Behind-the-Scenes Facts Every Golden Girls Fan Should Know
On September 14, 1985, The Golden Girls pilot debuted, kicking off a seven-season run that would garner Emmys, Golden Globes and legions of dedicated fans. But, 35 years later, the show continues to resonate with so many generations of viewers — all over the globe.
So many elements have fed into the show’s lasting legacy, from the unforgettable cast and their characters to the witty writing that, in the ‘80s, felt forward-thinking, making it ever-pertinent today. Nonetheless, even the sitcom’s most devout fans don’t know everything about what went into making The Golden Girls such a success. Read on to learn behind-the-scenes tidbits about everyone’s favorite Miami ladies.
The Part of Dorothy Was Written for Bea Arthur
After hits from the 1970s like All in the Family, The Mary Tyler Moore Show and The Bob Newhart Show ended, television's so-called comedy drought ensued. Garth Ancier, who served as NBC’s vice president of current comedy development in the ‘80s, noted that The Golden Girls marked a big risk because "It broke a lot of rules."
Rue McClanahan Pressed Bea Arthur to Take the Job
At first, creator Susan Harris and execs at NBC were interested in casting comedic greats like Elaine Stritch and Lee Grant in the Dorothy role. NBC was on the fence about Bea Arthur because of her alleged low "Q score" — because Arthur was best known as the rather liberal titular character on Maude, the network feared she wasn’t loveable enough.
Queen Elizabeth II Is a Huge Fan of the Show
When it debuted in 1985, The Golden Girls premiered at number one — something that’s always been considered a rare achievement in television — to an estimated 44 million viewers. And those diehard fans kept the show in the top 10 for six of its seven seasons. Among those fanatics? Queen Elizabeth II.
Estelle Getty Was Actually One of the Youngest Golden Girls
As Dorothy’s ever-salty mother, Sophia Petrillo, Estelle Getty won audiences over. However, despite playing the oldest of the four Miami ladies, Getty was actually one of the youngest in real life. Betty White — who played Rose Nylund and is the only Golden Girl alive today — is the oldest, followed by Bea Arthur.
The Miami Home Was Actually in Los Angeles
In the show, the Girls lived at 6151 Richmond Street in Miami, Florida. However, the exterior shots of Blanche’s house were taken — at least originally — at a home on North Saltair Avenue, in the heart of Los Angeles’ Brentwood neighborhood. Valued at over $3 million, the house is still visited by fans on Golden Girls pilgrimages.
Rue McClanahan Got to Keep Her Wardrobe
Rue McClanahan is more than just an iconic comedic actress. In fact, she should be known as an iconic negotiator. Although all of the Girls had some winning signature looks — from Dorothy’s endless flowy shirts and shoulder pads to Rose’s knit sweaters and comfy bathrobes — Blanche’s wardrobe definitely had a lot going for it.
Rue McClanahan & Betty White Would Play Word Games Between Scenes
Over the course of the show’s seven seasons, the cast filmed a whopping 180 episodes, including 11 one-hour episodes. That’s a lot of time on set. According to ABCNews, Rue McClanahan and Estelle Getty claimed it took an incredible nine hours to rehearse an episode. Needless to say, between rehearsing, prepping and filming, the stars had to contend with some downtime.
Estelle Getty Was Nearly Petrified by Her Stage Fright
Despite all of her stage experience, Estelle Getty was the least experienced of the four stars when it came to working in television. Getty admitted that her lack of TV experience unnerved her. Working with the likes of Bea Arthur scared her, as she felt fans would "find out" she wasn’t as good as her co-stars.
“Miami Nice”: Doris Roberts and Selma Diamond Skit Serves as Inspiration
In the mid-1980s, Everybody Loves Raymond star Doris Roberts appeared in NBC’s Remington Steele. Meanwhile, Selma Diamond was on another NBC heavy-hitter, Night Court. The actresses were asked to perform a skit to promote the network and, although not the most ambitious crossover in history, it spawned the idea for The Golden Girls.
Bea Arthur’s Extravagant Earrings Were Clip-Ons
Dorothy Zbornak’s wardrobe could only work in the ‘80s. From boldly colored sweaters and nightgown-like shirts to flowing skirts and oh-so-many collared/velvet top combos, Dorothy is certainly a fashion icon. To complete the various looks, she often wore some chunky jewelry — namely, earrings.
A Bette Midler Tune Was the Original Choice for the Show’s Theme Song
If you’ve ever watched an episode of The Golden Girls with a fellow fanatic, one thing’s for certain: You will both sing the entirety of the theme song. Loudly and passionately. There are few TV show theme songs more wholesome and catchy and perfect.
There Are Only Ever Three Chairs at the Kitchen Table
When they’re not on the lanai or gathered in the living room, many of the Girls’ best conversations — and saltiest digs — happen around the kitchen table. (Often over coffee and cheesecake.) Despite accommodating four women, Blanche’s house gets a bit tight when it comes to the kitchen space.
Betty White & Rue McClanahan Auditioned for One Another’s Roles
Initially, Rue McClanahan was set to play the wide-eyed Minnesotan Rose Nylund. And Betty White was keen on playing the vivacious Blanche Devereaux — until the pilot’s director, Jay Sandrich, suggested White play Rose instead because Blanche was quite similar to White’s character of Sue Ann Nivens on The Mary Tyler Moore Show.
The Kitchen Set Was a Hand-Me-Down
Not only was the kitchen set — with its strict three-chair limit — made for television, it was, in fact, created for another TV show. Designed for the short-lived sitcom It Takes Two, Blanche’s iconic kitchen once belonged to a doctor (Richard Crenna) and lawyer (Patty Duke Astin) couple and their two teenagers. While most short-lived sitcoms see their sets tossed, this kitchen was just moved to creator Susan Harris’ newest show.
Bea Arthur & Rue McClanahan Shared the Screen on Maude
First billed as a spin-off of All in the Family, Maude centered on the titular character who had appeared briefly as Edith Bunker’s outspoken, liberal cousin. Maude, played by Bea Arthur on both shows, was never afraid to speak her mind and fight for equality, traits similar to Dorothy’s character. However, Rue McClanahan, who appeared on Maude as Vivian Harmon, had a role more akin to that of Rose Nylund.
Betty White & Rue McClanahan Worked Together on Mama’s Family
During the ninth season of The Carol Burnett Show, producer Joe Hamilton wanted to make a spin-off sitcom based upon one of the show’s most beloved sketch characters, Mama, who was portrayed by Vicki Lawrence. Initially, Lawrence turned down the idea, uninterested in playing the character on a weekly basis — especially without Carol Burnett, who played her daughter.
Bea Arthur Once Phoned a Disparaging Fan
"No, no, I will not have a nice day!" reads the caption on one of Bea Arthur’s most gif-able (and meme-able) Dorothy moments (pictured above). Little did internet users know, this comedic moment from the show also resonates with an infamous phone call Arthur made in real life. As the story goes, a woman told TV Guide that The Golden Girls was no longer as good as it had been during its first season.
Estelle Getty Is Responsible for Sophia’s Iconic Straw Purse
In preparing for her audition, Estelle Getty found herself shopping around in Los Angeles’ Fairfax District for props. As fate would have it, she found Sophia Petrillo’s now-iconic straw purse, which she looped over her arm for the audition. Was the straw purse the key to Getty securing the role?
Princess Diana & Freddie Mercury Were Big Fans of the Show
While Queen Elizabeth II was a well-known fan of the show, even inviting the stars to perform a few scenes live in London, she may not have been the only royal to love "Miami Nice." Reportedly, Princess Diana was a huge fan of the show — as was her pal, Queen frontman Freddie Mercury.
Originally, the Fourth Main Cast Member Was Meant to be Coco — Not Sophia
When the show was initially conceived of, writers and producers had meant the show’s fourth principle character to be Coco, a gay man who worked as a cook in the Girls’ home. Coco is seen in the pilot, having some great back-and-forth banter with Bea Arthur in one of the show’s opening scenes. However, that banter wasn’t enough.
George Clooney Guest Starred on the Show for a Very Practical Reason
When looking for your next job — or gig — very few things sweeten the deal like a solid paycheck and, if you’re lucky, some health benefits. While actor George Clooney may have a net worth today of a whopping $500 million, that wasn’t always the case. In fact, back when The Golden Girls was airing, Clooney was still a struggling actor in some respects.
Estelle Getty Was an Outspoken Ally of the LGBTQ Community
When the writers wrote the first draft of "72 Hours," an episode meant to humanize those with HIV/AIDS and raise awareness about the country’s epidemic, the first draft of the script didn’t play so well. At the table read, Estelle Getty put her foot down: She was an ally of the LGBTQ community through and through and didn’t want to see any jokes made at the expense of queer folks.
The Show Had Countless Incredible Guest Stars
In addition to a young George Clooney, The Golden Girls was rife with celebrity guest appearances and cameos. Betty White, who was friends with Bob Hope, was asked by producers to call up the famous comedian and invite him onto the show. Although nervous, White did just that and Hope gladly accepted.
Despite Their Alleged Feud, Betty White & Bea Arthur Would Carpool
While they’re no Joan Crawford and Bette Davis, Betty White and Bea Arthur have notoriously been pigeonholed as two co-stars who never quite got along. When speaking to the Village Voice several years ago, White noted that "[Bea] was not that fond of me…. She found me a pain in the neck sometimes. It was my positive attitude."
Bea Arthur Actually Hated Cheesecake
One of the show’s most beloved rituals? The Girls gathering in the kitchen — sometimes late at night, unable to sleep off the day’s trials — to share some late-night wisdom. More often than not, someone would grab a cheesecake out of the fridge and the Girls would enjoy a few slices and share advice.
Writers Spoke to HIV Experts Before Working on an Episode About the AIDS Epidemic
The Golden Girls never shied away from tackling issues and storylines that other sitcoms would deem too "controversial." The show featured episodes about coming out and same-sex marriage, U.S. immigration policy, homelessness, elder care, assisted suicide and, during the height of the AIDS epidemic, the way in which folks with HIV/AIDS were discriminated against.
A Handful of Other Countries Have Adapted the Show
In the U.S., The Golden Girls has been played in syndication on a variety of networks, including NBC, Lifetime, Hallmark Channel, WE tv, TV Land, Logo TV and, as of 2017, on the streaming service Hulu. Internationally, the show plays daily in syndication in Canada, the U.K., New Zealand, Australia and across Southeast Asia.
Bea Arthur Wanted the Show to End After 7 Seasons
After six consecutive seasons in the top 10, two Primetime Emmy Awards for Outstanding Comedy Series and three Golden Globe Awards for Best Television Series — Musical or Comedy, The Golden Girls ended its run in the seventh season. Although the last season didn’t crack the top 10 (it peaked at number 30), the finale made waves.
Estelle Getty Played Sophia Petrillo on Four Shows
Sophia Petrillo quickly became a fan favorite, even ousting the Girls’ original fourth roommate, Coco. But Estelle Getty’s character was so popular and brought such a great dynamic to The Golden Girls that producers couldn’t help but write her into several Golden Girls-adjacent shows and spin-offs.
Each of the Actresses Won an Emmy
The Golden Girls carved out a space for women in comedy in a new, innovative way. Bea Arthur, Rue McClanahan, Betty White and Estelle Getty proved that older women were funny, intelligent and completely capable of being stars — even though women over 40 were (and are) typically written off by Hollywood.
Before Their Careers Took Off, Bea Arthur & Betty White Served Their Country
Like many stars, Betty White and Bea Arthur took time out of growing their careers to serve their country during World War II. Perhaps unexpectedly, neither of these comedians took the Bob Hope route. Instead, White joined the American Women’s Voluntary Services, spending her days delivering supplies via PX truck throughout the Hollywood Hills. At night, she did take the tried-and-true-entertainment route, participating in dance send-offs for the troops.
Only One Golden Girls Cast Member Has a Star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame
Out of the four “Golden Girls,” only one has a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. Betty White received her star in 1995, a few years after The Golden Girls ended. Tourists can find White’s star at 6747 Hollywood Boulevard, right next to her late husband Allen Ludden’s star — an honor he received for being a beloved TV personality and long-time host of the game show Password, on which he and White met one another.
Betty Was One of the First Women in Hollywood to Become a Producer
The shows Betty White is best known for, such as The Mary Tyler Moore Show and The Golden Girls, blazed trails in Hollywood. However, even outside of her starring turns in these groundbreaking programs, White was making a name for herself — and making history. And all of that glass-ceiling smashing started in the late 1940s and early 1950s. After co-hosting Hollywood on Television, White was able to produce (and star in) Life With Elizabeth.
Bea Arthur Was Quite the Singer
While the other members of the Golden Girls cast started out in acting and hosting gigs, Bea Arthur tried her hand as a lounge singer before turning to comedy. Arthur recalled that at one of her performances the lounge audience laughed at her, surprised by her deep voice and height. Even the manager of the night club told her to try comedy instead. Although Arthur did end up a comedian and actor, she didn’t give up singing altogether.
Like Estelle Getty, the Other Girls Were Outspoken LGBTQ+ Allies
Although Estelle Getty was perhaps the most passionate LGBTQ+ ally on set, her castmates have also been very public when it comes to supporting the queer community. In October of 2013, Betty White publicly shared her support for the LGBTQ+ community on Spirit Day by “going purple” and, in a later interview with Larry King, stated “I don’t understand why [people are anti-gay].” Like Getty and White, Rue McClanahan and Bea Arthur were also outspoken allies of the queer community.
There’s an Official “Golden Girls Day”
Although it may seem strange now with Disney’s acquisition of properties like Star Wars and Marvel’s Avengers, The Golden Girls was part of the Disney family long before Darth Vader or Captain America. More specifically, the show was produced by the Touchstone Television imprint, which is part of the ABC Studios and Walt Disney Television umbrella. In 2019, the Disney ABC Television Group dubbed July 30 as “Golden Girls Day” in celebration of the beloved sitcom.
Only One Cast Member Had Golden Globes Success
Despite all four of the cast members winning Emmy Awards for their performances — a first since the feat was initially accomplished by All in the Family — only one of the “Golden Girls” nabbed a Golden Globe for the show. If you guessed Betty White, you’d be, shockingly, incorrect. None other than Estelle Getty earned a Golden Globe for Best Actress in a Musical or Comedy in 1986.
The Cast Can’t Fit All of Their Awards on a Mantel
In total, the show itself earned four Emmy Awards — two for Outstanding Comedy Series, one for writing and one for directing. With each cast member nabbing her own Emmy, that brings the total up to eight Primetime Emmy wins and three Creative Arts Emmys — out of an impressive 68 nominations. The Golden Girls also received 21 Golden Globe nominations, with Estelle Getty winning once and the show winning Best Television Series – Musical or Comedy three times.
The Cast Has a Passion for Animal Welfare
Although on the show Rose (Betty White) is the biggest animal lover, in real life the entire cast has a soft spot for our furry friends. After an anti-fur episode of The Golden Girls hit screens in 1987, Bea Arthur became an outspoken animal rights advocate, writing letters, making public appearances and going up against KFC and its harmful tactics.
Betty Has the Longest Career of Any Person in Showbiz
Betty White is no stranger to holding impressive records. In fact, she’s even in the 2014 edition of the famed Guinness Book of World Records, having earned the title of “Longest TV Career for an Entertainer (Female)” for her more than 70 years in showbiz. The only person who rivals White’s record is the British TV host Bruce Forsyth, who won the same accolade in the male entertainer category.