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-born, Cali-raised teen broke into showbiz three months after graduating from Beverly Hills High in 1939, when she was in an early “experimental” TV show, according to the Television Academy Archive.
Ever since — from pioneering work in the 1950s (she was the first woman to produce a sitcom!) to her ’70s breakthough as the nymphomaniacal Sue Ann Nivens on “The Mary Tyler Moore 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!,” White 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.
Beloved TV icon Betty White strikes a pose in 1952 and in 2018. She turns 99 on Jan. 17.
First up, check out White revealing never-before-heard details about her first professional acting gig: a trailblazing 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, White wouldn’t make her leading-lady debut until a dozen years later, in the groundbreaking-for-its-time “Life With Elizabeth,” which ran for 65 episodes from 1952 to 1955.
America’s eternal sweetheart was characteristically modest — and a little bit sassy — in her assessment of being the first female to produce at TV sitcom.
“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. “I think I was moving on to something else, so I’m not sure if [the show] could have continued, but it was a wonderful stepping stone.”
When asked about technical advancements since the dawn of the boob tube era, White 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 surviving amid the COVID-19 pandemic: “I’m blessed with incredibly good health.” Also, White’s rep assured the public, “No one [is] permitted in [her home] except those who must” be there, noting she has “helpers who are great.” The rep added, “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.”
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.”
On social media
Well, it’s for “losers,” as she told “Saturday Night Live” viewers when they waged a massive social media campaign to nab her a 2013 hosting slot on NBC’s iconic sketch comedy series with musical guest Jay-Z. Missed it? Revisit her classic — i.e. more than 5 million viral video views — “census taker meets crotch massager” skit.
On 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 LA Zoo for about the same length of time.”
“If everyone took personal responsibility for their animals, we wouldn’t have a lot of the animal problems that we do. I’m a big spay-and-neuter supporter. Don’t have babies if you’re not going to take care of those babies. We don’t need more. We just need to take care of the ones we have. Take responsibility and breathe kindness.”
“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.”