The five-time Emmy winner was in Dallas recently raising money and awareness for Ranch Hand Rescue
Doris Roberts wanted to hit Betty White.
The star of the TV series Everybody Loves Raymond made a guest appearance on White’s new series Hot in Cleveland during the second season, and the script called for White to hit Roberts and then Roberts to hit her back. The cameras rolled, and White hit Roberts, who, in her 80s, performs her own stunts.
And then the slugfest ended. After a break in filming, the producer decided Roberts wouldn’t get the chance to clean White’s clock. Her reward for taking one on the cheek was that the episode pitting the veteran TV favorites against each other became the highest rated for the sitcom.
While not engaged in throwdowns on the set, five-time Emmy winner Roberts donates a considerable amount of time to charitable causes. She has raised more than $80 million for AIDS and was the chair of the Children with AIDS Foundation for years. Her energy and compassion also extend to animals, visiting Dallas recently for a fundraiser for Ranch Hand Rescue, the farm animal sanctuary in Denton County that was founded by her long-time friend Bob Williams.
“The animals make you smile and feel good,” Roberts said, and the animals aren’t the only beneficiaries of her rescue efforts. While still living in California, Williams suffered a stroke. Roberts found him and rushed him to the hospital and then later helped him recover. Later, Williams moved to Texas with his partner Marty Polasko, and he founded the animal rescue facility. Roberts has been a supporter since.
The fundraiser was held in a Flower Mound restaurant and raised more than $50,000.
“Everything was donated, and the checks are still coming in,” Williams said.
Roberts brought in entertainers Paul Horner and Jack Betts for the sold-out event, and Williams said the guests included law enforcement and Homeland Security officials. The rescue facility works closely with law enforcement officials by taking custody of animals suffering from abuse or starvation once the authorities seize them.
Midnite, a miniature horse at the facility, is one of Roberts’ favorite animals. Midnite couldn’t stand when he arrived two years ago because he was missing part of one of his back legs, but a Fort Worth prosthetics designer fit the horse with a prosthetic leg. Children who are facing amputations visit the ranch and play with Midnite, which helps assuage their anxieties about their imminent surgeries. Wounded warriors who have lost limbs also find relief by visiting with Midnite.
“To watch that horse prance and dance,” Roberts said. “If he can do it, they can do it.”
Williams has taken Midnite to Scottish Rite Hospital on Oak Lawn Avenue in Dallas and as far as Houston to visit with children with disabilities.
But Roberts has a new project for Midnite. She wants to take him to the White House so he can accompany First Lady Michelle Obama as she welcomes warriors who have lost limbs in Afghanistan and Iraq. She hopes to bring national attention to Williams’ work and bring Midnite’s story to the screen.
Roberts association with the children and veterans is one tied by the spirit of survival.
“I don’t give in. I don’t give up. I don’t settle. I don’t take no for an answer,” she said. “It’s my motto.”
And does she mind being interrupted by fans? Not a bit.
“Let me tell you a story,” she said. “I was sitting in a restaurant in Los Angeles, and a woman approached me. She said, ‘God put you here.’”
The woman explained she was from Iran and lost her son in war.
“You got me through,” she said. “I wanted to live because of you.”
The woman said she would come home at the end of the day and turn on the TV. Roberts made her laugh and helped get her through a terrible period in her life.
“If I have bad days, I think about that,” Roberts said.
But Roberts is too busy to have many bad days. This year, she’s appeared in the TNT show Major Crimes, two episodes of the ABC Family show Melissa & Joey, the upcoming video The Little Rascals Save the Day and the film JOB’s Daughter set to be released before the end of the year.
Although she has played roles different from the one she made famous as Marie Barone, the self-proclaimed domestic expert, and she’s not stuck on the character, she did keep just one souvenir from the set.
In a 2001 episode, Marie takes an art class and makes an abstract sculpture. When she realized the sculpture looks like a vagina, she delivers one of her classic lines.
“Oh my God,” Marie said. “I’m a lesbian.”
Roberts proudly displays the vagina sculpture her living room.
This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition November 8, 2013.