Lorne Michaels was intrigued when a Facebook campaign recruited nearly a million fans to petition to have Betty White host “Saturday Night Live” – but it wasn’t the first time the producer thought of the actress.
The 77-year-old co-creator famously asked the beloved star three times between the ‘70s and ‘90s to appear in the show – and all three times he got rejected. It wouldn’t be until 2010, when the petition came to light, that White’s longtime agent and close friend Jeff Witjas finally convinced her to say yes.
“It was one of the most incredible experiences – it truly, truly was,” Witjas told People magazine following White’s death on Dec. 31 at age 99.
“Betty didn’t really want to go to New York to do it, but I said to her, ‘You have to do it,’” he shared. “I mean, how could she not? And she trusted me.”
And as a surprise to no one, the “Golden Girls” icon was “an absolute pro.”
“It was hilarious watching her in rehearsals go from one clothing change to another because you have to do it within minutes, you can’t take your time,” Witjas recalled. “But she loved it. She got into it, she embraced it, and they were great to her.”
According to the outlet, White got a standing ovation at the after-party. Former “SNL” writer and cast member Seth Meyers claimed the star ordered “a vodka and a hotdog and stayed till the bitter end.”
“We were up till maybe two, three o’clock that morning,” said Witjas. “It’s a memory Betty and I would talk about a lot after.”
But there was one memory from that experience that has stayed with Witjas over the years. He described how, after a long rehearsal with plenty more to go, White had a clear message for her agent.
“Betty looked at me in a way I’ve never seen her look at me – just a look that said, ‘Never again,’” Witjas told the outlet. “She didn’t explain it, but I kind of thought I knew what she meant. I said, ‘OK,’ and a minute after that, she went back to Betty White and never discussed it again. And she went on for the rest of the rehearsals and the rest of the week and had a fabulous time.”
“It was one of the greatest weeks that Betty had and that I had with her,” he added.
White’s highly-watched, much-hailed appearance on “SNL” earned her a seventh Emmy Award.
In a People cover story on White’s upcoming 100th birthday, the magazine’s Jan. 10 issue touted White’s secrets for longevity and quoted her as saying, “Funny never gets old.”
Witjas said it was as if Betty insisted on a last laugh: “It’s a wonderful tribute, and she has to pull this.”
A film honoring White on her birthday will be released as planned for a one-day showing in more than 900 theaters nationwide, said Steve Boettcher and Mike Trinklein, producers of “Betty White: 100 Years Young — A Birthday Celebration.”
“We will go forward with our plans to show the film on Jan. 17 in hopes our film will provide a way for all who loved her to celebrate her life — and experience what made her such a national treasure,” they said in a statement.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.