The late, great comedy legend Betty White loved dogs — and hot dogs.
The “Golden Girls” star, who died Dec. 31 at age 99 and would have celebrated her 100th birthday Monday, once joked to People magazine that the secret to her long life was avoiding eating “anything green.”
So, no, she wasn’t a vegetarian or vegan.
In fact, she made no secret of her love of junk food, namely a good hot dog (and vodka). She was also a fan of and frequent visitor to Pink’s Hot Dogs in Los Angeles, so much so that she has a special named in her honor: the Betty White Naked Dog.
And even though there’s a plant-based offering on the menu, White used to order a beef frank when she dropped by the family-owned Hollywood landmark.
“She was pretty liberal, just whatever tastes good is good,” Pink’s co-owner Richard Pink recently told The Times. “I don’t think she had those kind of rules. We have an excellent Beyond dog. But she went for the all-beef, and she knew we had the vegan dog.”
White was a vocal champion for animals and their welfare. She owned several dogs throughout her life. She served on the board of trustees for the Greater Los Angeles Zoo Assn. (GLAZA). She published a children’s book titled “Betty & Friends: My Life at the Zoo,” and starting in the early 1970s, she hosted “Betty White’s Pet Set,” a syndicated series celebrating celebrities and their pets.
She and some of her “Golden Girls” co-stars even appeared in an anti-fur PSA for People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) in the ‘80s.
Yet White’s longtime friend and agent, Jeff Witjas, told The Times in an e-mail that “Betty was not a activist. She was a advocate,” noting the “big difference” between the two schools of thought.
In the wake of White’s death, Pink’s Hot Dogs is paying tribute to the beloved TV pioneer by donating to the Los Angeles Zoo a week’s worth of proceeds from the sale of its Betty White Naked Dogs.
On Monday morning, the L.A. Zoo will honor White with a ceremony at its Allen Ludden Plaza, named after White’s late husband. Pink’s Hot Dogs will present a check for $3,000, which it raised from selling 452 of those White hot dogs and a contribution from the Pink family.
Pink’s has also made the “Betty White Naked Dog” — a 9-inch, all-beef hot dog in a plain bun with no toppings, for $5.20 — a permanent addition to the menu, Pink said.
“Betty White, We Will Love You Forever!!!” Pink’s Hot Dogs tweeted earlier this month, echoing the pink banner that the iconic hot-dog stand hung outside its location on La Brea Avenue.
“We thought that it would be uplifting to recognize her life, it would be a positive experience for our customers and it would be a way to make a contribution,” said Pink, whose parents founded the L.A. culinary institution with a pushcart in 1939. “We just thought it would be the right thing to do.”
GLAZA president Tom Jacobson was honored to be Pink’s charity of choice.
“Pink’s has been a restaurant partner of our annual fundraiser Beastly Ball, a relationship that Betty initiated in 2008, so we appreciate the continued support from Pink’s as we honor Betty’s legacy,” Jacobson said in a statement to The Times.
GLAZA’s Betty White Tribute Fund has already received more than $20,000 in donations. The association, the nonprofit partner of the L.A. Zoo, has seen a 248% increase in gifts since White’s death, said spokesperson Anna TenBroek, with the average gift being just under $80 and with many donating an even $100 to honor her centennial birthday.
The funds have come from 41 states as well as from Canada, Australia, Great Britain, Austria and Poland, and White’s fellow trustees have pledged to match gifts received through Jan. 31.
Meanwhile, White’s animal advocacy has rippled across social media. Under the hashtag #BettyWhiteChallenge, the campaign has encouraged White’s fans to donate $5 to a local animal rescue or shelter in the “Mary Tyler Moore” star’s name.
“Make her 100th birthday the movement she deserves,” says the widely circulating graphic.
Online, more than 17,000 fundraisers mentioning the hashtag have popped up across Facebook and Instagram, and they’ve raised more than $550,000, a spokesperson for parent company Meta confirmed to The Times.
“The #BettyWhiteChallenge reflects the fact that we’re all craving connection, positivity, and to be a force for good in the world, as well as the potential for technology to help us create those things,” said Michael Balchan, the co-creator of Heroic, a soon-to-be launched app that challenges the negative aspects of social media.
“Betty White represented those same qualities: her cross-generational popularity bridged age gaps and she moved us with her enthusiastic joy and appreciation for life,” Balchan said. “It’s no surprise that her name continues to inspire others to come together and give back.”
While not participating directly in the #BettyWhiteChallenge, Pink said that the comedy legend had been a longtime friend to the Pink’s Hot Dogs family. White’s work with GLAZA led to her relationship with Pink’s. He said that at events like the organization’s annual Beastly Ball, White would take those working at his stand on tours of the zoo. (And now you can take White’s zoo tour online via a map.)
“She’s probably the most gracious, big-hearted person that we know, and she had us in stitches the whole way around the park,” Pink said.
The Emmy Award winner also helped launch Pink’s Universal Citywalk location in 2010. Forgoing the eatery’s 40 toppings, White was famously photographed with her namesake snack at the grand opening. That’s when the “Betty White Naked Dog” was born.
“She said, ‘I don’t want anything on it. I like it plain. I like it naked,’ and we said OK,” Pink said, adding, “[It’s] so simple and straightforward, and that’s how she liked it.”
A makeshift sign advertising White’s hot dog was displayed on an easel at Pink’s La Brea Boulevard location, which White often frequented with friends while on their way to the Hollywood Bowl, Pink said. He described it as a quintessential “Hollywood experience.”
Pink was looking to celebrate White’s 100th birthday when he got word from his catering manager that she had died on New Year’s Eve.
That’s when his restaurant got the idea for a charity effort “to show support and not ignore somebody who’s done a lot for us and the Hollywood community.”
“It’s like a relative that passes away: you want to acknowledge them. It came from our heart,” Pink said. “We didn’t think about the financial element of it. It’s just a week — if there is some promotional benefit, fine.”
Still, not everyone was thrilled about the overture.
“That’s nice of u,” said a reply tweet on Pink’s Twitter announcement. “But i actually love animals so I wont buy them in hot dog form.”
Another customer, Pink said, saw signs about the fundraiser at the hot-dog stand and donated “$100 in the kitty for Betty White.”
“Who can generate that kind of enthusiasm just by the mention of their name?”