For Betty White, belle of the Beastly Ball, it's all happening at the zoo
"It" girl Betty White's name may be on tongues everywhere in recent months, but at the Los Angeles Zoo, she's old hat, frankly – in the best kind of way. The animal activist has been supporting the zoo for 46 years, and the object of Betty's affection honored her again for her service at the Greater Los Angeles Zoo Assn.'s 40th annual Beastly Ball fundraiser Saturday evening.
"When they said they were honoring me tonight, I said, 'But I'm family. You can't honor family, that's incest,' " quipped White, a zoo board member who was dubbed "Ambassador to the Animals of the City of Los Angeles" by Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa in 2006. "They said, 'Well, what's wrong with incest?' "
Sing it, sister.
White, who in 2005 defended the zoo's plans to build a $42-million elephant enclosure when protesters branded it too small, talked about Gita the elephant: Gita died at age 48 in 2006 with chronic foot problems and arthritis, two causes of death in captive elephants. White's support helped the zoo win the city's approval to proceed with the project, which zoo officials said would help support the critically endangered population.
"One of my best friends at this beautiful institution was my Gita," she said. "And I would take walks sometimes on Saturday morning before the zoo opened with Gita, and we would just walk around the zoo, and I'd say, 'Gita, trunk up!' And she'd put her trunk up, and I'd stand on my toes because I couldn't reach it, and I'd slap her tongue as hard as I could.
"What I discovered from other zoos is elephants love to have their tongues slapped," White said. "And how many people can come up to a strange elephant and say, 'Hello, sweetheart, put your tongue out. Let me slap your tongue'?
"I've tried it on fellas, it doesn't work as well as it does on elephants."
The star of TV Land's new series "Hot in Cleveland" may be a familiar sight at Beastly Balls, but the 88-year-old hottie attracted some new A-listers to the list of co-chairs lending their names (but not their bodies) to the popular event. Sandra Bullock, her costar in "The Proposal," was one of them; so was Elton John, who met her this year at his Oscar party.
At a recent zoo board retreat, the engaging star bonded with another board member – Slash, formerly with Guns N' Roses, who is currently on tour.
Jeb Bonner, zoo vice president and chief financial officer, told us: "Slash ended up getting in one of the revenue maximization workshops – he's totally read every word of every contract he's ever signed. Slash came on board when we were dealing with the Pachyderm Forest and the City Council. Betty and Slash did a video for it together. They were starstruck with each other. They were tongue-tied. They started comparing what their favorite reptile was. You know, it's so hard for men and women to connect these days, so to find something in common to talk about – their favorite reptiles."
Other all-star animal lovers at the event were host Pauley Perrette, of "NCIS"; Gilles Marini, of "Brothers & Sisters"; Jason Alexander; Stefanie Powers; and Jay Mohr. Also turning out were Villaraigosa and City Council members Tom LaBonge, Jan Perry, Paul Krekorian and Janice Hahn. The evening raised $1.2 million for the zoo.
-- Irene Lacher
Photo: Pauley Perrette, left, Betty White and a friend party down at the zoo. Credit: Jamie Pham