For Betty White – The Tryon Daily Bulletin

I just say ‘

Shortly after arriving in West Hollywood, California in 1985, I somehow managed to get a job as a joke writer for a new game show pilot named Word Play, who was later hosted by the likeable Tom Kennedy. It was my first introduction to the inner workings of show business because when I got to an interview with the show’s producers there was no question – or interest – whether I had a college degree or previous writing experience outside of my own stand-up- Routine. I just made them laugh at the interview and they hired me on the spot.

Well, that was easy, I thought, and floated out the door into the brilliant sunshine. Why doesn’t everyone do this?

In short, the show had a panel of three celebrities, only one of whom had the true definition of an obscure word. The other two celebrities would try to mislead the candidates with made up definitions that would explain them in a way that would hopefully generate a lot of laughter.

After developing the pilot with a small army of other writers (one who would later become a bestselling writer, another who was an executive producer on ‘Roseanne’) we got word that the pilot had been picked up by the broadcaster and I stayed for 10 months on board, arrived at our sparse office in the San Fernando Valley and wrote 10 jokes a day before it left at 5pm. One day while sitting in traffic with an excruciating headache that I had for a week, I realized that this was not what I wanted to do. The whole point of stand-up comedy was to have my days off to ride my horse and not Chained to a 9-5 office job.

The next day I gave my resignation.

However, the pilot was brilliant fun and starred to impress the network, including a very young Pat Sajak whose “Wheel of Fortune” was already a huge hit, Stuart Pankin made “Not Necessarily the News” and somehow The room to appear with us despite the filming of ‘Golden Girls’ was Betty White.

The writers had to meet up with every celebrity on set during band day to go over the jokes they would deliver – explain them, throw them away if they didn’t work, and rewrite them if necessary. Funnily enough, for the entire first year on the show, the only celebrity I remember specifically interacting with was Betty. Was it because she stormed into our meeting with a small basket of chocolate chip cookies and chirped, “I just baked this, would you like some?” Or her amiable, radiant face and her innate ability to give every joke the perfect funny timing? Surely it was all of the above, and it was one of those satisfying encounters where you learn that a celebrity is as friendly and natural as you hoped they would be.

“Oxymoron,” she began to read our joke definition and nibbled on the edge of a cookie. “Oxymoron means eight personalities. For example, when Sally Field played ‘Sybil’ she played eight people and went to a restaurant and ordered a table for one and asked for separate checks. “She loved that and immediately started improvising the character that argued with each personality about it who had the tuna salad, who owed more, etc. If you are inclined to see their delivery, you can follow this link: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mCPsX3sFd6A

For the showbiz newbie that I was, it was an important lesson to be professional and personable. That egos should be checked at the door and what was conducive to the comedy was that everyone worked together diligently and carefree. Betty was … gorgeously authentic and razor sharp in her ability as a comedian. In this one hour that I spent in her company, she left a beautiful lasting impression that has remained crystal clear to this day. What a gift to leave a group of young, inexperienced writers. What a gift to leave anyone. And the biggest realization is that while none of us can replace the wonderful actress and humanist Betty White, everyone can copy that kindness.

Comments are closed.