20 Fun Facts About The Golden Girls

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NBC

Though The Golden Girls made its debut on September 14, 1985—exactly 32 years ago today—the series still remains fresh for generations of new viewers thanks to great writing and syndicated reruns. Here are 20 things you might not have known about Dorothy, Rose, Blanche, and Sophia.

1. LEE GRANT WAS SERIES CREATOR SUSAN HARRIS'S FIRST CHOICE FOR DOROTHY.

Grant had starred in Harris's short-lived 1978 sitcom, Fay. Grant, however, was unenthusiastic about playing a grandmother, so the part was eventually offered to Bea Arthur. Though not immediately.

2. NBC WAS AGAINST CASTING BEA ARTHUR.

Harris actually wrote the role of Dorothy with Arthur in mind, having worked with the actress on several episodes of Maude. But then-NBC president Brandon Tartikoff was against the idea, stating that Arthur’s “Q” score (a rating system of a performer’s audience appeal) was too low—she was recognizable, but not “loveable,” thanks to Maude’s liberal leanings. Broadway legend Elaine Stritch was a contender for the part, but she alienated the producers by improvising her dialogue and dropping an “F” bomb during her audition.

3. RUE MCCLANAHAN PUSHED BEA ARTHUR TO PURSUE THE PART.


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Rue McClanahan gave her reluctant Maude co-star the final push to convince her to give The Golden Girls a try. According to McClanahan, she phoned Arthur and asked her incredulously, “Why are you going to turn down the best script that’s ever going to come across your desk as long as you live?”

4. BETTY WHITE AND RUE MCCLANAHAN PASSED THE TIME WITH WORD GAMES.

Betty White had always been a fierce competitor when she appeared on Password back in the day, and she found a kindred spirit in Rue McClanahan when it came to word games. The two ladies frequently played alphabet games in between takes throughout the entire day of taping.

5. ESTELLE GETTY WAS ONE YEAR YOUNGER THAN HER TV DAUGHTER.

During the show's first season, it took the makeup department 45 minutes to transform Getty into Sophia Petrillo. That aging process became even more complex when Getty turned up looking even younger when season two began (she’d had a facelift during the summer hiatus).

6. GETTY SUFFERED FROM EXTREME STAGE FRIGHT.


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McClanahan recalled that Getty would seem to have a “black cloud” hanging over her head beginning Thursdays during dress rehearsal. During Friday tapings she would often freeze on camera. She was the least experienced actress of the four, and it intimidated her. In a 1988 interview she stated that working every week with talent like Arthur and White scared her out of her wits. She felt like a fraud and worried that the fans would “find out” that she wasn’t as good as her co-stars.

7. MCCLANAHAN'S FAVORITE EPISODE WAS "JOURNEY TO THE CENTER OF ATTENTION."

It's the season seven episode in which Dorothy uncharacteristically becomes popular at The Rusty Anchor, Blanche’s favorite place for meeting men. At McClanahan's request, the producers hired choreographer Gregory Scott Young to carefully stage the scene where Blanche seductively sings “I Want to Be Loved by You” on top of a grand piano while encountering one mishap after another.

8. QUEEN ELIZABETH IS A HUGE GOLDEN GIRLS FAN.

The Queen invited the stars of the show to perform live at 1988’s Royal Variety Performance in London. The Girls reenacted two of their kitchen table scenes (with a bit of censoring, so as not to offend any royal sensibilities). One line that was surprisingly left intact was Sophia’s interjection to Dorothy’s question to Blanche about how long she had waited to have sex again after her husband had died. The then-88-year-old Queen Mum was spotted in the Royal Box chuckling heartily at Sophia’s risqué response: “Until the paramedics came.”

9. THERE WERE ONLY THREE CHAIRS AT THE KITCHEN TABLE.


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Eagle-eyed fans have noticed over the years that although there were four women living in the Miami house, there were always only three chairs around that famous kitchen table. That was strictly due to the limitations of filming—to avoid either squeezing all four shoulder-to-shoulder or having one actress with her back to the camera. Bea was always given the center chair, both because of her height and also in order to catch her priceless facial expressions.

10. THE OTHER CHARACTERS' PLACEMENT AT THE TABLE WAS SITUATION-DEPENDENT.

The placement of the other characters around the table depended upon the particular situation, and which character might need to exit the kitchen. On those occasions when all four characters had to be seated, a tall stool was scooted up to the outskirt of the conclave.

11. THE KITCHEN SET WAS A HAND-ME-DOWN.

Speaking of that iconic kitchen: the main reason for its particular design was that it was a set left over from another short-lived Harris sitcom called It Takes Two. It starred Richard Crenna and Patty Duke Astin as a dual-career couple—he was a doctor, she was a lawyer—with two teenaged children.

12. DOROTHY BORROWED HER LAST NAME FROM THE SHOW'S STAGE MANAGER.

Dorothy’s last name was lifted from Kent Zbornak, who worked as the stage manager for the show for the entire run of the series. Susan Harris had worked with Kent on Soap in 1977 and fell in love with his surname.

13. WHITE'S FAVORITE EPISODE WAS "A LITTLE ROMANCE."

In this first season episode, Rose is reluctant to introduce the ladies to her new boyfriend, psychiatrist Dr. Jonathan Newman, because he is a little person. White said that despite the fact that “every ‘short’ joke in the book” was used, none of the humor was truly hurtful.

14. ARTHUR DID NOT HAVE PIERCED EARS.

All of those “crazy earrings” (Arthur's words) that Golden Girls stylist Judy Evans gave Dorothy were clip-ons. Arthur loved the dramatic effect of the jewelry, but hated that her ears were numb with pain by the end of the day.

15. GETTY HAD A PHOBIA ABOUT DEATH.

Which was a definite handicap when starring in a show about four senior women. It was a tribute to Getty's acting skills that Sophia always seemed very nonchalant and effortlessly tossed off quips in funeral home scenes.

16. MCCLANAHAN GOT TO KEEP BLANCHE'S CLOTHES.

McClanahan had a clause written into her contract that allowed her to keep all of Blanche’s custom-made clothing. She reportedly had 13 closets full of the designer duds.

17. ONE EPISODE WAS AUTOBIOGRAPHICAL FOR SUSAN HARRIS.

The two-part episode entitled “Sick and Tired” was based on Susan Harris’ real-life struggle with chronic fatigue syndrome, and Dorothy’s struggle to find a doctor who would take her symptoms seriously is still relevant for many women. A 2011 study showed that 62 percent of doctors referred men to cardiologists when they complained of chest pain and shortness of breath, while less than 30 percent did the same for their female patients—instead, they counseled those women to “take it easy” and prescribed them anti-anxiety medications.

18. BLANCHE'S MIAMI HOME WAS LOCATED IN LOS ANGELES.

Even though the Girls’ official address was 6151 Richmond Street in Miami, Florida, the original exterior shots of Blanche’s house were of a home located at 245 North Saltair Avenue in Los Angeles, California. According to real estate records, that 2901-square-foot house has four bedrooms and four bathrooms and is valued at a little over $3 million. The house is still there, but is now surrounded by high walls and foliage to discourage curious fans.

19. DOROTHY'S FLAT SHOES WERE A NOD TO ARTHUR'S PERSONAL STYLE.

The nearly 5-foot-10-inch actress once stated in an interview that when she was younger she wished she could wear heels, but that would have meant towering over most of her dates in high school, then later over the actors she worked with in the theater. By the time “heightism” was no longer a concern, Arthur found that she couldn’t balance properly or walk elegantly in even one-inch heels.

20. THE SHOW INTRODUCED A NEW WORD TO TELEVISION VIEWERS.

The Golden Girls introduced a new word to non-Floridian viewers: lanai. Architecturally speaking, a lanai is a porch or veranda with a cement floor and an awning and is sometimes also enclosed by screens. Of course, we can always count on Sophia to simplify matters:

Dorothy: We are throwing a surprise birthday party for Blanche. I want you to go out to the lanai and mingle with the other guests.
Sophia: Check! ...What's a lanai?
Dorothy: The porch!
Sophia: Excuse me, Krystle Carrington!

Ira Aldridge: The Black Shakespearean Actor Who Broke Theater's Color Barrier

Ira Aldridge as Othello circa 1830
Ira Aldridge as Othello circa 1830
Henry Perronet Briggs, Wikimedia // Public Domain

It's easy to forget that before the dawn of film, stage actors were power players; many of them carried just as much clout as modern Hollywood stars. In 1880, Sarah Bernhardt earned $46,000 for a month of performances on her first New York tour alone (which would be well over $1 million today). In 1895, English actor Henry Irving made enough of a name for himself to become the first actor in history to receive a British knighthood. And way back in 1849, two rival Shakespearean actors, William Macready and Edwin Forrest, caused such a stir with their competing productions of Macbeth that their fans ended up rioting in the streets of Manhattan.

But before all of them, there was Ira Aldridge. Born in New York in 1807, Aldridge made such a name for himself in the theaters of the mid-19th century that he went on to be awarded high cultural honors, and is today one of just 33 people honored with a bronze plaque on a chair at the Shakespeare Memorial Theatre in Stratford-upon-Avon. But what makes Aldridge’s achievements all the more extraordinary is that, at a time of widespread intolerance and racial discrimination in the U.S., he was black.

Young, Gifted, and Black

The son of a minister and his wife, Aldridge attended New York’s African Free School, which had been established by the New York Manumission Society to educate the city's black community. His first taste of the theater was probably at Manhattan’s now-defunct Park Theatre, and before long he was hooked. While still a student, Aldridge made his stage debut—at the African Grove Theatre, which had been established by free black New Yorkers around 1821—in a performance of Richard Brinsley Sheridan’s adaptation of Pizarro. According to some accounts, his Shakespearean debut followed not long after, when he took on the title role in the African Grove Theatre's production of Romeo & Juliet.

These early performances were successes, as was the African Grove Theatre, which quickly proved the most renowned of the few theaters in New York staffed mainly by black actors and attended mostly by black audiences. But despite these early triumphs, both Aldridge and the Grove had their fair share of hardships.

Shortly after its opening, the Grove was forced to close by city officials, supposedly over noise complaints. The project was relocated to Bleecker Street, but this move took the theater away from its core black audience in central Manhattan and planted it closer to several larger, more upmarket theaters, with which it now had to compete. Smaller audiences, coupled with resentment and competition from its predominantly white-attended neighbors, soon led to financial difficulties. And all of these problems were compounded by near-constant harassment from the police, city officials, and intolerant local residents.

Eventually, the situation proved unsustainable: The Grove closed just two years later (and was reportedly burned to the ground in mysterious circumstances in 1826). As for Aldridge, having both witnessed and endured racist abuse and discrimination in America, he decided he'd had enough. In 1824, he left the U.S. for England.

The African Tragedian

Ira Aldridge in the role of Othello, 1854
Ira Aldridge as Othello in 1854
Houghton Library, Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain

By this time, the British Empire had already abolished its slave trade, and an emancipation movement was growing. Aldridge realized that Britain was a much more welcoming prospect for a young, determined black actor like himself—but what he didn’t know was that his transatlantic crossing would prove just as important as his decision to emigrate.

To cover the costs of his travel, Aldridge worked as a steward aboard the ship that took him to Britain, but during the journey he made the acquaintance of British actor and producer James Wallack. The pair had met months earlier in New York, and when they happened to meet again en route to Europe, Wallack offered Aldridge the opportunity to become his personal attendant. On their arrival in Liverpool, Aldridge quit his stewardship, entered into Wallack’s employ, and through him began to cultivate numerous useful contacts in the world of theater. In May 1825 Aldridge made his London debut, becoming the first black actor in Britain ever to play Othello

The critics—although somewhat unsure how to take a "gentleman of colour lately arrived from America"—were won over by Aldridge’s debut performance in a production of Othello at the Royalty Theatre. They praised his "fine natural feeling" and remarked that "his death was certainly one of the finest physical representations of bodily anguish we ever witnessed." Astonishingly, Aldridge was still just 17 years old.

From his London debut at the Royalty, Aldridge slowly worked his way up the city’s playbill, playing ever-more-upmarket theaters across London. His Othello transferred to the Royal Coburg Theatre later in 1825. A lead role in a stage adaptation of Aphra Behn’s Oroonoko followed, as did an acclaimed supporting turn in Titus Andronicus. To prove his versatility, he took on a well-received comedic role as a bumbling butler in an 18th-century comedy, The Padlock. Aldridge’s reputation grew steadily, and before long he was receiving top billing as the “African Roscius” (a reference to the famed Ancient Roman actor Quintus Roscius Gallus) or the renowned “African Tragedian”—the first African-American actor to establish himself outside of America.

Even in the more-accepting society of abolitionist Britain, however, Aldridge still had mountains to climb. When his portrayal of Othello later moved to Covent Garden in 1833, some reviewers thought a black actor treading the boards on one of London’s most hallowed stages was simply a step too far. The critics soured, their reviews became more scathing—and the racism behind them became ever more apparent.

Campaigns were launched to have Aldridge removed from the London stage, with the local Figaro newspaper among his vilest opponents. Shortly after his Covent Garden debut, the paper openly campaigned to cause “such a chastisement as must drive [Aldridge] from the stage … and force him to find [work] in the capacity of footman or street-sweeper, that level for which his colour appears to have rendered him peculiarly qualified.” Fortunately, they weren’t successful—but the affair temporarily ruined the London stage for Aldridge.

"The Greatest of All Actors"

Portrait of Ira Aldridge by Taras Shevchenko in 1858
Portrait of Ira Aldridge in 1858
Taras Shevchenko, Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain

Instead of accepting defeat, Aldridge took both Othello and The Padlock on a tour of Britain’s provincial theaters. The move proved to be an immense success.

During his national tour, Aldridge amassed a great many new fans, and even became manager of the Coventry Theatre in 1828, making him the first black manager of a British theater. He also earned a name for himself by passing the time between performances lecturing on the evils of slavery, and lending his increasingly weighty support to the abolitionist movement.

Next, he took his tour to Ireland, and on his arrival in Dublin became a near-instant star. With the island still locked in a tense relationship with Britain at the time, he was welcomed with open arms when Irish theatergoers heard how badly he had been treated in London. (In one flattering address in Dublin, Aldridge told the audience: “Here the sable African was free / From every bond, save those which kindness threw / Around his heart, and bound it fast to you.”)

By the 1830s, Aldridge was touring Britain and Ireland with a one-man show of his own design, mixing impeccable dramatic monologues and Shakespearean recitals with songs, tales from his life, and lectures on abolitionism. As an antidote to the blackface minstrel shows that were popular at the time, he also began donning “whiteface” to portray roles as diverse as Shylock, Macbeth, Richard III, and King Lear. When the notorious Thomas Rice arrived in England with his racist “Jump Jim Crow” minstrel routine, Aldridge skillfully and bravely weaved one of Rice’s own skits into his show: By parodying the parody, he robbed Rice’s performance of its crass impact—while simultaneously showing himself to be an expert performer in the process.

Such was his popularity that Aldridge could easily have seen out his days in England, playing to packed theaters every night for the rest of career. But by the 1850s, word of his skill as an actor had spread far. Never one to shy away from a challenge, in 1852 he assembled a troupe of actors and headed out on a tour of the continent.

Within a matter of months, Aldridge had become perhaps the most lauded actor in all Europe. Critics raved about his performances, with one German writer even suggesting that he may well be “the greatest of all actors.” A Polish reviewer noted, "Though the majority of spectators did not speak English, they did, however, understand the feelings portrayed on the artist's face, eyes, lips, in the tones of his voice, in the entire body." Celebrity fans were quick to assemble, including the Danish author Hans Christian Andersen, and the renowned French poet Théophile Gautier, who was impressed by Aldridge's portrayal of King Lear in Paris. Royalty soon followed, with Friedrich-Wilhelm IV, the King of Prussia, awarding Aldridge the Prussian Gold Medal for Art and Science. In Saxe-Meiningen (now a part of Germany), he was given the title of Chevalier Baron of Saxony in 1858.

Aldridge continued his European tours for another decade, using the money he earned to buy two properties in London (including one, suitably enough, on Hamlet Road). But by then, the Civil War was over and America beckoned. Now in his late fifties—but no less eager for a challenge—Aldridge planned one last venture: a 100-date tour of the post-emancipation United States. Contracts and venues were hammered out, and the buzz for Aldridge’s eagerly-awaited homecoming tour began to circulate.

Alas, it was not meant to be. Just weeks before his planned departure, Aldridge fell ill with a lung condition while on tour in Poland. He died in Łódź in 1867, at the age of 60, and was buried in the city’s Evangelical Cemetery.

After his death, several theaters and troupes of black actors—including Philadelphia's famed Ira Aldridge Troupe—were established in Aldridge’s name, and countless black playwrights, performers, and directors since have long considered him an influence on their work and writing.

In August 2017, on the 150th anniversary of Aldridge's death, Coventry, England unveiled a blue heritage plaque in the heart of the city, commemorating Aldridge's theater there. Even this long after his death, the extraordinary life of Ira Aldridge has yet to be forgotten.

8 Enlightening Facts About Dr. Ruth Westheimer

Rachel Murray, Getty Images for Hulu
Rachel Murray, Getty Images for Hulu

For decades, sex therapist Dr. Ruth Westheimer has used television, radio, the written word, and the internet to speak frankly on topics relating to human sexuality, turning what were once controversial topics into healthy, everyday conversations.

At age 90, Westheimer shows no signs of slowing down. As a new documentary, Ask Dr. Ruth, gears up for release on Hulu this spring, we thought we’d take a look at Westheimer’s colorful history as an advisor, author, and resistance sniper.

1. The Nazis devastated her childhood.

Dr. Ruth was born Karola Ruth Siegel on June 4, 1928 in Wiesenfeld, Germany, the only child of Julius and Irma Siegel. When Ruth was just five years old, the advancing Nazi party terrorized her neighborhood and seized her father in 1938, presumably to shuttle him to a concentration camp. One year later, Karola—who eventually began using her middle name and took on the last name Westheimer with her second marriage in 1961—was sent to a school in Switzerland for her own protection. She later learned that her parents had both been killed during the Holocaust, possibly at Auschwitz.

2. She shocked classmates with her knowledge of taboo topics.

Westheimer has never been bashful about the workings of human sexuality. While working as a maid at an all-girls school in Switzerland, she made classmates and teachers gasp with her frank talk about menstruation and other topics that were rarely spoken of in casual terms.

3. She trained as a sniper for Jewish resistance fighters in Palestine.

Following the end of World War II, Westheimer left Switzerland for Israel, and later Palestine. She became a Zionist and joined the Haganah, an underground network of Jewish resistance fighters. Westheimer carried a weapon and trained as both a scout and sniper, learning how to throw hand grenades and shoot firearms. Though she never saw direct action, the tension and skirmishes could lapse into violence, and in 1948, Westheimer suffered a serious injury to her foot owing to a bomb blast. The injury convinced her to move into the comparatively less dangerous field of academia.

4. A lecture ignited her career.

 Dr. Ruth Westheimer participates in the annual Charity Day hosted by Cantor Fitzgerald and BGC at Cantor Fitzgerald on September 11, 2015 in New York City.
Robin Marchant, Getty Images for Cantor Fitzgerald

In 1950, Westheimer married an Israeli soldier and the two relocated to Paris, where she studied psychology at the Sorbonne. Though the couple divorced in 1955, Westheimer's education continued into 1959, when she graduated with a master’s degree in sociology from the New School in New York City. (She received a doctorate in education from Columbia University in 1970.) After meeting and marrying Manfred Westheimer, a Jewish refugee, in 1961, Westheimer became an American citizen.

By the late 1960s, she was working at Planned Parenthood, where she excelled at having honest conversations about uncomfortable topics. Eventually, Westheimer found herself giving a lecture to New York-area broadcasters about airing programming with information about safe sex. Radio station WYNY offered her a show, Sexually Speaking, that soon blossomed into a hit, going from 15 minutes to two hours weekly. By 1983, 250,000 people were listening to Westheimer talk about contraception and intimacy.

5. People told her to lose her accent.

Westheimer’s distinctive accent has led some to declare her “Grandma Freud.” But early on, she was given advice to take speech lessons and make an effort to lose her accent. Westheimer declined, and considers herself fortunate to have done so. “It helped me greatly, because when people turned on the radio, they knew it was me,” she told the Harvard Business Review in 2016.

6. She’s not concerned about her height, either.

In addition to her voice, Westheimer became easily recognizable due to her diminutive stature. (She’s four feet, seven inches tall.) When she was younger, Westheimer worried her height might not be appealing. Later, she realized it was an asset. “On the contrary, I was lucky to be so small, because when I was studying at the Sorbonne, there was very little space in the auditoriums and I could always find a good-looking guy to put me up on a windowsill,” she told the HBR.

7. She advises people not to take huge penises seriously.

Westheimer doesn’t frown upon pornography; in 2018, she told the Times of Israel that viewers can “learn something from it.” But she does note the importance of separating fantasy from reality. “People have to use their own judgment in knowing that in any of the sexually explicit movies, the genitalia that is shown—how should I say this? No regular person is endowed like that.”

8. She lectures on cruise ships.

Westheimer uses every available medium—radio, television, the internet, and even graphic novels—to share her thoughts and advice about human sexuality. Sometimes, that means going out to sea. The therapist books cruise ship appearances where she offers presentations to guests on how best to manage their sex lives. Westheimer often insists the crew participate and will regularly request that the captain read some of the questions.

“The last time, the captain was British, very tall, and had to say ‘orgasm’ and ‘erection,’” she told The New York Times in 2018. “Never did they think they would hear the captain talk about the things we were talking about.” Of course, that’s long been Westheimer’s objective—to make the taboo seem tame.

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