In her next life, Betty White wants to come back as a moose. Sure, they're not the most glamorous of animals, the 90-year-old actor explained to a sold-out crowd at last night's Smithsonian Associates event. But moose have the life White yearns for: “They live in the high country, on the edge of mountain lakes [. . .] and they're loners. I think I would choose to be a moose.”
As always, White, who's in DC promoting her newest book, Betty & Friends: My Life at the Zoo, was pleasantly candid about her enduring careers as an actor and animal advocate during an hour-long interview with CBS Radio News correspondent Sam Litzinger last night at George Washington University's Lisner Auditorium.
The evening began with White discussing how her love of animals came about. "Really, it began in the womb. But back during the Depression, my father would make radios. No one could afford to buy them, so he'd trade them for dogs," she said. "Well, radios don't eat, you know, but dogs have to. Not the best business deal, of course."
Since taking care of her first pet, a Boston terrier named Toy, White says she's become "animal nutty." Her acting career spans more than six decades and includes seven Emmys, but she says her true pride comes from working with the Los Angeles Zoo for the past 50 years. On being named the zoo's Ambassador to the Animals in 2006, White said, "That takes precedence over any career you might have."
White said when she started her work with the LA Zoo in the early 1950s, people often admitted to her, "I didn't even know LA had a zoo." Over the course of her self-described career as a "zoophile," she's worked with close friend Jane Goodall to improve the zoo's gorilla exhibit and has served on the board of the Greater Los Angeles Zoo Association since 1974.
White also talked about several of her most treasured moments with animals, including her first visit with Koko, the 38-year-old "talking" gorilla that can sign language with humans. She recalled feeling like she had "just died and gone to heaven" after sitting and playing with Koko for an hour and a half. At one point, White said, Koko tried to unbutton her blouse. "Dr. Patterson told her, 'You can't do that, Koko.' But she didn't exactly try to button it back up."
Koko's nickname for White? Lipstick.
And just like no one ever seems to have a bad thing to say about White, she can't seem to utter a bad word about anyone or thing--ugly animals included. "My problem is that I can't find any animal that I think is ugly. I love anything with four legs" she told Litzinger. As an afterthought, she added, "But if they have any more than four legs, it's kind of abusing the privilege."
White will be touring the National Zoo tomorrow and signing copies of her book. If you happen to be one of the lucky ones to meet her, don't ask her about her late-age career "revival." She may have won over everyone's hearts after more recent guest appearances on shows like Saturday Night Live, but White reminded the crowd she's had a steady career for 64 years. "People say, 'Oh, it's so nice to have you back.' I hate to tell you this, guys, but I've never been away."