Betty’s knowledge of animals is evident. She is very curious and well-prepared to talk about all the animals in each episode, whether it’s a puppy, zebra or hawk. In one of the many hilarious, impromptu moments, White grabs the trunk of a young elephant and hands it to guest James Brolin. “Pardon me, it’s for you,” she says. It then becomes a teachable moment as she blows into the trunk and explains to Brolin that is how you show affection to the elephant.
The 6’4” Brolin – who was enjoying popularity as the original Dr. McDreamy on “Marcus Welby, M.D.” at the time – had brought along his 175-pound Great Dane named Buck, who put his front paws on Brolin’s shoulders to be eye-to-eye with his owner.
The guests share their love of animals (in addition to his basset Bertha, Burt Reynolds had horses, goats and other dogs), how they got their pets and gave them their name. (Of course, Carol Burnett has a mutt.) Experts then discuss the animal’s history and there are always animals on the set. Lorne Greene (“Bonanza”) brought his two German shepherds, so we then learn about the breed’s history and meet other shepherds of various ages – from a 6-week-old puppy to a 7-year-old “teenager” and champion adults.
It’s a successful formula that makes the episodes easy to watch, entertaining and deceptively educational – not necessarily terms that go together. I love how Betty carefully doles out advice, too. When puppies are roughhousing, she tells us that’s never good and should be stopped, as she carefully pulls them apart.
The guests can be as involved as they want: Comedian Paul Lynde, who had tried everything to help one of his dogs get over a fear of flying, asks questions of the veterinarian. Agnes Moorehead, who brought her dog and a bird, was enamored with the exotic birds they had on set, admiring the colorful beauty of the macaws. (Seeing “Endora” delight in the sight of a cockatoo riding a mini-bicycle is priceless.) When Mary Tyler Moore tells an expert her poodle Diswilliam is not house-trained, she is given advice on how to establish herself as a leader.
The celebrity guests aren’t limited to humans.
In the Beverly Garland episode, we meet the “actor” who played Tramp the dog on her series “My Three Sons.”
Singer Johnny Mathis brought his 3-year-old sheepdog Henry, who is the son of Lord Nelson from “The Doris Day Show.” Henry the dog is also a celebrity: he is seen in the album artwork for “Johnny Mathis Sings the Music of Bacharach and Kaempfert.”
In my favorite episode, Vincent Price is reunited with Jimmy, the 22-year-old raven who co-starred with Price in such films as “The Raven.” (Price recalls Jimmy’s perfect timing.) This episode was made after his 100th film “The Abominable Dr. Phibes” was released and Price is cracking jokes about the animals and himself (“I’m a goldfish rescuer.”). The pet Price brought along? His pug Puffalina Pansy Price (“I always wanted a pug because I think they’re pretty,” he said.)
It’s wonderful to watch Price be so playful. It’s also a perfect example of how Betty prepared each episode around the guest. Knowing Price’s passion for art, a segment not only showcased art made by animals, but Candy the chimpanzee was on the set creating a painting much to Price’s delight (and then enjoying the paint too much as she sucked on a brush). It is joyous.
For anyone interested in fashion, you’ll have another reason to enjoy the show. After just a couple of episodes, I began to look forward to the many pant suits Betty wore: generally a short sleeve top with pants in the same color plus a matching head scarf. My favorite was the light blue set with yellow puff balls on the pants and bottom of shirt – I think only Betty could have pulled that off.
How to watch
Disc 1: Lorne Greene, Mary Tyler Moore, James Brolin, Carol Burnett, Bob Barker, Eve Arden, Mike Connors, Barbara Feldon.
Disc 2: Beverly Garland, Johnny Mathis, Donald O’Connor, Barbara Bain, Agnes Moorehead, Bob Crane, Shirley Jones, Paul Lynde.
Disc Three: Arte Johnson, Miyoski Umeki, Rose Marie, Rod Serling, Amanda Blake, Eva Gabor, Michael Landon, Peter Lawford.
Disc Four: James and Gloria Stewart, Burt Reynolds, Dennis Weaver, Jim Nabors, Vincent Price, Bill Bixby, Eddie Albert, Vikki Carr.
Disc Five: Doris Day, Billy DeWolf, Merv Griffin, Barbara Eden, Peter Marshall, Della Reese, Sue Anne Langdon, “The Patsy Awards with Allen Ludden, Nancy Kulp, Richard Deacon, Pat Carroll.”
Disc 6/Special features: These extras include all facets of Betty White’s career including “Betty White: Game Show Goddess,” “Betty White: Queen of Television,” plus a behind-the-scenes at “Pet Set,” promos and galleries of Betty and pets.