Milwaukee Filmmakers to Release Betty White’s Birthday Film in January
Among the first to be informed of Betty White’s death on Friday was Wisconsin filmmaker Steve Boettcher, who spent 10 years working on a film with White slated for theatrical release on Jan. 17, his 100th anniversary.
Boettcher, along with White’s team, voted to move forward with the national scale projections from the film “Betty White: 100 Years Young – A Birthday Celebration”, with a renewed focus.
“She would like it; she’s been supporting this cinematic effort from the start,” Boettcher said. “She would say, let’s have a celebration, and now it’s a celebration of her life.”
Boettcher, an Appleton native working with other Milwaukee-area filmmakers Michael Trinklein and Stephanie Theisen, grew close to White over the years – so close that White loved to tell people, “Steve was emlayer with me for 10 years “and wink.
Boettcher had already made another documentary on White, “Betty White: First Lady of Television”, which premiered on PBS in 2018 and is now available on Netflix. He and Trinklein were fit for work after their work on the long-running “Pioneers of Television” series for PBS, in which Boettcher first met White.
Boettcher said his last interview with White was right before the COVID-19 pandemic, although he continued his weekly calls with her and her team.
“She has always been very encouraging,” he said. “She would always joke, ‘Steve, do you think it’s too much about Betty White in the movie?'”
Trinklein said White was quick with a joke, even when the cameras weren’t rolling.
“What struck me was his sense of the game,” he said. “Some celebrities only light up when the camera is on, but she was very bright and more than just an artist.”
Like the filmmakers, White and her late husband Allen Ludden had Midwestern roots.
Recently, Boettcher told White about a trip he made to Ludden’s grave in Mineral Point, Wisconsin, where Ludden was born. Boettcher had heard of a volunteer who for years quietly visited the site to clean the headstone and carve around the grave.
Volunteer Harold Mosley told Boettcher he was a fan of White and learned that Ludden’s grave was in Graceland Cemetery, opposite the factory where he worked on the third shift. When he visited him after work, he noticed that he needed care, so he made it a weekly chore.
“I love the job, it’s peaceful and it’s a lovely way to honor our local son Allen Ludden,” Mosley told Boettcher.
Boettcher filmed a video of Mosley to send directly to White.
“He said, ‘Betty, I took care of Allen for you,'” Boettcher recalls.
“Betty was so touched and moved by this,” Boettcher said. “The only regret she had in life was that she hadn’t married Allen sooner.”
Mosley is in the company of dozens of prominent celebrities interviewed for the film, including Ryan Reynolds, Tina Fey, Robert Redford and Clint Eastwood. After spending more than a decade learning about White, Boettcher said he will always be remembered for his optimism.
“She was an eternal optimist,” he said. “She learned it from her mother; she always called her mother a flirtatious optimist. “
Boettcher said he believes White would also want his love of animals remembered. At a birthday party for White before the pandemic, Boettcher said he and all the guests each received a puppy from a local shelter to spend the day with.
White’s house was always full of dogs and adopted animals, he said, and she enjoyed watching the ducks every morning through the window of her nursing home in Brentwood.
Animals were also a favorite topic of conversation on the set.
“The crews would come and do anything for her,” Boettcher said. “She would like to meet them, ask them their names and ask, ‘Do you have any pets?'”
Tickets are on sale now for screenings of the film at Marcus Cinemas on January 17th.