Sure, Mary Tyler Moore turned the world on with her smile — but her scene-stealing co-star, the legendary Betty White, is the one who stole our hearts for the long haul.
The Illinois native — and Cali transplant — broke into showbiz three months after graduating early from Beverly Hills High in 1938, as part of an early “experimental” TV show, according to the Television Academy’s Archive.
Ever since — from pioneering work in the 1950s (she was the first woman to produce a sitcom!) to her ’70s break-though as the nymphomaniacal Sueanne Nivens on “The MTM Show” to innocent ’80s lady Rose Nylund on “The Golden Girls” — Betty has always been a sure bet.
We know the truth — but does she realize she’s a legit pop culture icon?
“My egomaniacal answer is — of course, I’m the center of the storm!,” Betty once told The Post with a chuckle. “That’s a joke. I’m just grateful to be working and that starts at the beginning. When you start out you’re so grateful to have a job … and you carry that feeling through your whole career. At least I have.”
Now, considering that Jan. 17 marks beloved Betty’s 99th birthday, we decided to throw her a socially distant party. In honor of this momentous occasion, we’re taking a look back at some of the best bon mots from this unabashed vodka lover’s more than 80 years in entertainment.
First up, check out Betty revealing never-before-heard details about her first professional acting gig: A wild wild west TV production of “The Merry Widow” — for which she was paid a whopping 37 bucks in 1939.
“When we started in television, there was that magic box in the corner of the room, and ‘Oh my gosh — look what it’s doing!,’ ” she said.
However, Betty wouldn’t make her leading-lady sitcom debut until nearly a dozen years later, in the ground-breaking for its time “Life with Elizabeth,” which ran for 65 episodes from 1952 to 1955.
“Getting it on the air back in those days wasn’t as competitive … They were sort of hungry for programming,” she told The Post in 2018. “And, I think I was moving on to something else so I’m not sure if it could have continued but it was a wonderful stepping stone.”
When asked about technical advancements since the dawn of the boob tube era, Betty told The Post: “When you’re in the middle of it you’re not standing back watching it unfold, you’re living through it. So even though I’ve seen it all, it was all happening as I was working so nothing stands out. We just adjusted and moved forward with it.”
A selection of Betty’s best bites on a variety of topics:
On aging & retiring
- “Retirement is not in my vocabulary. They aren’t going to get rid of me that way.”
- On surviving amid the COVID-19 pandemic: “I’m blessed with incredibly good health.” Also, Betty’s rep assures the public, “No one [is] permitted in except those who must,” noting she has “helpers who are great” [and] “the virus is afraid of Betty!”
- “The bottom line is … I don’t go around thinking ‘Oh, I’m 90, I better do this or I better do that.’ I’m just Betty. I’m the same Betty that I’ve always been. Take it or leave it.”
- Her secret to a long, happy and healthy life is the aforementioned vodka — and hot dogs, “probably in that order.”
- Finally, “don’t take yourself too seriously,” she advised just days before her big b-day. “You can lie to others — not that I would — but you cannot lie to yourself … turning 99 is no different than turning 98.”
Her love of animals
- “Animals don’t lie. Animals don’t criticize. If animals have moody days, they handle them better than humans do.”
- “I’m not into animal rights — I’m only into animal welfare and health. I’ve been with the Morris Animal Foundation since the ’70s. We’re a health organization. We fund campaign health studies for dogs, cats, lizards and wildlife. I’ve worked with the L.A. Zoo for about the same length of time.”
- “I don’t care who anybody sleeps with. If a couple has been together all that time — and there are gay relationships that are more solid than some heterosexual ones — I think it’s fine if they want to get married. I don’t know how people can get so anti-something.”
- “I just make it my business to get along with people so I can have fun. It’s that simple.”
- “Well, I mean, if a joke or humor is bawdy, it’s got to be funny enough to warrant it. You can’t just have it bawdy or dirty just for the sake of being that — it’s got to be funny.”
- “Animal lover that I am, a cougar I am not.”
- “I was flipping through channels the other night and came across something,” she told The Post. “I don’t know what show it was but they had a TV on in the scene and I was on that TV! I’m just grateful that people have put up with me for so long.”
- “I’m the luckiest broad on two feet, I’ll tell you that. They say once a woman passes 40 she doesn’t get any good parts, so I’m blessed.”
- “I cannot stand the people who get wonderful starts in show business and who abuse it. Lindsay Lohan and Charlie Sheen, for example, although there are plenty of others, too. They are the most blessed people in the world, and they don’t appreciate it.”
- “I have no regrets at all. None.”