FROM THE ARCHIVE
21 Things We Love About The Golden Girls
In memory of Estelle Getty, who has sadly departed for a little town in Sicily in the sky, we present our favourite things about Sophia, Dorothy, Rose and Blanche...
1. Dorothy Petrillo Zbornak
A woman with all the grace and poise of Sesame Street's Big Bird, Dorothy was at once the show's 'sane' person, and the loser. Life had made her the most bitter of the girls and she was known as the unattractive, sarcastic one. After divorcing from toupee-wearing, cheating bastard, Stan, she moved in with Blanche and Rose and was immediately lumbered with the care of her 'senile' Sicilian mother.
2. Beatrice Arthur
Before The Golden Girls, Bea Arthur was already hugely famous in the US for starring in the long-running sitcom, Maude. When Elaine Stritch turned down the role of Dorothy, Bea stepped in and made it her own. She also created the role of Yente the Matchmaker in the original Broadway production of Fiddler on the Roof, starred with Lotte Lenya The Threepenny Opera and won a Tony award for Mame in 1996. Recently she toured the world with a one-woman show.
3. Blanche Elizabeth Deveraux
"Jumpier than a virgin at a prison rodeo", the youngest of the Golden Girls was a self-proclaimed slut (note how her initials spell BED) who came from Deep South ancestry right out of Tennesee Williams' Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, complete with a Big Daddy. One of Blanche's manhunt tactics was to rear end expensive cars at traffic lights. She claimed it was the perfect way to meet rich men because you got to exchange information and when he asked who did good body work you gave him your phone number.
4. Sofia Petrillo
"You'll have to excuse my mother. She suffered a slight stroke a few years ago which rendered her totally annoying," is how Dorothy explained the behaviour of her mother away. That stroke, it was said, destroyed the 'tact' cells in her brain. Estelle Getty, who played Sofia was actually younger than Bea Arthur (Dorothy), and she spent hours in make-up to age into the old biddy who constantly got away with murder by pretending she was living in an advanced state of senile dementia.
5. Rose Lindstrom Nylund
Rose was the simple, conservative foil to Blanche's contrived outrageousness, although the stories she spun about her hometown of St Olaf (where the local transport consisted of a toboggan, and her best friend was a pig) were pretty out there by anyone's standards. The rest of the girls rallied around Rose to protect her from the harsh realities of Miami life.
6. The Theme
And a-one, two, three... Thank you for being a friend; travelled down the road and back again; your heart is true; you're a pal and a confidant. And if you threw a party; invited everyone you knew; you would see the biggest gift would be from me; and the card attached would say: Thank you for being a friend.
7. The Anti-Stereotyping
What do you get when you mix a 50 year-old slapper with attitude, a naive fiftysomething who acts out the gang plank scene from Peter Pan alone in her bedroom, a quick-witted 60 year-old woman who is constantly on the hunt for a good date, and an over-80 Sicilian immigrant who deliberately burned down her retirement home? A TV show that defied all expectations, and stereotypes of old age.
8. The Cheesecake Chats
The girls consumed over 100 cheesecakes during the show's seven-year run. The cheesecake round-the-kitchen-table chats were a common coping strategy for the girls, who usually were caught raiding the fridge just after the ad break, when a problem had been developed in the show's first 15 minutes. It was these moments, more than anything, that underpinned the friendship message of The Golden Girls.
9. The Sicily Stories
Sofia would regularly trot out a story about her youth in Sicily to illustrate a problem at hand and offer a skewed solution. Try this one for size: "In Sicily, we never went to the doctor. We went to the Widow Scarpelli. Whatever you had, she had a cure for it. She was most famous for her green salve to cure earaches. One day, she gave some to Salvadore, the village idiot. He misunderstood the directions and put in on his pasta instead. The stuff tasted great, so Salvadore decided to market it. At first, things didn't go so well. Ear Salve on Pasta wasn't very appetising - but once he changed the name to pesto sauce, it sold like hot cakes."
10. The St Olaf Stories
Like the Sicily stories, Rose's relentless tales of her hometown were meant to shed light on the problem at hand, but only ended up shedding surrealism. St Olaf, Minnesota was a small, rural, farming town with Scandinavian origins where cows, pigs and chickens ruled (literally - a horse was once accidentally elected town water commissioner for a brief period of time). Most traditional St Olafian dishes revolve around herring, as does the local circus.
11. The Deep South Stories
Blanche's stories of her Confederate youth were meant to clarify the situation at hand, but only served to enhance Blanche's ego. For instance: "My first was Billy. I remember it so well, just like it was yesterday. That night, under the dogwood trees. The air thick with perfume. And me with Billy. Or Bobby. Yeah, Bobby... Yeah, it was Bobby! Or was it Ben? Oh who knows... it started with a B.
12. The Deleted Gay Houseboy
When the original pilot script was submitted to the producers, they felt something was missing. Writer Susan Harris responded by adding the character of Sophia. To make room for Sophia, however, a character named Coco, a gay male servant was cut from the series. The original pilot featured scenes with Coco but when he was dropped they had to be re-shot. You can tell which scenes were re-shot by watching Blanche's hairdo.
13. Blanche's Gay Brother
"I don't really mind Clayton being homosexual, I just don't like him dating men," said Blanche, when her gay brother turned up for the first time in Miami. "You really haven't grasped the concept of this gay thing yet, have you?", Dorothy replied.
"There must be homosexuals who date women," Blanche insisted, to which Sophia replied, "Yeah, they're called lesbians".
14. The Lesbian Episode
Although to all intents and purposes, Dorothy was a sub textual lesbian, it was her old friend, Jean who actually popped out of the closet. When Jean came to Miami for a visit, Dorothy decided not to tell Blanche and Rose about Jean's sexuality. But then Jean began falling for Rose to hilarious, but poignant effect. The episode won an Emmy Award.
15. The HIV Episode
The Golden Girls often tackled social issues, but perhaps the most controversial episode involved Rose being misdiagnosed as HIV positive. Blanche revealed that she'd been tested several times and the girls vowed to help Rose through whatever came along. This episode was aired at the height of the AIDS media scare campaigns and featuring straight female pensioners with HIV issues, it highlighted the fact that the virus wasn't a 'gay plague'.
16. Sophia's Sister
Played by the legendary Nancy Walker (who was most famous for playing Ida Morgernstern on Rhoda), Angela brought sibling rivalry to new heights. Her one motive in life was to have one up on Sophia and she appeared in several episodes to exercise her ego. Dorothy asked her to move into the house in the first season, but Sophia wasn't having any of it.
17. The Golden Palace
When Bea Arthur left the show, the action was shifted to a new series called The Golden Palace. Without a management clue, Blanche, Rose, and Sophia buy themselves a hotel. They fall back on the experience of the trusted manager and the funny cook. The best episode was of course the two-parter where Dorothy visited the hotel, but for the most part, the one-season series limped along.
18. Brighton Belles
In 1993 some hotshots at ITV decided to remake The Golden Girls British style. Starring Sheila Hancock, Wendy Craig, Sheila Gish and Jean Boht as Frances (sardonic and sarcastic ex-headmistress who has divorced a pig named Michael), Annie (thick-skulled but likeable and friendly farmer's daughter from a small English village); Bridget (seductive widow searching for a new mate); and Josephine (Frances' tactless and over-protective mother). It lasted for one series.
19. Stop! Or My Mom Will Shoot!
'Detective Joe Bomowski's mom is in town for a visit. She did the laundry, washed the windows and scrubbed the floors. Now, she's gonna clean up the streets.' So went the blurb for Estelle Getty's big movie break, where she essentially transferred Sofia to the big screen, this time as Sylvester Stallone's mother instead of Bea Arthur's.
20. The Golden Girls: Their Greatest Moments
This 90-minute special went out in June 2002 and served as a reunion show for three out of the four golden girls. Estelle Getty could not attend because of her Parkinson's disease. The show featured chat and clips from the girls' favourite musical and show moments, as well as some never before seen (and unfortunately censored) bloopers and outtakes from the show, not to mention footage featuring the gay houseboy, Coco.
21. The Final Episode
Blanche's sets her uncle (played by Leslie Nielsen) up with Dorothy and the two decide to pretend they've fallen instantly in love and gotten married as a joke on Sofia. But, guess what? They actually do fall in love and get married, despite Stan's efforts to kidnap his ex-wife. Dorothy bids adieu to the girls and thanks them for being her friends.