FUN.

AND JOINING US NOW IS THE DIRECTOR OF THE DOCUMENTARY, STEVE THETCHER.

STEVE, WELCOME.

THANK YOU VERY MUCH.

GREAT TO BE HERE.

STEVE, THIS IS A WONDERFUL DOCUMENTARY THAT YOU MADE.

WHAT GOT IT STARTED AND WHY DID IT TAKE YOU TEN YEARS TO COMPLETE?

FIRST OF ALL, IT TOOK US LIKE TEN YEARS TO CATCH UP TO BETTY'S CAREER TO BE HONESTLY.

CONSTANTLY FOOT ON THE GAS, NO BRAKE, AND, YOU KNOW, WE DID AN INTERVIEW WITH HER ABOUT 12 YEARS AGO AND KIND OF SLOWLY STARTED DEVELOPING THIS PROJECT OVER THE COURSE OF LIKE TEN YEARS AND WHAT A CAREER SHE'S HAD.

WE COULD HAVE DONE FOUR HOURS ON HER LIFE, QUITE HONESTLY.

12 YEARS AGO YOU MET HER, SO YOU KNEW HER WHATEVER YOU STARTED THE PROJECT.

WHAT SURPRISED YOU ABOUT HER DURING THIS LONG PERIOD THAT YOU SPENT SO MUCH TIME WITH HER?

GREAT QUESTION.

WHAT I THINK I LEARNED ABOUT BETTY IS WHAT YOU SEE IS WHAT YOU GET.

ETERNAL OPTIMIST AND EVERY CREW MEMBER OR ANYBODY SHE MEETS ALONG THE WAY, SHE WILL FIND OUT WHAT YOUR PET IS, WHAT THE NAME OF YOUR PET S SHE'S JUST SO GENUINE AND SO SINCERE AND I THINK THAT'S REALLY WHAT THE FILM KIND OF REFLECTS, TOO, TO SOME DEGREE THAT SHE IS WHAT SHE -- AND THE REASON SHE'S LASTED FOR EIGHT DECADES AND STILL WORKS IN THIS BUSINESS, THERE IS A REASON FOR IT AND THAT'S BECAUSE SHE'S JUST GENUINE.

OKAY.

SO YOU KNOW, WE ALL KNOW ABOUT ALL THE GREAT SHOWS THAT SHE WAS IN, BUT ONE OF THE MANY THINGS THAT I LEARNED THAT I DIDN'T KNOW ABOUT BETTY WHITE, I HAD MENTIONED IN THE INTRODUCTION, SHE WAS THE FIRST WOMAN PRODUCER ON TV.

NOW, THAT SEEMS LIKE A VERY BIG DEAL.

HOW COME MOST OF US AND I THINK THAT'S FAIR TO SAY THAT MOST OF US DON'T KNOW THAT.

YEAH, IT'S KIND OF INTERESTING.

I THINK HER CAREER GOES BACK TO 1939, IT WAS EXPERIMENTAL TELEVISION IN LOS ANGELES, THIS HE SET UP A BUNCH OF CAMERAS, THE ENGINEERS NEEDED TO FIGURE OUT HOW TO MAKE IT WORK SO THEY NEEDED SOMEONE IN FRONT TO KIND OF JUST SHOOT WHILE THEY WERE WORKING OUT THE ENGINEERING OF IT AND BETTY CAME OVER FROM HIGH SCHOOL, IN HER HIGH SCHOOL GRADUATION DRESS AND SANG AND DANCED IN FRONT OF THE CAMERAS.

FROM THAT MOMENT I BELIEVE THE ENGINEERS REALIZED THIS MEDIUM HAS TO WORK BECAUSE BETTY IS SO GOOD.

SO TV WAS INVENTED BECAUSE OF BETTY.

I THINK, YOU KNOW, JUST EARLY ON SHE JUST SAID WE DID WHATEVER JOBS NEEDED TO BE DONE AND FIRST WOMAN PRODUCER, YOU KNOW, STARTED HER OWN SITCOM, SHE STARTED WITH FIVE AND A HALF HOURS OF TELEVISION ON THE WEST COAST AND JUST, YOU KNOW, THE FIRST OF EVERYTHING.

RIGHT.

SHE WAS BEFORE LUCILLE BALL AS A PRODUCER OF A TV SHOW AND IS THE PRODUCER OF HER TV SHOW WHICH WAS SYNDICATED NATURALLY.

SHE MADE A CONTRIBUTION TO THE CIVIL RIGHTS MOVEMENT.

TALK ABOUT THAT.

YEAH, BACK IN 1950s SHE HAD HER OWN SHOW ON THE AIR, IT WAS ON NBC AND SHE HAD A YOUNG DANCER ON THE SHOW THAT SHE LOVED, ARTHUR DUNCAN.

HE WAS AN AMAZING DANCER, AMAZING GIFTED MAN AND SINGER AND DANCER AND THE SOUTH DID NOT LIKE HIM.

SOME OF THE SOUTHERN STATIONS DIDN'T LIKE HIM BECAUSE HE WAS AFRICAN-AMERICAN.

BETTY STOOD UP FOR HIM AND KEPT HIM ON THE SHOW, NO QUESTIONS ASKED, AND THE INTERESTING THING IS HE KNEW NOTHING ABOUT THIS OF ALL THE SCUTTLEBUTT, HE JUST WOULD SHOW UP EVERY WEEK AND DO HIS PART ON HIS SHOW.

BETTY HANDLED IT OFF CAMERA AND IN THE BACKGROUND AND NEVER MADE A BIG DEAL OUT OF IT AT THE TIME AND I THINK THAT SAYS SOMETHING ABOUT BETTY THAT SHE WASN'T LOOKING FOR THE ATTENTION OR THE MEDIA TO BACK HER, SHE JUST TOOK ON THE TASK AND DID THE RIGHT THING.

LET'S TALK ABOUT THE LOVE OF HER LIFE, ALLEN LUDDEN.

TALK ABOUT THE RELATIONSHIP.

HOW DID IT GET STARTED AND HOW IMPORTANT WAS IT IN HER LIFE?

ALLEN WAS THE HOST OF 'PASSWORD.'

BETTY LIVED IN LOS ANGELES, 'PASSWORD' WAS DONE IN NEW YORK.

HER AGENT SAID SHE STARTED MAKING A LOT OF TRIPS IN AND OUT OF NEW YORK TO BE ON 'PASSWORD' AND I THINK THEY LITERALLY FELL IN LOVE IN FRONT OF THE CAMERAS ON 'PASSWORD.'

I THINK THE AUDIENCE KNEW IT EVEN BEFORE ALLEN AND BETTY DID.

YOU CAN SEE IT ON YOUR DOCUMENTARY, I THINK.

YOU CAN SEE THE LOVE AND THE CONNECTION THAT THEY HAVE AND JUST THE PLAYFULNESS THEY HAVE TOGETHER ON SET DURING THE SHOW.

BETTY HAS A REALLY AMAZING STORY, A CUTE STORY ABOUT HOW SHE KIND OF REJECTED HIM AND HE KEPT WEARING THE ENGAGEMENT NECKLACE AND A RING AROUND HIS NECK EVERY TIME SHE WENT OUT WITH HIM AND SHE SAID NO FOR A YEAR AND FINALLY SHE SAID EVERYWHERE WE GO I SEE THIS NECKLACE AND THIS RING, ENGAGEMENT, AROUND HIS NECK AND FINALLY BETTY HAD TO SAY YES.

FINALLY, WHAT WAS HER REACTION TO THIS DOCUMENTARY AFTER SHE SAW IT?

WE SHOWED IT AT HER 96th BIRTHDAY WITH LIKE 400 OF HER CLOSEST FRIENDS, IT WAS KIND OF A SURPRISE, SHE DIDN'T KNOW IT WAS COMING.

WE HAD A SCREENING FOR THE FILM.

SHE LOVED THE FILM, THE ONLY THING SHE SAID TO ME WAS, STEVE, IS IT TOO MUCH BETTY WHITE?

SHE LOVED IT, I THINK.

SHE REALLY DOES.

THAT'S GREAT.

I THINK SHE'S AN ENSEMBLE PLAYER SO IT'S ALWAYS ABOUT THE CAST AND EVERYBODY ELSE AROUND HER.

SHE DOESN'T REALIZE SHE IS A LEADING LADY.

STEVE, THANK YOU SO MUCH AND THANKS SO MUCH FOR THE WONDERFUL DOCUMENTARY.

I APPRECIATE IT.

THANKS FOR THE TIME.

BETTY WHITE, FIRST LADY OF TELEVISION IS AIRING NOW ON PBS.

CHECK YOUR LOCAL LISTINGS FOR MULTIPLE VIEWING OPPORTUNITIES.

©2021 WNET. All Rights Reserved. 825 Eighth Avenue, New York, NY 10019

WNET is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization. Tax ID: 26-2810489