Betty White, solid gold

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Did anyone else catch the actress Betty White on “Saturday Night Live” last weekend? Was anyone else smitten with her by the end of the show?

OK. I was. Her self-effacing humor, comic timing and ease in performing with the ensemble were priceless. It was easy to forget that this woman, the oldest person to host the comedy show, is 88.

No one really knew what to expect from White, best known for her role as Rose Nylund on “The Golden Girls.” I think her appearance far exceeded perhaps most people's expectations.

They certainly did mine. (See my previous entry on the subject to learn more.) One of my favorite skits was on the segment “Weekend Update.” She acted with Molly Shannon who played Sally O'Malley, the character who likes to boast that she is 50 and can still kick. White came on and one-upped O'Malley: “I'm 90 and I can sit!”

Another bit readers might have gotten a kick out of was White playing a detective on a show, “CSI: Sarasota.” Wearing large sunglasses, she acted on a mission to track down crimes against seniors. As a bit of a tweak to nursing home critics, the scene involved the “crime” of a centenarian dying. But the skit was more about White's imitation of a detective on "CSI" than about living in institutions.

Overall, it was a brilliant, intelligent show with many former cast members appearing alongside White, such as Shannon, Tina Fey, and Ana Gasteyer. White, who played mostly older characters, got a lot of easy laughs for using dirty and inappropriate words, which you might not expect from "sweet, old" White. Was the show pandering? Maybe. But White also displayed her range as an actress, conveying different personality types.

Perhaps White's biggest contribution to the show, besides entertaining us, was changing our minds about what older people can do. She displayed a sharp mind, a quick wit and well-honed acting chops.

Others in the long-term care field agree. Commented Richard Grimes, president and CEO of the Assisted Living Federation of America:

“Betty White's appearance on SNL not only helped to combat ageism but encouraged respect among the generations. The Saturday Night Live and Facebook audiences are young enough to be Betty's grandchildren. We were delighted to see the SNL crew and audience recognize her value with such respect and obvious affection. Betty was a stand-in for senior Americans and, as she showed with spirit and humor, her generation still has a lot to show the rest of us.”

He noted that ALFA is now rooting for the new Facebook campaign to enlist 77-year-old comedian Carol Burnett as an SNL host.

And why shouldn't Burnett host? White broke an age barrier of sorts for mainstream TV on Saturday. She may have opened the door to a whole generation of comedic talent young people haven't seen before. She also showed what is possible as we age.

It was hard not to be thinking while watching SNL, “Yep, that's who I want to be like when I grow up.”


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Daily Editors' Notes

McKnight's Daily Editors' Notes features commentary on the latest in long-term care news and issues. Entries are written by Editorial Director John O'Connor, Editor James M. Berklan, Senior Editor Elizabeth Newman and Staff Writer Marty Stempniak.