If You Ask Me - Critical summary review - Betty White

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If You Ask Me - critical summary review

If You Ask Me Critical summary review Start your free trial
Biographies & Memoirs

This microbook is a summary/original review based on the book: If You Ask Me: (And of Course You Won’t)

Available for: Read online, read in our mobile apps for iPhone/Android and send in PDF/EPUB/MOBI to Amazon Kindle.

ISBN: 978-0399157530

Publisher: Berkley

Critical summary review

Betty White has worked in television for 80 years, more than anyone else in the industry. Born in 1922, she has seen her fair share of the world and of life in Hollywood. In “If You Ask Me” she shares part of her life story and a great many pearls of wisdom on aging, friendships, loss, and success. Get ready to learn from one of the pioneers of television!

On aging

Most people worry about getting old. Not so Betty White: she is so proud of her age that she has started bragging about it whenever she meets someone. She thinks there are definitely some upsides to aging, such as that people treat you more gently and that most people believe that all your experience has made you wiser.

Betty says it does not feel like she is growing older, she simply feels like herself. So much so, that she has to stop herself from flirting with much younger men since she frequently forgets about her own age. 

Of course, getting old is not all fun and games. One thing Betty keeps a close eye on is her weight. She believes that while it is difficult to get rid of five pounds, one pound can easily be lost again the next day. She says, “I have a two-story house and a bad memory, so all those trips up and down the stairs take care of my exercise.”

She is also brimming with energy, which she thinks is thanks to her DNA. Her mom used to call her dad “Horace the Hummingbird” since he could not sit still for very long. Luckily for Betty, aging has not reduced her energy supply: she still gets by on only four hours of deep sleep a night. 

For mental exercise, Betty is obsessed with crossword puzzles. She is subscribed to the Crosswords Club and the Puzzle Club and has more puzzle books piling up than she will ever solve. However, she says the most important thing about growing old happily is to do it with humor!

Hollywood stories

Having been in show business for more than 60 years, Betty has seen her fair share of Hollywood stories. One of her most successful shows was “Hot in Cleveland” with Valerie Bertinelli, Wendie Malick, and Jane Leeves. Interestingly, this was one of the shows that Betty initially turned down. She had agreed to be part of the pilot on the condition that she would not have to stay on if the pilot was turned into a show.

But Betty has always found it hard to turn down a role, even when her calendar was full. So when TV Land decided to make 10 more episodes of “Hot in Cleveland,” she stayed on. Then, they requested 20 more shows, and again Betty agreed to do them. She says it’s because she has “the backbone of a jellyfish.” Eventually, “Hot in Cleveland” became the No. 1 television show on cable!

For her achievements in show business, Betty received the Life Achievement Award at the 2010 SAG Awards. During her acceptance speech, she described being in show business to be “like living in a small town.” For all her fame, Betty is still impressed every time she comes across a celebrity – the novelty has clearly not worn off! 

Hosting “Saturday Night Live”

Another show that Betty fondly remembers is when she was asked to host “Saturday Night Live” in 2010. It was terrifying for her at first, but luckily, she got to do the show with amazing guests such as Tina Fey and a heavily pregnant Amy Poehler. Nevertheless, it was different from the kind of shows she had done before.

At the start of rehearsal week at “SNL,” there are at least 40 sketches that are read through. These are whittled down to five or six sketches that eventually make the show. This means there are no lines to memorize, just simple cue cards to work with – something Betty had never done before.

In particular, she was worried about her eyes switching between the camera and the cue cards – but the team of “SNL” had a plan for that already. They asked her not to look at her sketch partner, but at the cue cards a little above and behind her partner – and it worked! Betty also had to do outfit changes in just 90 seconds, which was stressful, but overall she found hosting the show great fun.

If Betty had to name one thing she hates about show business, it would be red-carpet events. Betty writes: “With all the flashing lights and the noise, you tend to lose your balance. All of a sudden, you’re staggering and you’re sure people are thinking, ‘Oh, she’s had a few!’”

Red-carpet events are also stressful for her because Betty cannot memorize faces. It has happened more than once that she introduced herself with, “It is nice to meet you” while her conversation partner replied, “It is nice to see you again.”

Dealing with success

Betty considers herself extremely lucky to have lived a life defined by her passion. She says, “If you live without passion, you can go through life without leaving any footprints.” She has a passion for her profession as an actress, and what’s more, her job allows her to endorse her other passion: animals.

She does not let the fame get to her head, though. Betty values integrity. Mirrors play a great role in show business, but for Betty, they always serve as a reminder of what her mom once told her: “Bets, you can lie to anyone in the world and even get away with it, perhaps, but when you are alone and look into your own eyes in the mirror, you can’t sidestep the truth. Always be sure you can meet those eyes directly. Otherwise, it’s big trouble, my girl.”

That is why Betty’s advice to young and aspiring actresses is, “Be grateful for whatever praise you receive, but take it with a grain of salt.” Don’t let your success go to your head, but always keep your feet firmly on the ground. The profession of acting should be treated with respect, and Betty considers it an abuse of the acting profession to go partying, to get into trouble or to have a diva attitude.

She writes: “When you’re blessed to do the thing you love to do and you’re making a lot of money at it so you can benefit your passion, that’s a pretty great formula. Appreciate it - don’t abuse it.”


One of Betty’s great passions are animals - she has even admitted that she loves animals more than humans. She has had quite a few dogs in her lifetime, and she believes that when she gets to heaven, before finally seeing her husband Allen Ludden again, she will have to wade through a sea of dogs she once owned first.

Her love for animals is not limited to dogs. She also has a peculiar friendship with an unusual animal: a gorilla named Koko. Koko can fluently communicate in sign language, thanks to her mentor and best friend, Dr. Francine “Penny” Patterson.

The first time Betty visited Koko, she was taken aback by Koko’s intelligence. Betty visited Koko in her own multiroom house, where Koko even appropriately uses the restroom! After sitting a while next to Koko, separated only by a wire fence, Koko then invited Betty into her house. The two sat next to one another, holding hands, and Betty said it was not any different from sitting next to a fellow human friend.

Betty’s love for animals has prompted her to advocate for their welfare as well. She even occasionally turns down jobs out of concerns for animals, such as a role in “As Good as It Gets,” where there is a scene with a dog being put down a laundry chute for laughs. One charity Betty works with is the Los Angeles Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals.

She often makes surprise visits to their shelters, as she wants to see what they are really like. On one of her visits, she noticed a beautiful shih tzu puppy in a cage. Upon enquiring about his story, she learned that he had been mistreated at a pet shop. Rather than looking after and caring for the pets, the pet shop had been trying to sell sick animals! There was a trial going on at the time, which was why the puppy could not be adopted.

Betty asked to be called immediately when the trial was over and the puppy could be adopted, and three months later she took the little shih tzu home with her to meet her other two dogs. She named her Panda.

Betty loves her animals, whether real or stuffed. She has an entire room dedicated to her stuffed animal collection, and she even talks to them!

Love and friendship

The most special relationship in Betty’s life was the one with her husband, television host Allen Ludden. She had met him at a game show, and they married in 1963. When they married, Betty also got teenage stepchildren. Even though she never wanted children herself, she gets along well with them.

Betty never wanted to have her own children because she believes it is impossible to have both children and a career - that one of them would always get the short end of the stick.

Allen always left little love notes for Betty to find and despite some disagreements, they had a happy marriage. In 1981, he died of stomach cancer. Dealing with his loss has been a challenge for her: “I think the toughest thing about loss, and the hardest challenge, is the isolation you feel in its aftermath. You spent so much time sharing your life with someone, talking through issues, even disagreeing about things, and all of a sudden there’s a hole.” 

That is why her friendships are so important to her since with her friends, she can share everything. She has always preferred male friends to female friends, and she believes there are three kinds of friends: old friends, new friends, and business friends.

Old friends need no explanations for anecdotes or stories since they have been there for most of them. With new friends, this is more difficult. And business friends are the ones that tell you when you are wrong, even though your other friends might disagree!

One of Betty’s closest friends is Jeff Witjas. They originally met at the William Morris Agency, and Jeff eventually became Betty’s agent. He was the one to talk her into hosting “SNL,” for example. Betty says that she trusts his judgment more than her own.

Final Notes

Betty White has led an eventful life. She has worked in the television industry for 80 years and taken part in such hit shows as “Hot in Cleveland.” She has also hosted several shows, including “Saturday Night Live,” one of her proudest achievements. Even so, she does not let the fame get to her head, and she is still awestruck every time she meets a celebrity.

Her passion for acting also allowed her to pursue her passion for animals and to advocate for their welfare. Betty has admitted that she often prefers the company of animals to that of humans. Full of wit and humor, “If You Ask Me” is a must-read for any Betty White fans.

12min Tip

Take a leaf out of Betty’s book and do something you are passionate about. According to her, life has a way of coming full circle!

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Who wrote the book?

Betty White is an American actress and comedian. Her television career spans 80 years, and she was one of the first women to exert control in front of and behind the camera. She has also been... (Read more)

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