Betty White, furry friends star in 50-year-old 'Pet Set'
On a TV show Betty White hosted 50 years ago, the perpetual charmer flirts with James Brolin, teases Della Reese and trades quips with Carol Burnett.
But White appears most delighted in the company of the real stars of “Betty White’s Pet Set," among them elephants, lions and snakes. And dogs, lots of dogs.
“All I can say is, Charlie Brown is right: Happiness is a warm puppy,” a beaming White says in one episode, cuddling a pair of tiny brown pooches as she quotes the Peanuts comic strip character.
She and her husband, the late game show host Allen Ludden, produced the 39-episode series (originally titled “The Pet Set”) that aired in syndication in 1971 and was released last week on DVD and streaming and digital platforms after a laborious restoration process.
Making the show was strictly a labor of love for the Emmy-winning star of “The Golden Girls” and “The Mary Tyler Moore Show” who, at the age of 99, has retained her affection and compassion for animals.
“When Allen and I started our own production company so many years ago, the one show I wanted to do was ‘The Pet Set,’” White told The Associated Press. “Allen’s offices were the most exciting in the building because we were the only show pre-screening guests who were furry and four-legged.”
“What a time! It remains one of my favorite shows even 50 years later,” White said in a statement.
White, a longtime advocate for animal well-being and conservation, reveled in doing a show with her husband and friends that focused on her passion for animals, said TV producer and distributor Darren Wadyko, whose company shepherded the re-release.
Her celebrity pals were invited to bring their pets and get the chance to meet wild animals — sometimes to the guest’s dismay. Reese ("Touched By An Angel") looked askance at White when she tried to coax her closer to a leopard, and Jim Nabors (“Gomer Pyle") did likewise when a snake was involved.
Burnett initially hesitated when called on for the messy task of bottle-feeding a baby elephant, but then the formula and the quips flow. “These Playtex Nursers, you can't beat ‘em,” she says.
White, however, was fearless, especially in encounters filmed at a Southern California training compound that provided animals for TV and movies. At one point, she's seen snuggling with a 500-pound lion.
Other guests include Doris Day, Mary Tyler Moore, Burt Reynolds, Michael Landon and game show host Peter Marshall, who was interviewed for a documentary about the series that's part of the DVD set.
“It's fun to look back that many years, and how pretty we all were,” Marshall said with a laugh.
The show's revival began when White's longtime agent, Jeff Witjas, asked Wadyko if he could locate the episodes. After what Wadyko termed “a virtual Indiana Jones expedition,” it turned out copies were housed at the Paley Center for Media in Beverly Hills and in White's own Los Angeles-area home.
The tapes were restored, digitized and color-corrected, with the final version cobbling together the best parts of each set to create a pristine version, Wadyko said, a process that took more than six months.
The series is available on streaming platforms Apple TV, Prime Video, Google Play, Fandango Now, with more platforms expected to be added by distribution partners Darren Wadyko Media, White’s Albets Enterprises and the MPI Media Group.
Wadyko, who produced 2015's “Betty White's Smartest Animals in America,” said he's eager to see her reaction to the reborn “Pet Set,” pandemic safety allowing.
He and Witjas are planning to "present her with the wonderful DVD and spend a little time watching it with her. But that event has not happened yet,” he said.
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