Betty White: How Birthday Celebration Became a Tribute to Icon Instead

by Jacklyn Krol

How did the Betty White 100th birthday special turn into a tribute?

Betty White: A Celebration is a one night only movie theater event. It was originally supposed to be “A Birthday Celebration” but that changed on New Year’s Eve when White passed away. The film’s producers Steve Boettcher and Mike Trinklein were shocked.

The pair have worked with White for over a decade and created the PBS series Pioneers of Television.

“We were just shell-shocked,” Boettcher told The Hollywood Reporter. “I think with her so close to 100 — it was just a gutshot for all of us.”

The producers took guidance from White’s agent and team. They wanted the show to go on. This movie will feature her final on-camera appearance. Unfortunately, the film was already completed and distributed to theaters nationwide. They pulled it back to recreate it. The team reshaped the film to include the news of her death but still keep it as a celebration of her legacy.

“The original beginning of the film was A-list stars wishing Betty a happy birthday and jointly singing ‘Happy Birthday,'” Boettcher revealed. “We had to scrap all the A-list stars. It was like a five to seven-minute-long sequence. We had interview clips that we put in there that we had done that was, ‘Someday Betty will pass. What are your thoughts when that happens?’ Then Betty’s important message to her fans is what the film starts with. That was the crowning jewel at the beginning of the film.”

Betty White’s Major Movie Decision

About fifteen years ago, Betty White was interviewed for the PBS series. That is when this documentary officially began.

“There was just something special about Betty — you could tell meeting her for the first time. So the film started then,” Boettcher said. “We interviewed her intermittently every year or two. That first interview was before Hot in Cleveland, before Snickers [the 2010 comercial], before SNL. I think one of the last times was 2018. We didn’t realize this, but it just turned into a love letter to Betty and her fans.”

The final interview was just ten days before her passing. White had the idea to make a tribute to her fans in the movie. It was a moment that was just White talking directly to her legion of fans without a teleprompter or prepared speech.

She ad-libbed it, and that’s Betty to the very end,” he admitted. “She’s spontaneous and has the wherewithal to go with it and do it live. She was so good at that.”

Additionally, the producers noted that in one of the interviews, Betty White spoke about how she felt about her audience. She described herself as the favorite aunt that was invited into your living rooms once a week.

“Because of that privilege she had,” they added. “She always wanted to make herself approachable to her fans.”

Originally the movie was scheduled to be included in 900 theaters. Now, over 1,500 cinemas will be showing it.

Betty White: A Celebration debuts at 1 PM, 4 PM, and 7 PM local times across the United States for one day only, January 17.