Between 1985 and 1992, there was no more a welcoming place to be on a Saturday night than seeing Dorothy, Blanche, Rose, and Sophia talk about life about slices of cheesecake.
It didn’t matter how old you were, whether you were in your grade or at a point where you remembered your 50s, but The Golden Girls were – and remain, as proven by the people of all ages who still tune in on repetitions – a sitcom that brought families together, a show you were out to look at at home, go through commercials, and everything, perhaps with one of the special golden women in your life by your side.
One of the most wonderful things about those repetitions, meanwhile, are all the new jokes, the ones that didn’t mean anything when you were a kid, but that are now eerily perfect or shockingly ordinary. (The best thing is that you had no idea how many sex jokes you saw with your grandma when you were 8 – but it was great to see her laugh so hard.)
And although it is 27 years since The Golden Girls were signed off, and three of the four pitch-perfect stars are no longer with us, the dynamic relationships that Bea Arthur, Estelle Getty, Rue McClanahan and Betty White brought to the screen live.
“You see Golden Girls three hours a day!” Arthur was surprised about E! News in 2002, 10 years after the show ended its original run. And yes, she still enjoyed watching.
In almost every successful show – whether solving murders, selling paper or fishing for the iron throne – it is the nuances of relationships, whether supporting and uplifting or toxic and destructive, that cause that viewers come back for more and watch again to catch what they missed the first time.
And The Golden Girls, for all his sitcom-length cheers, had his sad, tender and laden moments amidst the delicious snark, all added to a delightful portrait of women who dig in their second, or third (or fourth) chapter of digging live with verve.
But if the chemistry on the screen is so good, it can be a bit of a letdown to think about the actors outside the camera, wondering if these ladies have ever had lunch, if they were the Jen-Courteney-Lisa of their day or the Kim Cattrall and Sarah Jessica Parker.
To start with, all four stars of The Golden Girls won Emmy, and that is with Bea Arthur, Rue McClanahan and Betty White, all competing in the Best Actress category in a comedy series.
White, Minnesota with wide eyes Rose Nyland, won for the first season of the show, in 1986; followed by McClanahan, the lusty Blanche Deveraux, in 1987; and Arthur, the sour tongue separator Dorothy Zbornak, who was more often not killed with just a look or a roll of her eyes, took it in 1988. Estelle Getty, who played Sophia Petrillo, Dorothy’s Sicilian-image-writing, octogenic mother (despite being a year old) younger than Arthur), was nominated every year for Best supporting actress in a comedy and won in 1988.
“To reach this point, you can’t limit it more than three,” White said in her acceptance speech. “I mean, there is no way. I am the lucky one who can come and collect this beautiful golden girl,” she said, gesturing at her statue, “but Estelle and Rue, and Bea and I all thank you.
“We are a matched set, you can’t take us apart. We want to thank the network for taking a chance on four old broa -… old ladies,” she corrected herself cheerfully.
Rue (who smiled gracefully when presenter Howie Mandel pronounced her name as “McCallahan”) gave a longer speech the following year before addressing the “beautiful group known as the Golden Girls.” We are five, you know. There is Bea Arthur and there is Betty White. There is Estelle Getty, it’s me, and there’s our secret weapon, the fifth Golden Girl, Terry Hughes. “She smiled because Hughes is a man. “He makes us happy to come and work every day, every week, every year.”
Yet two decades later, McClanahan wrote that it was “clumsy” to be set against each other year after year, and she felt that Arthur was not crazy about losing that first year to White, or herself the following year, despite Bea’s larger salary as the most experienced leading lady of the group.
But when Arthur won, the first thing she said was, “Let me be brief: we want to thank four, because we all won …” And she continued to list many people involved in the show, including maker Paul Junger Witt.
After that, the ladies were all bound to grin and wear when Candice Bergen won the next two years, and again in 1992, for Murphy Brown. (Kirstie Alley won in 1991 for Cheers.)
When NBC first cast The Golden Girls, McClanahan and White had recently sat together on Mama’s Family, so they had an ongoing report about Golden Girls.
“We love each other,” White said of McClanahan, whom she affectionately called “Roozie.”
White was originally considered for Blanche, perhaps typecast of her twice Emmy-winning role as the bawdy Sue Ann Nivens on the Mary Tyler Moore Show, and they wanted McClanahan to play Rose.
But McClanahan, as she remembered in her 2007 My First Five Husbands memoirs … and The Ones Who Got Away, found Blanche’s role to be perfect for herself, and she was secretly excited then, in the middle of her audition for Rose , the pilot director asked her to switch to Blanche. The next day they had White read to her as Rose.
Meanwhile, McClanahan says it was her job to convince Arthur, with whom she played on Maude, to join The Golden Girls. It was hard to miss the spiritual connection between Arthur’s iconic acerbic feminist Maude Findlay with the independent, war-ravaged Dorothy. And McClanahan must have thought of Rose because she played Maude’s neighbor Vivien for six years.
And yes, McClanahan – who had not seen Arthur for seven years but said she liked working with her – remembered that Arthur said: “Rue, I don’t want Maude and Vivien Sue to meet Ann Nivens. Boooorrrring! “
However, when she found out that White and McClanahan had changed roles, she was more interested. Thank God.
Talk to E! News, Arthur said she remembered she had read a “brilliant” script and thought “it’s funny, it’s grown up, and I’m getting rid of my ass and going to work.”
She had doubts about doing a different sitcom and in the meantime had rejected a lot (and had a misstep with Amanda’s, an American version of the British classic Fawlty Towers), but when she read the Golden Girls script, it was . “I didn’t know it was going to be a cult [next],” she said. “I just thought it was great.”
Getty, primarily a New York theater actress who had played the scene-stealing grandmother on Broadway in Torch Song Trilogy and headed west for his run in Los Angeles, completed the foursome.
“The chemistry was clearly like the daughter of a preacher,” McClanahan wrote. “Our set was happy.”
But the story of a feud between Arthur and White – who as Rose was the subject of some of the most biting barbels and hilarious looks in the distance – remains.
“I love both Bea and Betty and got a huge kick from each of them,” McClanahan wrote in her book. “Their relationship with each other was not all I wish it could be, but it never disrupted their work.”
“It was a brilliant working relationship, everyone,” Arthur told E! News. “There was no weak link in the whole.”
So it may have been agreed that, at least as co-stars, everything was as it should have been.
But while McClanahan and White had the cupboard friendship in the years after The Golden Girls went off the air (not that it had ever been over – and today, by the way, is Golden Girls Day and National Cheesecake Day), none of them ever felt the need to really discredit each other.
“Bea is a very, very eccentric woman,” McClanahan recalled in an interview she gave for the Archive of American Television at the TV Academy. “She wouldn’t go to lunch unless Betty went with her.”
That is, even if White was late, Arthur always waited for her to have lunch, and when they were staying on Friday while shooting, they were always sitting side by side.
White also noted in her 1987 autobiography, Betty White in Person, that she and Arthur had lunch together every day – and both she and McClanahan noted that Bea was a foodie to make a mistake.
Rue praised both the cooking of Getty and Arthur and admitted that Bea found all recipes of Rue ‘strange’. Betty called Bea, when it came to food, “discriminatory, knowledgeable and appreciative … and a little intolerant of someone else’s lack of this department … [M] y unimaginable predictability drives her bananas.”
“Picky,” was how Getty typified Arthur’s approach to food, causing an irritated look at her TV daughter. “But it’s her total concern,” White added when the cast joined the Washington Post in 1986. “It’s better than sex when it comes to Bea. Eating.”
McClanahan also wondered how all four, with so many different backgrounds, all fit seamlessly together in their roles – and White agreed.
“There can’t be four different women!” she noted in her book from 1987.
White’s third husband, Allen Ludden (whom she regards as her greatest love), died in 1985, and she – the couple’s only native Californian – had a circle of friends dating back to her earliest days in showbiz and as a student in Beverly Hills High School school.
Arthur and McClanahan were divorced five times, Rue (she remarried forever in 1997). Getty had been married to her husband, Arthur Gettleman, since 1947 and remained so until his death in 2004. (Although that did not stop her from joking that she would drink the bath water from Cary Grant if he ever went to the Golden Girls set come.)
White has already worked on a groundbreaking sitcom that focused on a strong central female character surrounded by essential supporting roles, and White knew what it was like to work with many great personalities, including hers, the Hollywood veteran knew how women, Regardless of the reality of the situation, they were often adopted as opponents rather than allies.
“Sad to say, there are times when rumors are based on facts,” she wrote about awesome stories in general. “Knowing how much time and solidarity a television series entails is astonishing to think about if you didn’t like each other! Bad enough in a dramatic situation … imagine a comedy in those circumstances?!
“I don’t even want to think about what the set of The Golden Girls would look like if we didn’t all support and respect each other. The fact that we are crazy about each other was an added starter that could not have been foreseen when the show for was first composed. “
Moreover, White wrote: “From the very beginning, we were all pleased with the professionalism of the other three. No one had to be worn. What one of us served was sent back in kind … or better.”
During rehearsal breaks, they normally stayed on the set and chatted – and one of them inevitably exclaimed, “We sound like the Golden Girls!”
Both McClanahan and White remembered that Arthur, accustomed to the discipline of theater, did not like it when White – who was a veteran of game shows alongside sitcoms – would “break through the fourth wall” and chat with the studio audience. Rue saw both sides of the argument, but eventually came to Betty from time to time.
In 1987, Estelle, Rue and Bea were all busy with it when the show This Is Your Life – which then only broadcasted in the form of occasional prime-time specials – shocked Betty during a photo shoot that was set up as a list. “Frankly, you can’t imagine what a friendship test it was for them to endure all that fake preparation … that they hate in the best of times,” White wrote. “I am eternally grateful!”
Outside the set, however, the four ladies mainly walked in different circles.
McClanahan remembered attending big summer parties, with Getty eating every summer, and having a dinner for about 40 that Arthur attended, while Getty came once for a Christmas Eve; but their socialization as a quartet was mainly limited to the allocation of shows and work-related meetings. But they were comfortable chummy. Rue grew tomatoes and kept her fellow stars supplied. They were all involved in animal rights and rescue operations, and McClanahan and Getty did PETA events together. White informed McClanahan when Mary Tyler Moore’s brother’s dogs had puppies and Rue assumed what was her third dog at the time.
But when they were together, they sounded, like Arthur often said, really like Dorothy, Rose, Blanche and Sophie, minus a few important differences.
“Where are those two older women?” Getty wondered out loud as they waited for Arthur and White to appear for lunch with Tom Shales from the Post at a Chinese restaurant in Hollywood. McClanahan was already there, so they talked about the Golden Globe that Getty had just won.
“It’s in a niche, with my other icons,” Getty said.
Asked if they saw each other a lot outside of work, Dorothy’s TV mother replied: “We all have such a different life, really. I would love to hang out with them. But they won’t let me in.”
Arthur later recalled E! that her favorite parts of the show were the daughter-mother dynamics between Dorothy and Sophia.
“One of my favorite episodes was where Sophia entered us in a mother and daughter beauty contest at Shady Pines [the nursing home where Sophia was kicked out, so she lived with her adult daughter and her friends], and for the talent part we did Sonny and Cher sing ‘I Got You Babe’. I loved everything that had to do with a mother. “
They teased Getty ruthlessly about that Golden Globe (“We used to never have to call you [on stage] until you got your Golden Globe!” Cracked White), until of course they all had hardware in their niches.
It was only appropriate that Arthur and Getty win their Emmies the same night.
‘Imagine. California. 1988, ‘Getty started with a big smile. “This is such a big sensation and I know I can’t take too much time, but I want to thank the immediate world.” She thanked her family, friends, the GG crew, “and the reason I am here, the three most beautiful, generous, great, most talented ladies – my daughter, Bea Arthur, and her two roommates, Rue McClanahan and Betty White. “
“At my age it was a shock to my heart,” Getty told the Post about getting her first major TV role at the age of 61. “Not only was it frightening to get this kind of work, it was also frightening to walk into a room with Betty White and Bea Arthur and Rue McClanahan.”
“And don’t forget it,” White joked. (Despite her theater background, Getty actually had trouble remembering her lines, she would be so terrified that she used playing cards.)
Asked how they were doing, McClanahan said, “Well, I’ve been getting along with women all my life.” “Me too,” Arthur added. “My best friends are women,” Getty confirmed.
To which White added: “Oh, not mine. I like being better with men. But I get along well with women.”
Arthur noted that White loved men and dogs, and White acknowledged that she would like it if the Golden Girls had pets. As she went on about the fact that Rose had a pet rabbit, Arthur gave a distinctive Dorothy eye role.
When their six-year deal came to an end, White, Getty and McClanahan were all pleasantly surprised when Arthur (who had left Maude after six seasons) signed another year.
But then she knew it was time to go.
“I thought, we hit it, we really did it, and why do we persist and do it, just to keep it going, and discuss the same things again?” Arthur told us. “We will never be – not as successful, but it will never be as creative, especially as during the first five years.”
After the show ended with Dorothy who married Blanche’s rich uncle, played by Leslie Nielsen, the remaining trio signed up for the Golden Palace spin-off, in which Rose, Blanche and Sophia run a Miami hotel. Don Cheadle played the hotel manager and Cheech Marin played the chef, but the show – on CBS, not on NBC – was final.
Bea Arthur always stood out in the pack – not just with Golden Girls, but with iconic actors in general – because of her unique manners, her recognizable voice, her legendary theater career and the type of woman she played: No-nonsense, whip-smart , so funny and tough but recognizable human.
“Naked photos of Bea Arthur” is one of the items that the unfortunate hostages demand in the 1993 Comedy Airheads, thinking of the more eerie their requests, the more likely they could be with an insane plea. (Presumably they get the photos. “Bea Arthur – excellent,” Judd Nelson notes.) Her last TV appearance was a cameo on Curb Your Enthusiasm in 2005, when she played Larry David’s late mother. He sees her in a dream where he went to heaven, and she chews him out because he thinks for a moment that he has been adopted.
Now Betty White is considered TV royalty by fans of all ages, a national treasure that still lives among us and was honored accordingly in the Emmy 2018.
“It’s incredible that you can stay so long in a career and still be able to tolerate people with you,” White joked, who turned 97 in January.
White remembered that Arthur was the most Professional-with-a-head P among them, the last who would probably break in the middle of the scene – although it happened a few memorable times during their first two seasons.
“What makes it so great in her case is that Bea is no joke,” White wrote personally in Betty White. “She might like a joke with a smile, maybe a little smile … she rather responds to a funny comment with a deadpan look. It’s just so nice to see her fall apart!”
Arthur – whom White once mentioned in the book as “my long friend” and again as “my good friend” – apparently had a deadly fear of birds, or at least live chickens, which they all discovered one day.
“If we don’t have any problems with each other by now, I think it’s highly unlikely that we will ever do that,” White concluded after photographing 51 episodes over two seasons.
In her next memoir, 1995’s Here We Go Again: My Life in Television, White wrote about what was a strange atmosphere on the set the next day after she won the Emmy in 1986 and The Golden Girls was named the best comedy series .
“Estelle gave me a big hug and kiss – but she did it outside before we entered the studio,” she remembered. “The crew couldn’t have been warmer or sweeter, but the congratulations were all whispered.” Maybe nobody, despite the accolades, wanted to count their chickens (especially Bea Arthur, literally).
But as the years passed and the show swore to Emmys, “the coolness of the first year was never allowed again. We celebrated it!”
White and Arthur also became sad just as the show started so clearly during the first season and both lost their mothers within a few weeks of each other. Both had been in poor health and White’s mother died in November 1985. When Arthur was told that her mother died three weeks later during the rehearsal, “she went home but came back to work the next day, just as I had “White wrote. “We were also a family and somehow it just seemed like the only place to be.”
“Things got pretty tough sometimes,” McClanahan wrote, “but the most important thing for us all and for all of us as a group: the chemistry worked. We were damn funny. And we did it together. That’s what counts at the end of the day.”
White was five months older than Arthur and the oldest of the four Golden Girls stars, but she survived them all.
Estelle Getty died in 2008 at the age of 84, after he fought Lewy body dementia for almost ten years. “Our mother-daughter relationship was one of the best comic book ducks ever, and I will miss her,” Arthur said in a statement at the time.
“The only comfort right now is that even though Estelle has moved, Sophia will always be with us,” White said. Arthur died in 2009 at 86 and McClanahan, the youngest Golden Girl, died at 76 in 2010.
In an update for a new paperback edition of her book in 2010, White wrote that losing all three of her co-stars, including, “recently, my beloved Rue McClanahan, is very difficult to take. If you work together so closely, long and blessed with such success, you will be locked in the heart. “
This article originally appeared in eonline.