Wax Betty White travels to her engagements in a rented U-Haul van, rolled in blankets and wearing either a teal ball gown with beaded sleeves or a magenta-colored track suit, whichever is appropriate for the occasion. She is snugly tethered to the vehicle’s interior with a stretch of bungee cord; her upper region is wrapped in tissue paper, which is the only substance allowed to touch Wax Betty White’s face.
On Thursday morning, a track-suit day, she is lifted out of the U-Haul, gently placed onto a Madame Tussauds dolly and wheeled into her morning appearance at the Washington Animal Rescue League. In a private hallway, her hair is carefully fluffed by one of her two handlers. Then she rolls into the lobby, where an assembled crowd of employees and volunteers and adoptable puppies eagerly await her arrival.
(“Jesus,” exclaims a startled woman who did not expect to see Betty today, “I thought that was a real person.”)
Cameras click. Wax Betty White beams.
In Washington, a wonderland of charitable benefits and worthy causes, having a bold-faced attendee can elevate an event from blah to buzzy. Proximity to power is an intoxicating thing. Everyone wants to be close to fame.
However, celebrities are very busy. They cannot physically be everywhere they would be welcomed. Allow a wax museum to offer a solution. An occasional, carefully granted, wax solution.
Which brings us back to:
“Thank you for choosing the Washington Animal Rescue League for this great unveiling,” says Bob Ramin, the chief executive of WARL, to a small crowd. This is the official Washington debut of Wax Betty White, who is on loan for the season from the Hollywood branch of the museum. The star’s well-known love of animals reflects WARL’s commitment to finding homes for dogs and cats, Ramin says.
The event was proposed by Madame Tussauds, but the league is using the photo op as a chance to publicize an upcoming adoption fair. The atrium, where Wax Betty is situated, is calm and quiet; the building smells faintly of dogs and cleaning products.
Later, in an interview, Ramin will elaborate: “I have never met her [Real Betty White], but I can see her saying, ‘Let’s go to the kennel and roll up our sleeves.’ ”
This go-to-it-ness is the mentality that she (Wax Betty White) has brought to the event this morning. Everybody loves Betty/Wax Betty, the impish nonagenarian, the naughty/naive grandma whose presence engenders feelings of snuggliness and sass.
“All of our figures, we treat them with the same respect that we would the actual person,” says Joanna Hobday, the sales and marketing manager at the Washington outpost of Madame Tussauds, the tourist-friendly emporium of giant lifelike celebrity dolls. Madame Tussauds would never, for example, lend wax support to a charity without the expressed real support of the real celebrity or the celebrity’s estate. No money exchanges hands for these events, Hobday says, which happen only a few times a year. They are philanthropic partnerships.
And so, over the years, you have had Wax Alex Ovechkin ringing in the opening of the hockey season at Verizon Center. Wax Harriet Tubman appearing at Maryland’s Harriet Tubman Conference. In August, Wax Martin Luther King Jr. joined a gospel brunch at the Willard Hotel honoring the 50th anniversary of the March on Washington.
“Oh, it was very cool,” says Ted Spero, president of the Mansion on O Street, which, in July, hosted the Wax Beatles. “They were set up in one of our ballrooms, and the guests were able to take pictures and talk to them. . . . It’s not often that people can come and meet the Beatles.”
Thursday’s event was Wax Betty’s third appearance of the week. On Tuesday, she gazed serenely over a group of frolicking dogs at a Washington Humane Society adoption event; on Monday, she was the guest of a local Fox morning show promoting animal causes.
The human attendees at this event are enthralled. Wax Betty is happy to pose in selfies. She gazes just off to the right and doesn’t seem to mind having an arm slung about her shoulder. The canine attendees mostly ignore the figure, preoccupied with the joy of mingling about the lobby. Except for one dog, possibly a terrier mix, which keeps glancing sidelong at the unmoving celebrity and appears to find Wax Betty White vaguely terrifying.