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 "Saturday Night Live," boosting the show's 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.
The final tally was close: White's 20 votes beat the cast of "Glee," Fox's hit musical, by two votes. Tied for third with 13 votes were Conan O'Brien, James Cameron and Apple's iPad. 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.
"I thought I was so Californian and it's so New York-oriented that I would be like a fish out of water," she says. "This time, my agent said, 'No, you've got to do it.' ... But I was scared to death."
The show, airing on Mother's Day weekend in May, came off incredibly. Most of the recent female "SNL" alum returned for the show, including Tina 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.
For those who didn't know White, she was a breath of fresh air. For others, they were seeing her anew.
"She re-entered the hearts of all ages in 2010," said Mark Vasche, editor and vice president of the Modesto Bee in California.
All the feting has come as a surprise to White.
"It's been phenomenal, but everybody keeps congratulating me on my resurgence and my big comeback," she says. "I haven't been away, guys. I've been working steadily for the last 63 years."
Thanks to her eagerness, White was everywhere in 2010. She guest starred on "Community" and "The Middle," and co-starred in the movie "You Again."
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 currently filming its 20-episode second season. The show's first episode set a record for TV Land with nearly 5 million viewers.
Says White: "It's just been a lovely year, I must admit."
Tune in Tonight
"Happy New Year, Charlie Brown," 8 p.m., ABC
Charlie Brown is committed to attending Peppermint Patty's New Year's party, even though he's supposed to be reading "War and Peace."