Most of us know Betty White as the actress from “The Mary Tyler Moore Show” and “Golden Girls” or as the resurgent nonagenarian who starred in The Proposal with Sandra Bullock, hosted “Saturday Night Live” after a massive Facebook campaign and took a lead role in the sitcom “Hot in Cleveland.”
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But what about Betty White the animal lover?
For nearly 40 years, White has served as a trustee of the Greater Los Angeles Zoo Association. She is a devoted advocate of the work that zoos do, educating the public and helping to conserve endangered species in the wild. Her latest book, Betty & Friends: My Life at the Zoo, is a polished scrapbook of her favorite animals, with photographs and anecdotes.
The Smithsonian Associates is hosting an evening with White this Thursday at George Washington University’s Lisner Auditorium. On Friday, she has made plans to tour the Smithsonian’s National Zoo.
What is your earliest memory of feeling some sort of kinship toward an animal?
Oh, it is so embedded in me. The first time must have happened long before my memory started. Both my mother and father were tremendous animal lovers. They imbued in me the fact that, to me, there isn’t an animal on the planet that I don’t find fascinating and want to learn more about.
Before wanting to be an actress, it was your dream to be either a forest ranger or a zookeeper.
Right. A couple of years ago, the Forest Service made me an honorary forest ranger. Back when I started, girls couldn’t be forest rangers. But now they made me an honorary one, made it very official, and I was deeply honored. As far as a zookeeper, I have been such a zoo nut all my life that I am practically a zookeeper!
That’s right. At the Los Angeles Zoo, you have spent a fair amount of time behind the scenes. What has been the most special moment to witness?
There have been quite a few in all of those years, but I think probably watching a baby camel try to stand up. I spent two hours watching while this baby, newly born, tried to get up. He would get one leg up and then he would get a second leg up. He would try the third leg, and the first two would fall down. He really had to work at it. I stood there and watched the whole time.