Marla Gibbs was working part time as a United Airlines reservations agent when she auditioned for the role of housekeeper Florence Johnston on The Jeffersons.

“I’d been with [United] for 10 years and had an unlimited pass and my choice of shift,” she recalled. “I knew a bird in the hand was better than 20 in the bush — what if this TV show didn’t last?”

Of course, The Jeffersons would run for 11 seasons, becoming one of TV’s longest running sitcoms and allowing Marla to quit her day job.

“I owe everything to God,” Marla, 92, told Closer at the Children Uniting Nations 24th Annual Academy Awards Celebration & Viewing Dinner. “I make one step, he makes two. I don’t forget to make my steps so he can make his two.”

A high school teacher in Detroit set teenage Marla on the road to an acting career by offering her an appearance in a live TV commercial.

“I liked it a lot, so when things weren’t going well in my marriage, I moved to California,” recalled Marla, who became a single mom of three children in 1973 after 18 years of marriage. “Growing up, I was not the favorite at home, so I was always looking for [love and acceptance],” she said.

She based the character of sassy, practical Florence on her aunt and grandmother. “I played the person who was a perennial employee, who worked to keep the house clean and show you how to answer your door,” she said.

Her decade on The Jeffersons would become some of the happiest professional years of her life. “We were a family,” Marla gushed. “Working with Roxie Roker, who was very close to me, and Isabel Sanford was great. Sherman Hemsley was the most giving, wonderful actor.”

In fact, the pair kept in touch until Sherman’s passing in 2012. “Off camera, he would say, ‘I love you, Marla.’ And I’d say, ‘I love you, Sherman,’ ” she recalls. “We talked about every month. I’m so sorry he left us so soon.”

The Jeffersons’ Marla Gibbs Looks Back on Her Career
Bob Riha, Jr. / Getty Images

After The Jeffersons ended its run in 1985, Marla found a new home on 227, where she played gossipy Mary Jenkins until 1990. Sadly, the cast, which included rising star Jackée Harry, wasn’t as cohesive as The Jeffersons actors had been.

“Jackée came out wanting to be a star,” Marla explained. “My feeling was that there are no stars, only working and nonworking actresses.” Fortunately, the women eventually put their differences behind them. “She said I was selfish, but she’s apologized and has been very nice. We’ve done a few things since then and became friends.”

Marla has continued to work into her senior years despite some health scares. In 2006, she suffered an aneurysm, but recovered after a difficult period of rehab.

“I looked at myself in the mirror and had to figure out who that little lady was,” she said. “So I got up and decided I had to do something.”

Marla returned to acting in 2015 with two appearances on the Shonda Rhimes drama series Scandal.

Today, Marla has three projects in the works, including a holiday movie, tentatively titled Christmas Kennel, but that’s not the end of her ambitions.

“I want to do a part that says older people are the same,” she said. “At a lot of nursing homes, you’ll see people falling in love and getting married. There’s no time limit except the one you put on yourself.”