35 years ago, The Golden Girls debuted on NBC, and viewers were instantly enthralled with sweet but peculiar Rose, fabulous Blanche, and the hilarious mother-daughter duo of Dorothy and Sophia. A long time hit, the sitcom is still in syndication today. You probably know the four sassy ladies well, but these behind-the-scenes facts you may have never heard before.
Born in 1923, Estelle Getty, who played Sophia Petrillo, was actually one year younger than Bea Arthur, who played her daughter, Dorothy Zbornak, on the sitcom. The makeup staff spent 45 minutes transforming Getty into Sophia, and they had to work even harder after Estelle had a facelift.
Bea didn’t have pierced ears, so all the dramatic earrings Dorothy wore on the show were clip-ons. The weight of these big earrings often made her ears numb after a long day of filming.
In between takes, Betty White, who played Rose Nylund’s, would play word games with her co-stars like Rue McClanahan, who played Blanche Devereaux. Betty’s love of games dates back to the 1950s. During that time, she appeared on several game shows, including Password, on which White met her future husband, Allen Ludden.
Speaking of crazy contracts, Bea had it written into her contract that she could walk around set barefoot as she hated wearing shoes. Her co-star Rue also claimed one that she could keep all of the fabulous outfits Blanche had worn on the show.
Betty White is the holder of the Guinness World Record for the longest television career. Born in 1922, Betty made her television debut in 1939. As of 2020, her television career has spanned over 80 years and still shows no signs of slowing.
Bea was notoriously hard to work with, and almost all co-stars had a falling out with her at some point, especially Betty. White said at a 2011 talk, “She was not that fond of me. She found me a pain in the neck sometimes. It was my positive attitude – and that made Bea mad sometimes. Sometimes if I was happy, she’d be furious!”
The sitcom’s theme song, Thank You for Being a Friend, is so catchy that you’ll find yourself singing it all day long. In fact, producers initially intended to use Bette Midler’s Friends. They gave up the idea though because it was too expensive.
The Golden Girls house was supposedly located in Miami, Florida. In reality, the first season’s exterior shots were done at a house in Brentwood, California. The house has been sold for $3 million. The exterior shots in the subsequent seasons were filmed at Walt Disney World’s Hollywood Studios.
Originally, Dorothy’s mother, Sophia, wasn’t meant to be a primary cast member. However, Estelle tested extraordinarily well with preview audiences, so producers made Sophia a regular on the series.
Although Estelle portrayed Sophia pretty well, she was actually the least experienced actress among the four. Estelle would become terrified before each performance, worrying that the audience would recognize she was faking it.
Rose, who was portrayed by Betty, was so well received that the character even appeared as a guest role on many other TV shows, including Empty Nest, Nurses, and The Golden Palace.
Believe it or not, Betty originally auditioned for the character of Blanche, while Rue auditioned for Rose. However, the director was worried that Blanche’s character was too similar to the character of Sue Ann that Betty just finished portraying on The Mary Tyler Moore Show. Therefore, he persuaded Betty and Rue to switch roles.
The iconic kitchen set was recycled from the sitcom It Takes Two, starring a young Helen Hunt. The Golden Girls staff only outfitted it with different wallpaper and a more tropical theme. Besides, eagle-eyed fans may have noticed that there were only three chairs around the table. This was done intentionally to avoid having one actress with her back to the camera.
The series certainly loved cheesecake, and the cast consumed over 100 slices during the show. Interestingly, Bea later revealed that she hated desserts. Can you imagine having to stomach bite after bite of something you dislike?
Blanche wasn’t supposed to have her signature southern drawl in the script. However, when Rue used the accent unexpectedly, all loved the charm it brought to the character. So the director kept it and made it a memorable part of the show.
When NBC producer Brandon Tartikoff visited his aunt, a next door neighbor happened to come over for a visit too. The women then bickered repeatedly, but they obviously shared a special loving bond. That’s a light bulb moment, and soon after The Golden Girls was born.
During its seven-season run, The Golden Girls racked up 68 Emmy nominations and 11 wins, including two Emmys for Outstanding Comedy Series. In addition, each of the four lead actresses won Emmys for their performances.
The sitcom was a hit from the very beginning. Its first episode racked up a whopping 25 million viewers, and its ratings remained in the top 10 for TV shows until its last season. As of 2017, The Golden Girls was the 16th-most-watched TV series of all time. When stuck at home this year, many people turned to the show for comfort. In April 2020, Hulu viewers watched the show for nearly 11 million hours.
Bea was ready to leave The Golden Girls on more than one occasion. “By the start of the 7th season, Bea made it very clear that she was done,” said Jim Colucci, the author of Golden Girls Forever: An Unauthorized Look Behind the Lanai. “She thought the quality was starting to slip. She wanted to go out while it was still a good show and she felt she was done with it.”
In 2003, The Golden Girls: Live!, an off-Broadway, all male production of The Golden Girls, started its run. The play caught the attention of Susan Harris, an original creator of the sitcom, and she demanded to stop the production. As a result, the production ceased several months later.
During the ’80s and early ’90s, highly controversial topics like sex, gay marriage, or abortion weren’t well-represented on sitcoms. The Golden Girls was unique and far ahead of its time as it featured a few gay and lesbian characters on several episodes. Blanche’s brother Clayton and Dorothy’s college friend Jean were both gay.
During its run, many celebrity guest stars made appearances on the show, including George Clooney, who played a police officer in To Catch A Neighbor, Mario Lopez, who played an undocumented student, and Bob Hope, who played himself in You Gotta Have Hope. Director Quentin Tarantino also had a small role in Sophia’s Wedding. Supposedly, the show helped him make Reservoir Dogs.