By Jake Coyle NEW YORK, AP
What Betty White did in 2010 doesn’t usually happen: an 88-year-old actress with more than six decades in Hollywood suddenly became the object of adulation of the Facebook-connected masses, which campaigned for her to host the sketch comedy show “Saturday Night Live,” boosting its ratings and helping her set ratings records for her own show. After a year remarkable for a star of any age, White has been voted the Entertainer of the Year by members of The Associated Press. “It’s ridiculous,” White says of the honor, in an interview from her home in Los Angeles. “They haven’t caught on to me, and I hope they never do.” But more than acclaim, her unlikely, age-defying success resonated deeply with people who saw in her a spirited, hilarious aberration, a woman not dimmed by age but enhanced by it: The genuine article in a pop culture awash in imitators. There were 102 ballots submitted from U.S. news organizations that make up the AP’s membership. Voters were asked to cast their ballots for who had the most influence on the entertainment world and culture in 2010. Previous winners include Taylor Swift, Tina Fey and Stephen Colbert. The final tally was close: White’s 20 votes beat the cast of “Glee,” Fox’s hit musical, by only two votes. Tied for third with 13 votes were late-night TV host Conan O’Brien, film director James Cameron and Apple’s iPad. Satirical news host Jon Stewart closely followed with a dozen votes. White’s 2010 began with her acceptance in January of a lifetime achievement award from the Screen Actors Guild. Her speech, in which she thanked SAG “from the bottom of my bottom,” reminded many of her talent — showcased for years on “The Golden Girls” and “The Mary Tyler Moore Show” — for a sharp comedy cloaked by warm charm. The appearance led to a fan-created Facebook campaign urging “SNL” to make her a guest host. After White’s award-winning Snickers Super Bowl ad, more than 500,000 were supporting her on the social networking site. It wasn’t a new idea to the NBC sketch program, though. White says that she had turned down “SNL” three times before. But the show came off incredibly. Airing on Mother’s Day weekend in May, most of the recent female “SNL” alum returned for the show, including Fey, Amy Poehler and Rachel Dratch. White appeared in every sketch and the episode was watched by 12.1 million viewers, one of the show’s biggest audiences in years. The appearance also won White her seventh Emmy, for outstanding guest actress in a comedy series. Though she had initially signed up for only the pilot to TV Land’s comedy “Hot in Cleveland,” she stuck around for its 10-episode first season and is filming its 20-episode second season. The show’s first episode set a record for TV Land with nearly 5 million viewers. The season debut on Jan. 19 will guest star White’s old friend, Moore. White has plenty else going on too, including an upcoming Hallmark “Hall of Fame” movie, “The Lost Valentine,” and two books due out: “If You Ask Me (And of Course You Won’t)” and a photograph book of animals from the Los Angeles Zoo.