Hot in Cleveland - Betty White and Valerie Bertinelli
Hot in Cleveland - Elka Ostrovsky (Betty White) and Melanie Moretti (Valerie Bertinelli) © 2011 Viacom Internationa
Hot in Cleveland - Betty White
Betty White © 2011 Viacom International

Betty White will celebrate her 89th birthday on January 17, 2011. Her career has spanned an amazing 67 years with TV series such as The Mary Tyler Moore Show and The Golden Girls and movie appearances in The Proposal and You Again.

On January 19th, she returns to her role of Elka Ostrovsky in TV Land’s popular comedy Hot in Cleveland. The show features three friends (Valerie Bertinelli, Jane Leeves and Wendie Malick) whose plane is forced to make an emergency landing in Cleveland. Upon deplaning, they women decide to move to the city because they find that they are actually ‘hot’ in Cleveland. Together they move into a Victorian home where White’s character is a quick-witted and sharp-tongued caretaker.

When you did the sitcom Life with Elizabeth

No, Life with Elizabeth was a one camera. But once you taste a multi-camera show with a live audience, it is absolute heaven. You re-pace your timing. You get that rapport with the audience, and it makes all the difference in the world. And you learn to time yourself differently because on a one-camera show, you often leave a space for a laugh that doesn’t happen. And that gets a little embarrassing.

Can you talk about the reunion casting of you and Mary Tyler Moore in the first episode of Hot in Cleveland this year?

Hot in Cleveland - Betty White and Mary Tyler Moore
Elka Ostrovsky (Betty White) and Mary Tyler Moore © 2011 Viacom International

Mary and I have stayed friends through the years, of course. We were great personal friends before I ever did her show years ago, but we haven’t worked together in 33 years, so it was great fun. And she’s a dynamite lady. She lives in New York. I live in Los Angels, so we don’t see each other that often. It was a great reunion.

What do you enjoy about working with the other ladies on the show?

I tell you what’s wonderful about working with these ladies, they’re all pros. They’ve all come off of big, successful shows, and they’re so professional about their career. My advice to young stars is: don’t believe your own publicity, and don’t abuse your privileges. These girls are on the set with their lines learned with their hair done.

It’s a very important quality in a show. I think that’s why we all love each other. Nobody is holding anybody back. And we do have fun.

What kind of experience was it for you hosting Saturday Night Live?

Hot in Cleveland - Jane Leeves and Betty White
Joy Scroggs (Jane Leeves) and Elka Ostrovsky (Betty White) © 2011 Viacom International

Looking back on it, I was all set to say no. I had said no three times years ago to hosting it, because I’m such a California girl, and it’s such a New York-oriented show. I thought it would be like a fish out of water. But Lorne Michaels and everybody is so nice, and he brought all the gals back for support, and it was wonderful.

After the big Facebook campaign, have you gotten into Facebook at all, or do you still consider it a huge waste of time?

That was a line that was written for me, and I would have said it myself, but I didn’t know what Facebook was, and I still don’t.

I don’t have a computer because I get a lot of mail, but I can stack those in stacks and throw this stack out without answering, and then I get to this stack. But if I punched the button and stored something in a computer, I wouldn’t sleep at night wondering what was stored in there. I’m a technological spaz.

What is it in your past that has made you into one of the most-loved people around these days?

Hot in Cleveland - Betty White
Elka Ostrovsky (Betty White) © 2011 Viacom International

What Betty White are you talking about? Oh, my dear. Have I got you fooled! (she laughs) I was an only child with a wonderful mother and father, and they both had delicious senses of humor. So we laughed a lot, and we made a lot of jokes, and you grow up looking at the funny side rather than the negative side, and it gets you through some very bad times sometimes.

You seem a bit embarrassed by all this attention, do you find yourself now having to be selective in what you do, or do you find it just incredibly flattering that people still want to hire you?

It’s hard for me to say no to a job because you spend your career thinking if you say no, they’ll never ask you again, and if you don’t take the job that may be the end of it. But my mother taught me to say no when I was a girl, but that wasn’t about show business!

I think [everyone] has had such an overdose of me lately. Trust me. I think I’m going to go away for a while!

Judy Sloane

Judy is Film Review Online's regular Los Angeles based reporter.