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20 Fun Facts About The Golden Girls

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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!

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25 Wonderful Facts About It’s a Wonderful Life
Paramount Pictures
Paramount Pictures

Mary Owen wasn’t welcomed into the world until more than a decade after Frank Capra’s It’s a Wonderful Life made its premiere in 1946. But she grew up cherishing the film and getting the inside scoop on its making from its star, Donna Reed—who just so happens to be her mom. Though Reed passed away in 1986, Owen has stood as one of the film’s most dedicated historians, regularly introducing screenings of the ultimate holiday classic, including during its annual run at New York City’s IFC Center. She shared some of her mom’s memories with us to help reveal 25 things you might not have known about It’s a Wonderful Life.

1. IT ALL BEGAN WITH A CHRISTMAS CARD.

After years of unsuccessfully trying to shop his short story, The Greatest Gift, to publishers, Philip Van Doren Stern decided to give the gift of words to his closest friends for the holidays when he printed up 200 copies of the story and sent them out as a 21-page Christmas card. David Hempstead, a producer at RKO Pictures, ended up getting a hold of it, and purchased the movie rights for $10,000.

2. CARY GRANT WAS SET TO STAR IN THE ADAPTATION.

When RKO purchased the rights, they did so with the plan of having Cary Grant in the lead. But, as happens so often in Hollywood, the project went through some ups and downs in the development process. In 1945, after a number of rewrites, RKO sold the movie rights to Frank Capra, who quickly recruited Jimmy Stewart to play George Bailey.

3. DOROTHY PARKER WORKED ON THE SCRIPT.


Getty Images

By the time It’s a Wonderful Life made it into theaters, the story was much different from Stern’s original tale. That’s because more than a half-dozen people contributed to the screenplay, including some of the most acclaimed writers of the time—Dorothy Parker, Dalton Trumbo, Marc Connelly, and Clifford Odets among them.

4. SCREENWRITERS FRANCES GOODRICH AND ALBERT HACKETT WALKED OUT.

Though they’re credited as the film’s screenwriters with Capra, the husband and wife writing duo were not pleased with the treatment they received from Capra. “Frank Capra could be condescending,” Hackett said in an interview, “and you just didn't address Frances as ‘my dear woman.’ When we were pretty far along in the script but not done, our agent called and said, ‘Capra wants to know how soon you'll be finished.’ Frances said, ‘We're finished right now.’ We put our pens down and never went back to it.”

5. CAPRA DIDN’T DO THE BEST JOB OF SELLING THE FILM TO STEWART.

After laying out the plot line of the film for Stewart in a meeting, Capra realized that, “This really doesn’t sound so good, does it?” Stewart recalled in an interview. Stewart’s reply? “Frank: If you want me to be in a picture about a guy that wants to kill himself and an angel comes down named Clarence who can’t swim and I save him, when do we start?”

6. IT WAS DONNA REED’S FIRST STARRING ROLE.


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Though Donna Reed was hardly a newcomer when It’s a Wonderful Life rolled around, having appeared in nearly 20 projects previously, the film did mark her first starring role. It’s difficult to imagine anyone else in the role today, but Reed had some serious competition from Jean Arthur. “[Frank Capra] had seen mom in They Were Expendable and liked her,” Mary Owen told Mental Floss. “When Capra met my mother at MGM, he knew she'd be just right for Mary Bailey.”

7. MARY OWEN IS NOT NAMED AFTER MARY BAILEY.

Before you ask whether Owen was named after her mom’s much beloved It’s a Wonderful Life character, “The answer is no,” says Owen. “I was named after my great grandmother, Mary Mullenger.”

8. BEULAH BONDI WAS A PRO AT PLAYING STEWART’S MOM.

Beulah Bondi, who plays Mrs. Bailey, didn’t need a lot of rehearsal to play Jimmy Stewart’s mom. She had done it three times previously—in Mr. Smith Goes to Washington, Of Human Hearts, and Vivacious Lady—and once later on The Jimmy Stewart Show: The Identity Crisis.

9. CAPRA, REED, AND STEWART HAVE ALL CALLED IT’S A WONDERFUL LIFE THEIR FAVORITE MOVIE.


Liberty Films

Though their collective filmographies consist of a couple hundred movies, Capra, Reed, and Stewart have all cited It’s a Wonderful Life as their favorite movie. In his autobiography, The Name Above the Title, Capra took that praise even one step further, writing: “I thought it was the greatest film I ever made. Better yet, I thought it was the greatest film anybody ever made.”

10. THE MOVIE BOMBED AT THE BOX OFFICE.

Though it has become a quintessential American classic, It’s a Wonderful Life was not an immediate hit with audiences. In fact, it put Capra $525,000 in the hole, which left him scrambling to finance his production company’s next picture, State of the Union.

11. A COPYRIGHT LAPSE AIDED THE FILM’S POPULARITY.

Though it didn’t make much of a dent at the box office, It’s a Wonderful Life found a whole new life on television—particularly when its copyright lapsed in 1974, making it available royalty-free to anyone who wanted to show it for the next 20 years. (Which would explain why it was on television all the time during the holiday season.) The free-for-all ended in 1994.

12. THE ROCK THAT BROKE THE WINDOW OF THE GRANVILLE HOUSE WAS ALL REAL.


Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain 

Though Capra had a stuntman at the ready in order to shoot out the window of the Granville House in a scene that required Donna Reed to throw a rock through it, it was all a waste of money. “Mom threw the rock herself that broke the window in the Granville House,” Owen says. “On the first try.”

13. IT TOOK TWO MONTHS TO BUILD BEDFORD FALLS.

Shot on a budget of $3.7 million (which was a lot by mid-1940s standards), Bedford Falls—which covered a full four acres of RKO’s Encino Ranch—was one of the most elaborate movie sets ever built up to that time, with 75 stores and buildings, 20 fully-grown oak trees, factories, residential areas, and a 300-yard-long Main Street.

14. SENECA FALLS, NEW YORK IS “THE REAL BEDFORD FALLS.”

Though Bedford Falls is a fictitious place, the town of Seneca Falls, New York swears that it's the real-life inspiration for George Bailey’s charming hometown. And each year they program a full lineup of holiday-themed events to put locals (and yuletide visitors) into the holiday spirit.

15. THE GYM FLOOR-TURNED-SWIMMING POOL WAS REAL.

Though the bulk of the film was filmed on pre-built sets, the dance at the gym was filmed on location at Beverly Hills High School. And the retractable floor was no set piece. Better known as the Swim Gym, the school is currently in the process of restoring the landmark filming location.

16. ALFALFA IS THE TEENAGER BEHIND THAT SWIMMING POOL PRANK.

Though he’s uncredited in the part, if Freddie Othello—the little prankster who pushes the button that opens the pool that swallows George and Mary up—looks familiar, that’s because he is played by Carl Switzer, a.k.a. Alfalfa of The Little Rascals.

17. DONNA REED WON $50 FROM LIONEL BARRYMORE ... FOR MILKING A COW.

Though she was a Hollywood icon, Donna Reed—born Donnabelle Mullenger—was a farm girl at heart who came to Los Angeles by way of Denison, Iowa. Lionel Barrymore (a.k.a. Mr. Potter) didn’t believe it. “So he bet $50 that she couldn't milk a cow,” recalls Owen. “She said it was the easiest $50 she ever made.”

18. THE FILM WAS SHOT DURING A HEAT WAVE.

It may be an iconic Christmas movie, but It’s a Wonderful Life was actually shot in the summer of 1946—in the midst of a heat wave, no less. At one point, Capra had to shut filming down for a day because of the sky-high temperatures—which also explains why Stewart is clearly sweating in key moments of the film.

19. CAPRA ENGINEERED A NEW KIND OF MOVIE SNOW.

Capra—who trained as an engineer—and special effects supervisor Russell Shearman engineered a new type of artificial snow for the film. At the time, painted cornflakes were the most common form of fake snow, but they posed a bit of an audio problem for Capra. So he and Shearman opted to mix foamite (the stuff you find in fire extinguishers) with sugar and water to create a less noisy option.

20. THE MOVIE WASN’T REQUIRED VIEWING IN REED’S HOUSEHOLD.

Though It’s a Wonderful Life is a staple of many family holiday movie marathons, that wasn’t the case in Reed’s home. In fact, Owen herself didn’t see the film until three decades after its release. “I saw it in the late 1970s at the Nuart Theatre in L.A. and loved it,” she says.

21. ZUZU DIDN’T SEE THE FILM UNTIL 1980.

Karolyn Grimes, who played Zuzu in the film, didn’t see the film until 1980. “I never took the time to see the movie,” she told Detroit’s WWJ in 2013. “I never just sat down and watched the film.”

22. THE FBI SAW THE FILM. THEY DIDN’T LIKE IT.

In 1947, the FBI issued a memo noting the film as a potential “Communist infiltration of the motion picture industry,” citing its “rather obvious attempts to discredit bankers by casting Lionel Barrymore as a ‘Scrooge-type’ so that he would be the most hated man in the picture. This, according to these sources, is a common trick used by Communists.”

23. THE MOVIE’S BERT AND ERNIE HAVE NO RELATION TO SESAME STREET.

Yes, the cop and cab driver in It’s a Wonderful Life are named Bert and Ernie, respectively. But Jim Henson’s longtime writing partner, Jerry Juhl, insists that it’s by coincidence only that they share their names with Sesame Street’s stripe-shirted buds. “I was the head writer for the Muppets for 36 years and one of the original writers on Sesame Street,” Juhl told the San Francisco Chronicle in 2000. “The rumor about It's a Wonderful Life has persisted over the years. I was not present at the naming, but I was always positive [the rumor] was incorrect. Despite his many talents, Jim had no memory for details like this. He knew the movie, of course, but would not have remembered the cop and the cab driver. I was not able to confirm this with Jim before he died, but shortly thereafter I spoke to Jon Stone, Sesame Street's first producer and head writer and a man largely responsible for the show's format … He assured me that Ernie and Bert were named one day when he and Jim were studying the prototype puppets. They decided that one of them looked like an Ernie, and the other one looked like a Bert. The movie character names are purely coincidental.”

24. SOME PEOPLE ARE ANXIOUS FOR A SEQUEL.

Well, two people: Producers Allen J. Schwalb and Bob Farnsworth, who announced in 2013 that they would be continuing the story with a sequel, It’s a Wonderful Life: The Rest of the Story, which they planned for a 2015 release. It didn’t take long for Paramount, which owns the copyright, to step in and assure furious fans of the original film that “No project relating to It’s a Wonderful Life can proceed without a license from Paramount. To date, these individuals have not obtained any of the necessary rights, and we would take all appropriate steps to protect those rights.”

25. THE FILM’S ENDURING LEGACY WAS SURPRISING TO CAPRA.

“It’s the damnedest thing I’ve ever seen," Capra said of the film’s classic status. "The film has a life of its own now and I can look at it like I had nothing to do with it. I’m like a parent whose kid grows up to be president. I’m proud… but it’s the kid who did the work. I didn’t even think of it as a Christmas story when I first ran across it. I just liked the idea.”

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Listen to What Darth Vader Sounded Like On the Star Wars Set
Star Wars © & TM 2015 Lucasfilm Ltd. All Rights Reserved.
Star Wars © & TM 2015 Lucasfilm Ltd. All Rights Reserved.

The voice of Darth Vader, provided by James Earl Jones, is one of the most iconic aspects of the original Star Wars movies. But James Earl Jones wasn't the actor wearing that outfit—it was British actor David Prowse, who was cast in part because he was huge (reportedly 6'5" and a former body-building champion).

George Lucas always intended to replace Prowse's voice, but it's still a bit of a shock to hear a muffled British voice coming out of Darth Vader's helmet. Here's video showing what Darth Vader sounded like on the set before James Earl Jones re-recorded the dialogue.

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