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Fast Chat: Betty White Talks Ads

The 90-year-old sitcom legend on her new Tide gig and helping Abe Vigoda find a puppy

Betty White has "been in this business for 63 years."

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Comedic actress Betty White first appeared in a TV spot decades ago for Panel-Ray heaters.

“I sat in front of a mirror and brushed my hair while I talked about how wonderful the Panel-Ray heater was,” White said. “It was funny because I had very bad hair. To [feature] my hair in any kind of commercial was a laugh in and of itself.”

The 90-year-old sitcom legend was on her assistant’s cellphone speaking to Adweek today as they drove to the set of Hot in Cleveland, a TV Land original series in which she stars with Valerie Bertinelli. In recent years, White's been a big hit with Facebook users, who pushed her on to the Saturday Night Live stage two years ago and currently want to land her at the Democratic National Convention in Charlotte, N.C., this week.

She's not going to Charlotte, she says, because she's too busy working. Indeed, the aging process has done little to slow down the seven-time Emmy Award winner, whose latest endeavor is her new TV and digital spokesperson gig for Tide Vivid White + Bright.

Adweek: You are best known for your work in The Golden Girls and The Mary Tyler Moore Show, but you have been picking up commercial jobs like the Snickers Super Bowl ad and now Tide. Is this relatively new territory for you as a performer?
Betty White: Well, I’ve been in this business for 63 years. When you have a career that long, you end up doing a little bit of everything. So yes, I’ve done commercials over time.

You are obviously in a position to be choosy when selecting endorsements. Why Tide?
Tide has been under my sink for decades. And of course the fact that the product is called Tide Vivid White + Bright and my name is White, well, it just seemed like a neat fit.

A lot of comedians today are doing online branded video content. If approached, would you do a project like that? No, I don’t think so. I just don’t understand that whole area.

You did a Facebook chat session for Tide just over a week ago. Did you enjoy that?
Yes. It was brief; it went by fast. It was nice to talk directly to fans.

What do you think of Facebook? It played a huge role in your Emmy-winning appearance on Saturday Night Live a couple of years ago.
That came as a big surprise. I turned down hosting Saturday Night Live three times earlier on. I am so California oriented that I thought I’d be like a fish out of water [in New York]. But they made me feel so welcome. I had a wonderful time.

Abe Vigoda is someone from your generation who has also been in the business his whole adult life. Had you worked with Vigoda before the Snickers commercial?
I hadn’t worked with him, but I’ve known Abe for years. At one point, he had lost his dog, his springer spaniel. He wanted another springer and didn’t know where to start looking. So I called a breeder friend of mine, and we found him a springer puppy. That was one thing that tied us before the commercial. … When they tackled him [in the spot], I was worried because it looked like a real hit. I was just glad that he was only acting.

You are a legendary performer. What are your thoughts on today’s comedy?
First of all, I don’t know if I am a legendary performer. I think I am an old performer who’s lucky to be working. My problem is that I am working so much that I don’t get a chance to see the younger comics. I wish I could.