It's been over 30 years since The Golden Girls went off the air, but it remains an unforgettable TV classic to this day. The groundbreaking sitcom, which starred Bea Arthur (Dorothy), Betty White (Rose), Rue McClanahan (Blanche), and Estelle Getty (Sophia) as four hilarious housemates sharing their golden years in a Miami home, was a smash hit for seven seasons, from the first episode in 1985 to the series finale in 1992. Despite the award-winning show's ongoing popularity, some secrets from behind the scenes might surprise even the biggest fans.
Her character Blanche Devereux might have been a Southern Belle from Atlanta, but in real life, Rue McClanahan was a Midwesterner born in Oklahoma. Original director Jay Sandrich insisted that the actress use her native accent in the show, but it was McClanahan's idea to give Blanche the sultry Southern drawl that became one of her defining features.
The Golden Girls were always dressed to the nines in designer outfits over the years, but only Rue McClanahan got to bring hers home at the end of the day. The actress had it written into her contract that all of Blanche's custom-made clothes would be hers to keep. By the end of the series, McClanahan had managed to fill 13 closets full of glamorous garments made just for her, which were auctioned off to her fans at the end of her life.
The Golden Girls had many chats over cheesecake at the kitchen table, commiserating with one another about life's ups and downs. Over the years, the cast consumed over one hundred of these dairy-rich desserts on camera, which were donated by bakeries all over the country. Most people would have considered this a major perk of the job unless you were Bea Arthur. Not only did she hate cheesecake, but she hated the cheesecake scenes too!
Although Getty played Dorothy's mother on the show, she was a year younger than Bea Arthur. The diminutive actress was so young-looking that it took the makeup crew nearly an hour to transform her into Sophia Petrillo, the oldest of the four. Their job was made harder still when she got a facelift between the first and second seasons.
Despite the sparkling chemistry between Rose and Dorothy, Bea Arthur and Betty White's real-life relationship was not so golden. In later interviews, White confessed that Arthur found her a "pain in the neck sometimes" and that her "positive attitude" drove her former co-star mad. "If I was happy, she was furious!" White recalled.
While the cast remained friends until the end, Rue McClanahan and Betty White were particularly close. According to White, they "adored" one another and remained in touch until McClanahan's passing in 2010. On set, the pair would play word games and swap riddles on set between takes, revealing the answers after they had finished shooting the scene.3
Despite her hot takes and snappy one-liners, the actress who played Sophia was the least experienced of the foursome and felt intimidated working alongside screen veterans Betty White and Bea Arthur. Getty would do just fine during rehearsals. As soon as the cameras were rolling, however, she would freeze up and forget her lines in front of the show's live studio audience. Despite her secret struggle with stage fright, she won an Emmy in 1988.
Dorothy's extraordinary earrings, provided by stylist Judy Evans, were a huge part of her signature style. Bea Arthur wore them so well on the show you'd think she would have been an earring lover herself, but surprisingly, her ears were never even pierced. All of the elaborate, oversized earrings the actress wore were clip-ons, and she hated wearing them because they left her earlobes sore and numb by the end of the day.
Queen Elizabeth's mother loved the sitcom so much that she invited the cast to perform a scene from the show during the 1988 Royal Variety Performance at the London Palladium. The actresses admitted they had to tone down their seven-minute skit's raunchiness to avoid offending royal sensibilities. Legend has it, however, that the Queen Mum chuckled heartily when Sophia threw a zinger at Blanche about getting it on with the paramedic moments after becoming a widow.
Cynthia Fee's 1985 rendition of "Thank You For Being A Friend" will go down in history as The Golden Girls theme song. However, few people know that the song was originally co-written, performed, and released as a single by Andrew Gold in 1978. At the time, the musician considered it a "throwaway" that "took him about an hour to write." He had no idea that millions of people worldwide would hear it in their living rooms each week as they tuned in to their favorite TV show just a few years later.
Sex-crazed Blanche was the biggest flirt of the bunch, and it turns out Rue McClanahan wasn't all that different from her character. The actress tallied up a total of six tumultuous marriages in her lifetime, her longest one lasting from 1997 until she passed away in 2010. (Perhaps she had finally found her "George"?)
Although her character Rose was supposed to be the youngest Golden Girl, Betty White was the oldest of her co-stars in real life. She was several months older than Bea Arthur, a year and a half older than Estelle Getty, and 12 years older than Rue McClanahan. Born in 1922, White was already in her late 60s when the show first aired. But despite being the oldest, she lived the longest. She remained active until she died in 2021, at the impressive age of 99.
Betty White's character, Rose Lindstrom Nylund, was a Norwegian-American known to blurt out a few lines of Norwegian here and there on the show. As convincing as it sounded, it turns out that none of what she was saying was Norwegian or any other language. Betty White was speaking gibberish.
Fans of the show might have noticed that there were never enough chairs at the kitchen table for all four Golden Girls. The set wasn't big enough to have them seated side by side, and the directors and producers didn't want any of them to have their backs to the camera. Additionally, Bea Arthur was always seated between her seatmates at the center of the table. Her exasperated facial expressions were too priceless to miss.
The actress who played Dorothy believed the quality of the material was slipping towards the final seasons and wanted things to end on a high note. Her decision to call it quits while The Golden Girls still had good ratings meant the show never jumped the shark, and it remains a beloved classic to this day. After 180 episodes spanning seven years, the Girls parted ways in 1992. More than 27 million viewers tuned in to watch the final episode, titled "One Flew Out of the Cuckoo's Nest," which remains one of the most-watched series finales in TV history.
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