Michael Feinstein did a special rendition of "Of Thee I Sing," and everyone called her a "national treasure." And they meant it, and then some.
Thursday night's tribute to Betty White at the Academy of Television Arts & Sciences on the occasion of her 60th year in television was Woodstock for Betty-philes.
(Hundreds were turned away at the door, causing some tense moments for security, but to my knowledge there were no reports of bad acid going around. Special thanks to ATAS staffers for hearing my pleas and letting me in a wee bit late -- infernal Hollywood Bowl traffic!)
It's no accident that everyone who came out on the stage, decked out with a living room sofa (the natural habitat of her fans), went on and on about how much they "adore" her. She is, in fact, adorable. Other superlatives that got a workout by longtime friends and coworkers trying to describe how much they love her Betty White-ness included: Kindness. Generosity. Joie de Vivre. Cheerful. Funny. Lively. Dedicated. A pro. Genuine. Spectacular. Animal savior. Always a lady. First Lady of Television.
The more than two-hour Betty bonanza included a reunion of "The Mary Tyler Moore Show" cast. MTM, Valerie Harper, Cloris Leachman, Georgia Engel, Ed Asner and Gavin MacLeod -- the sight of them together again brought the sold-out crowd to its feet and a lump to my throat for sure. And it was telling about the spirit of that great MTM Prods. show that when "Mary Tyler Moore" co-creator Allan Burns was spotlighted in the audience, the cast got on its feet and gave him a standing o.
Betty's big night also commanded a rare public speaking appearance (and visit to the Valley) by "Golden Girls" co-creator Susan Harris. Harris announced that she'd downed a few tranquilizers for the occasion and instructed moderator Pete Hammond not to talk. (Ever the gracious host, Hammond kept quiet.)
Harris spoke of how Betty never failed to "lift everyone up" every day she was on the set during the seven seasons of "Golden Girls." She confessed that the writers got lazy writing scenes for Betty's Rose character because of her skill at making even mediocre material sing.
And then Harris drop a few Montana-sized hints about the one person on the set that didn't entirely care for Betty's "up-ness," and it wasn't Rue McClanahan, who sent in a vid message, and it wasn't Estelle Getty, who was remembered with a round of applause at Betty's instigation.
"No lie, I love her and I admire her," Betty said of Bea Arthur, without mentioning her by name.
"They don't know who we're talking about," Harris said. "The hell they do," Betty replied.
Betty lit up when she chatted with veteran game show producer Bob Stewart, creator of "Password," "The Price is Right'" and "$10,000 Pyramid" about the first time she met her future husband, "Password" host Allen Ludden.
She laughed and flirted with abandon when Craig Ferguson came out to remind her that she was on the very first TV show that he did after moving to the U.S., an ABC clinker that also starred Marie Osmond, "Maybe This Time."
"It was not a high point of your 60 years" Ferguson reminded Betty, but he'll never forget how nice and welcoming she was to a stranger in a strange land with an even stranger accent. He now gets to have her as a semi-regular on his CBS latenighter, but there's only one catch: "Quieting the audience down after Betty walks on stage" can take a long time, he noted.
"I adore you," Ferguson continued with a warmth that made Betty blush ever so slightly ("he could make me forget about Robert Redford," she opined). "We are all so grateful that you continue to bless us with your genius."
Feinstein, who became friends with Betty when he learned she was a fan, closed out the night with "Of Thee I Sing" and "How Do You Keep the Music Playing?"
A shining star and inspiration
Worthy of a mighty nation
Of thee I sing...Betty
Betty proved that she's comedic timing more than once during the night by letting the hot air out when it got too thick.
"Can you imagine what I'm going to be like to live with for the next week?"
Betty is nothing if not consistent. In an interview nine years ago, Betty told me that her favorite of the dozens of TV shows she's done over the years was "The Pet Set," a syndicated show that she wrote, produced and hosted for one season in 1970-71. It was a yakker featuring celeb guests and their pets. Click here to watch a Doris Day ("the dog catcher of Beverly Hills," as Betty introduces her) that apparently is included as an extra on a "Doris Day Show" DVD set.
Because we can (thank you, YouTube), here's a bit of Betty in her Sue Ann Nevins persona, years before Sue Ann Nevins was created: