The 80s was something of a golden age for sitcoms. Cheers, The Cosby Show and ALF were just a handful of some of the extremely popular shows that attracted millions of viewers on a regular basis. Another sitcom that was right up there with the very best was the Susan Harris-created The Golden Girls, which ran on NBC from 1985 to 1992. The show’s success was mainly because of the fantastic chemistry between its four main actresses. Although The Golden Girls had fantastic chemistry on-screen, the same could not be said behind the scenes. Join us as we explore other fascinating details you might not know about The Golden Girls.
Bea Was An Introvert
While she may have come across to many of her co-stars as eccentric, it was actually believed that Bea Arthur was quite the introvert.
Even her adopted son claimed that she “wasn’t really close to anybody. I’m not saying she was a loner, but she just liked to go home and read the paper.” This may have explained Bea’s tendency to ostracize herself from Betty White and co. and it also allowed her co-stars to sympathize with her in the long run.
Everyone Hated Bea
In fact, it wasn’t just Betty White who had issues with Bea Arthur. Many cast members and crew members alike described the actress who played Dorothy as “eccentric.” “If you were chewing gum on the set, she would try to have you fired,” author Jim Colucci said.
In fact, co-stars Betty White, Rue McClanahan and Estelle Getty all had issues with Bea while working with her. She became an outcast, and her co-stars would refuse to have lunch with her at times.
Even The Writers Hated Her?
According to Jim Colucci, the author of Golden Girls Forever: An Unauthorized Look Behind The Lanai, Bea Arthur started to realize that the writers of the show were particularly mean to her, in what he referred to as “Dorothy Bashing.”
While the other actresses didn’t mind the fun poked at them, Bea took it to heart. “Unfortunately, the things that were said about Dorothy were that she was big and ugly,” Colucci said. “And that wears on an actress after a while.”
Bea Didn’t Want The Role
Bea Arthur’s issues with the show started even before the pilot aired. She was apprehensive about joining the cast, especially since she had already worked with Rue McClanahan in Maude.
Although she believed that Betty White was basically playing the same role from The Mary Tyler Moore Show, Rue McClanahan convinced her that she was swapping roles with White. Nevertheless, Bea was still apprehensive. “Bea had a reserve,” White said. “She was not that fond of me.”
Producers Wanted Someone Like Bea
Make no mistake about it, Bea Arthur was already a hot property in the world of TV. When the producers were working out the type of characters for The Golden Girls, they knew they wanted a “Bea Arthur-esque” actress.
Arthur had already established herself in shows such as All in the Family and Maude, in which she played Maude Findlay in both. After considering Elaine Stritch for the part, they decided that no one else compared to Bea and offered her the role.
Rue Convinced Bea
While we have already established that Bea Arthur didn’t want to play the role of Dorothy, it was ultimately Rue McClanahan who took the credit for convincing her otherwise.
Although they didn’t end up having the best time working together, Rue was ultimately happy that she persuaded Bea to take the role. “I called her and said, ‘Why are you going to turn down the best script that’s ever going to come across your desk as long as you live?'” she said.
Sophia Was Racist?
The Golden Girls was renowned for doing things a little differently compared to other sitcoms of the time. It wasn’t afraid to take things too far. One character who exemplified this notion was Estelle Getty’s Sophia.
For some reason, the writers decided to give her a lot of racist lines to say! Because the character had a stroke before the start of the show, the producers felt like the audience would accept it. It’s amazing what old people can get away with!
Bea Wanted All The Awards
While it is no secret that The Golden Girls was a huge critical success, winning a variety of awards during its run, there was one individual who wasn’t happy with how they were distributed.
Bea Arthur was frustrated with the order that awards were given to the actors on the show. When Betty White became the first star to win an award, this enraged Bea. She firmly believed that she had worked hard to earn that first award.
Disney Demanded Changes
Believe it or not, but The Golden Girls was owned by Disney! The sitcom was distributed by Disney-ABC Domestic Television during its run. This meant that president at the time, Michael Eisner, was the man who needed to give the show the greenlight in the first place.
Although he liked the idea of the show, he did feel like it needed to be tailored to a younger audience to make it successful. As a result, creator Susan Harris added Estelle Getty’s character Sophia into the fold.
Based On A True Story?
The basic premise of The Golden Girls was actually inspired by an experience from NBC executive Brandon Tartikoff. Upon visiting his elderly aunt, he was amused by the way in which she interacted with her next door neighbor.
He saw that their love-hate relationship was perfectly balanced and would make for great viewing. The show’s creator Susan Harris loved the idea and rolled with it. The Golden Girls draws the fine line between petty bickering and heartfelt friendships.
Bea’s Pet Peeves
Not only did Bea Arthur seem to tick everyone off on the set of The Golden Girls, but everyone seemed to tick her off too, for a variety of reasons! There were a number of things that the actress couldn’t stand.
Colucci described Arthur as a “quirky and complicated woman.” Apparently, she wasn’t a fan of birds, amongst other pet peeves. “If you were chewing gum on the set, she would try to have you fired,” the author said.
The Golden Boys?!
At the turn of the millennium, The Golden Girls was adapted into an off-Broadway production called The Golden Girls: Live! However, there were many who were vehemently against the production; most notably the show’s creator Susan Harris.
The main reason for this was that the cast consisted completely of male actors and many felt like it was simply in bad taste. As a result, the show only ran for a couple of months before finally being canceled.
Estelle’s Gay Rights Story
One of the biggest chapters in Estelle Getty’s life happened after The Golden Girls came to an end. The actress lost her nephew, who died from AIDS, and he happened to be homosexual.
Before his death, Getty tried very hard to help him financially and was one of the most supportive figures in his life. As a result, Getty became an avid figure in gay rights activism and dedicated a lot of time and money to AIDS research.
Queen Mother Was Huge Fan
The Golden Girls may have had a lot of fans over the years. However, one of its most high profile viewers came from the Royal family.
The Queen Mother, who was the mother of Queen Elizabeth II, loved the sitcom so much that she even invited the cast to give her a private performance. Amazingly, they were able to make it happen and Dorothy and co. performed in front of The Queen Mother. All four lead actresses were involved.
Betty Was The Oldest
It made sense that a show about old women would be lead by a cast of relatively old women. Although Rose was the youngest character out of the four Golden Girls, Betty White was actually the oldest actress.
She might be just a few months older than Bea and a year and a half older than Estelle, but there is a huge 12-year gap between her and Rue! Having been born in 1922, Betty White was already in her late-60s when the show came out!
Everyone Was Cast Differently
The producers wanted to make sure that the four leads of The Golden Girls were played by experienced actresses who knew how to take on such roles.
However, performers always want to try on new projects, and Betty White and co wanted to make sure they were doing something fresh. Originally, Betty White was cast as Blanche, while Rue was supposed to play Rose. The actresses decided to trade roles in order play a new type of character.
NBC Didn’t Want Her
Although the writers of The Golden Girls were resolute about wanting Bea Arthur to play Dorothy, NBC felt differently about the casting decision. The network was against the idea of bringing the former Maude star onto the show.
“They told the producers, ‘We don’t like her,” Colucci said. “NBC was afraid of putting her in the show because they thought she brought some baggage with her.” Ultimately, the show’s creator Susan Harris wouldn’t back down, and NBC gave in.
Betty Played Rose A Lot!
It turns out that Betty’s desire to play Rose paid off big time! The seasoned actress loved the role so much that she went on to reprise the role in other shows such as Empty Nest, Nurses, and The Golden Palace, to name a few.
However, it wasn’t just the fact that Betty enjoyed the role. She is, without a doubt, the most beloved character on The Golden Girls and fans just wanted to have more Rose in their lives.
A Difficult Friendship
Betty White wasn’t the only cast member that found it difficult to gel with Bea Arthur while working on The Golden Girls. Rue McClanahan also admitted to struggling whenever Bea was in the vicinity.
“Bea and I didn’t have a lot of relationship going on,” McClanahan said. “Bea is a very, very eccentric woman. She wouldn’t go to lunch [with me] unless Betty [White] would go with her.” Whatever the case may have been, it seemed like Bea was the common denominator in all the drama.
It seems like the writers of The Golden Girls had a lot of fun when it came to thematic imagery in the show’s storylines. On many occasions, the girls would encounter a shape that resembled a phallic symbol.
Naturally, it would make them crack up in tears of laughter. The funny shape appeared in the form of an ornament, a cake and even made its way into some pieces of art. As we said, the show was known for being rude from time to time!
Bea Hated Cheesecake!
Despite all the bickering and differences, one thing that the four main characters had in common was a profound love for cheesecake. However, this wasn’t exactly the case in real life.
In fact, Bea Arthur was quick to express her hatred for cheesecake. This may have been due to the fact that over 100 cheesecakes were consumed during the show’s run. Either that, or Bea already didn’t like the dessert. If so, then she may have found the wrong role after all.
Betty and Bea Hated Each Other
Although they were best friends on screen, Betty White and Bea Arthur weren’t so cool in real life.
“She found me a pain in the neck sometimes,” White said. “It was my positive attitude – and that made Bea mad sometimes.”
Rue Kept Her Clothes[/post_page_title]
While Bea Arthur was outspoken about her disdain for the clothes she was forced to wear on The Golden Girls, Rue McClanahan absolutely adored them.
In fact; she actually made sure that it was written in her contract to take all of Blanche’s clothes back home when the show came to an end. When all was said and done, Rue was able to fill over 10 closets with her character’s clothes. Talk about the perks of the job!
25 Million Watched The Pilot
In TV, there’s pretty much four ways that things are going to go. 1) You’re an instant success, 2) an instant flop, 3) a gradual success, or 4) a gradual flop. The Golden Girls was certainly the first one.
So much so that the first episode attracted over 25 million viewers – a staggering number. The show did so well in its pilot that it beat the already established The Cosby Show to number one. For the next half a decade, it maintained extremely high ratings.
Huge Show Around The Globe
It seems like a group of old ladies bickering about trivial things is a recipe for success wherever you might be in the world.
Not only was The Golden Girls a success in the United States, it also became the highest-rated TV show in over 60 other countries! While the original series was beloved by many, it was also adapted into remakes in countries such as Russia, England, and Greece. 30 years after its run, and it is still syndicated on many channels.
Estelle Had Stage Fright
One thing that separated Estelle Getty from her fellow cast members was her reported stage fright issues. Apparently, the actress who played Sophia would get nervous every time that the cast and crew were about to start working on a new episode.
According to Getty, she would get stage fright due to the fact that she was the least experienced out of all of the main cast. She was insecure about what people thought of her compared to the other stars on the show.
Rose Didn’t Speak Norwegian
On The Golden Girls, Betty White’s character’s full name was Rose Lindstrom Nylund. As she was Norwegian American, many viewers believed that she spoke a lot of Norwegian on the show.
However, it turns out that whatever she was saying was actually just a form of jibberish. It is a testament to how convincing she was and how oblivious so many fans of the show actually were. At any rate, she was able to put on an accent that even native Norwegians were impressed with.
Estelle Got A Face Lift
Between two of the seasons, Estelle Getty did something that disappointed the makeup team and producers. While her character Sophia required a lot of makeup to make her look older than the actress actually was, Getty decided to get a facelift to make her look even younger!
What was already a long, challenging transformation to make for each episode became even more strenuous for everyone involved. The makeup artists had to double down on their efforts to transform Getty into Sophia.
The Girls With Many Golden Awards
While Bea Arthur may have been in an uproar about who received the first award for The Golden Girls, she wouldn’t have to worry too much later on down the line. The show went on to receive a staggering 60 Emmy award nominations!
In fact, all of the main characters received awards for their roles at different stages. Betty White and Estelle Getty were nominated for seven Emmys each, while Bea Arthur and Rue McClanahan also received four each for their performances.
Bea The Civil Rights Activist
One of the cast members who became outspoken about a variety of causes was none other than Bea Arthur.
Normally considered to be the introvert of the group, the actress became well-known for her activism and support of the elderly, the Jewish community and the LGBTQ community. She was also a staunch feminist. In her will, she put aside a large sum of money in aid of the homeless, as well as the LGBT community.
A Butler Was Planned
Back when the show just took off, fans might remember a butler who was heavily involved. At the time, the fact that the character was homosexual caused a bit of stir. As a result, the creators decided to write the character out.
Some believe that it was in order to play it safe early on in the show’s run. However, others claim that it was simply due to the popularity of the female characters. Either way, the decision didn’t seem to do any harm to show’s success.
Set Was Recycled From Past Show
Like other shows out there, the producers of The Golden Girls were resourceful, inheriting the set from a show that already existed.
The set was first used in the series It Takes Two, which was short-lived and only ran for one season. As a result, the set designers needed to make sure that the set was reminiscent of a home lived in by four old women. Despite the obvious changes made, the basic structure of the kitchen wasn’t changed much.
Estelle Had Dementia
It may have only been reported at the turn of the millennium that Estelle Getty was living with Lewy body dementia. However, many have speculated that she may have already shown early signs on the set of The Golden Girls. Getty struggled to memorize a lot of her lines.
“People wonder if her dementia was beginning, even back then,” author of The Golden Girls book Jim Colucci said. By the time she was confirmed to have dementia, Getty couldn’t remember her co-stars or anything about the show.
Betty Is The Last Golden Girl
Sadly, three out the four main actresses from The Golden Girls are no longer with us. Amazingly, the oldest actress, Betty White, is the last surviving Golden Girl.
The most recent to pass away was Rue McClanahan, who died in 2010 after suffering a brain hemorrhage. Just two years before that, Estelle Getty passed away after suffering from Lewy Body Dementia. While Bea Arthur passed away a year before that after losing a battle with cancer. Betty White is approaching 97 years of age!
Why Did The Show Go Off Air?
It shouldn’t come as too much of a surprise, but it seems like Bea Arthur’s growing disdain for the show was one of the main reasons that The Golden Girls came to an end after its seventh season.
“By the start of the 7th season, Bea made it very clear that she was done,” author Jim Colucci said. “She thought the quality was starting to slip. She wanted to go out while it was still a good show and she felt she was done with it.”