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Hot In Cleveland was such a happy set — Betty said it was the happiest set she’d ever been on and that meant the world to me. Betty, Valerie [Bertinelli], Jane [Leeves] and Wendie [Malick] loved and respected each other so much, every day really was a joy. When we did the pilot, Betty’s entrance received a three-and-a-half minute standing ovation. I’d never seen anything like it. Her talent and timing were utterly amazing. In the writers room we called her “The Hammer” because she nailed every joke. She was always professional, but it was truly wonderful when she was so tickled by a line that she couldn’t get through it.
Her love for animals was extraordinary but occasionally frightening — one day I showed up to the set and she was kissing an actual tiger on the mouth (I believe the zoo had brought one by for a visit as a gift to her). I panicked and asked the trainer to move it away, but Betty insisted. I asked if he was a good kisser and she said, “Breath like an angel.” When Robert Wagner guest-starred he surprised Betty with a unscripted kiss at the end of a romantic scene. When asked later how that was, Betty deadpanned, “In this business, you make sacrifices.”
They say you should never meet your heroes. I’m glad I met mine. Every day working with her was a joy. Every hug from Betty White felt like a little miracle. Everything you want Betty to be she was.
This story appears in the Jan. 5 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. Click here to subscribe.
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