20 Fun Facts About 'The Golden Girls'

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The last original episode of The Golden Girls aired 22 years ago, but the series still remains fresh for generations of new viewers thanks to great writing and syndicated reruns. The show appeals to a very diverse audience mainly because in the end it’s all about friendship—just like the theme song says.

1. Series creator Susan Harris’ first choice for the role of Dorothy was Lee Grant, who had starred in a short-lived 1978 Harris sitcom called Fay. Grant, however, was unenthusiastic about playing a grandmother, and the part was eventually offered to Beatrice Arthur.

2. Harris actually wrote the role of Dorothy with Bea in mind, having worked with the actress on several episodes of Maude. But NBC honcho 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 alienated the producers by improvising her dialog and dropping an “F” bomb during her audition.

3. Rue McClanahan gave her reluctant Maude co-star the final push to convince her to give The Golden Girls a try. According to Rue, she phoned Bea 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 had always been a fierce competitor when she’d 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 (for example, if the topic was cars, they’d take turns naming different brands —Audi, Buick, Cadillac—alphabetically) throughout the entire day of taping.

5. Estelle Getty was one year younger than her TV daughter, Bea Arthur. During the first season, it took the makeup department 45 minutes to transform her into Sophia. That aging process became more complex when Getty turned up looking even younger when Season Two began—she’d had a facelift during the summer hiatus!

6. Estelle suffered from extreme stage fright on taping days. Rue 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. She stated in a 1988 interview that working every week with talent like Bea Arthur and Betty 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. Rue McClanahan’s favorite episode was “Journey to the Center of Attention,” in which Dorothy uncharacteristically becomes popular at the Rusty Anchor, Blanche’s favorite man-meeting place. At Rue’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 the Queen Mother was a huge Golden Girls fan, and she invited them to perform live at 1988’s Royal Variety Performance in London. The Girls re-enacted two of their kitchen table scenes with a bit of censoring so as not to offend any royal sensibilities. One line that was left intact that surprised reviewers was Sophia’s interjection to Dorothy’s question to Blanche about how long she’d waited to have sex again after her husband had died. The 88-year-old Queen Mum was spotted in the Royal Box chuckling heartily at Sophia’s risqué response: “Until the paramedics came.”

9. Eagle-eyed fans have noticed over the years that although there were four women living in the house, there were always only three chairs around that famous kitchen table. That was strictly due to the limits 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 in reaction to either Blanche’s remembrance of sexual encounters past, Rose’s St. Olaf story, or Sophia’s “Picture it!” monologue.

Bassgutten, YouTube

10. 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. Speaking of that iconic kitchen—the main reason for its particular design was that it was a set leftover from a short-lived Witt/Thomas/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 (this was two years before the Huxtables hit the airwaves)—with two teenaged children.

12. 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. Betty White’s favorite episode was “A Little Romance,” where Rose is reluctant to introduce her new boyfriend, psychiatrist Dr. Jonathan Newman, to the other girls. The reason becomes apparent when Dr. Newman comes to the house for dinner—he’s 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. Bea didn’t have pierced ears—all those “crazy earrings” (her 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. Estelle Getty had a phobia when it came to death, which was a definite handicap when starring in a show about four senior women. It was a tribute to her acting skill that Sophia always seemed very nonchalant and effortlessly tossed off quips in funeral home scenes.

16. Rue McClanahan had a clause written into her contract that she be allowed to keep all of Blanche’s custom-made clothing. She had 13 closets filled with the designer duds in her Sutton Place co-op in Manhattan.

17. The two-part episode entitled “Sick and Tired” was based on Susan Harris’ real-life struggle with Chronic Fatigue Syndrome. Dorothy’s struggle to find a doctor who would take her symptoms seriously is still relevant today for many women. For example, 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. Even though the Girls’ address was officially 6151 Richmond Street in Miami, Florida, the original exterior shots of Blanche’s house were of a home located at 245 N. Saltair Avenue in Los Angeles, California. According to real estate records, that 2900 square foot house has four bedrooms and four bathrooms and is valued at a little over $2 million. The house is still there, but it is now surrounded by high walls and foliage to discourage curious fans.

Tim Allen, Flickr

19. Dorothy’s flat shoes were a nod to Bea Arthur’s personal style. The 5-foot, 9.5-inch actress once stated in an interview that when she was younger she’d 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, Bea found that she couldn’t balance properly and walk elegantly in even one-inch heels.

20. The Golden Girls introduced a new word to the vocabulary of 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 of pretentiousness for us:

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!

All images courtesy of Getty Images, unless otherwise stated

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April 17, 2014 - 9:00am
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