originally published August 17, 2012
Like any red-blooded North American youth in the late 80s, I spent many a Saturday evening watching four retirement-age ladies talk about cheesecake and humping. I saw an episode of The Golden Girls a few weeks ago and it still made me laugh, which is more than I can say for most of my childhood favorites (I’m looking at you, Mr. Belvedere).
There was a lot I didn’t know about The Golden Girls, and a lot I may have known but forgotten because, you know, twenty years worth of stuff has happened since then. Thanks to Wikipedia’s steadfast commitment to the inane trivia of my childhood, I can share these things with you today.
They used to have a gay cook named Coco. Though he appeared only in the pilot episode, the original plan was to have the three ladies live with Coco, which would have led to a myriad of wacky hijinks because, well, he’s gay. They dropped Coco in favor of making Estelle Getty’s Sophia character a regular.
The show premiered on September 14, 1985. This was the 99th anniversary of the day the typewriter ribbon was patented. Now it all makes sense.
All four Girls had jobs. Contrary to the ashy remains of my age-blasted memory, they did more than sit around and eat cheesecake all their lives. Dorothy was a substitute teacher. Rose worked at a grief counseling center, then at a local TV station. Blanche worked at an art museum, because making her a retired prostitute would have been too obvious. Sophia worked in fast food, and tried to start her own spaghetti sauce company. Also, I think she collected for the mafia in one episode.
Rose and Blanche swapped roles. Betty White was originally cast as Blanche, and Rue McLanahan was tapped to play Rose. Since White already played a trampy character on The Mary Tyler Moore Show and McLanahan played a ditz on Maude (opposite Bea Arthur no less), director Jay Sandrich felt the actresses should work against typecasting, and the two roles swapped.
The show was almost called Miami Nice. A 1984 NBC special featured a skit by that name, starring Night Court’s Selma Diamond and Remington Steele’s Doris Roberts (later the mom on Everybody Loves Raymond). It was a parody of Miami Vice, which was set to debut that fall. NBC exec Warren Littlefield loved the sketch, and pitched it to the production team of Paul Junger Witt and Tony Thomas to develop. They changed the name because “The Golden Girls” is not a monumentally stupid name.
The show has a creative link to Arrested Development. Mitch Hurwitz, the brilliant mind behind AD, was a writer on The Golden Girls. He also co-founded a chocolate chip cookie business called The Chipyard when he was twelve. The company still exists. I think he should change its name to Gobias Cookies.
The house actually exists. The exterior shots for the Girls’ house was based on a real home in Brentwood, California, at 245 N Saltair Ave. The actual home was used in the first season, then a replica was built on Disney’s studio backlot. The replica was destroyed in 2003, but you can still drive by the actual home in Brentwood. You know, if you’ve completely run out of attractions to see in the Los Angeles area.
Bea got out just in time. The show was a consistent time-slot champ, beating everything the other networks tried to air against it. Along with The Cosby Show and L.A. Law, it helped to revitalize NBC in the mid 80s. But after six years of finishing in the ratings top ten, The Golden Girls was #26 in its seventh season. That was when Bea Arthur decided it was time to leave the series. Bea knew better than to run it into the ground.
Everyone else ran it into the ground. In 1992, just months after the show went off the air, White, McLanahan and Getty decided to After-MASH it and star in a post-mortem spin-off called The Golden Palace, in which the Girls open a hotel. Despite featuring Cheech Marin and a young Don Cheadle, the spin-off was a dud and lasted only a year.
Quentin Tarantino appeared on the show. In one episode, Tarantino appeared briefly among a group of Elvis impersonators. He had no lines. It was a job.
All four Golden Girls won Emmy Awards. The only other two shows who have seen all four of its principle actors win an Emmy statue for their roles are Will And Grace and All In The Family.
There was a… musical? The Golden Girls: Live! appeared Off-Broadway in 2003, featuring an all-male cast. After a cease-and-desist order by the TV show’s producers, the musical was yanked off-stage.
Rose murdered a woman. Nan Martin, who once portrayed Freddy Kruger’s mother, appeared as elderly curmudgeon Frieda Claxton in one episode. After being chastised and told to drop dead by Rose, the character literally did just that. No charges were pressed, and if the incident weighed heavily on Rose Nylund’s conscience, we never heard about it.
Dorothy’s ex totally hooked up with Ross and Monica’s mom. Actor Herb Edelman had a recurring character on St. Elsewhere, and in real life was romantically linked with co-worker Christina Pickles, who appeared in 19 episodes of Friends, as Judy Geller.
The most Golden of the Girls is still around. Sadly, McLanahan, Arthur and Getty have all passed away. But the oldest of the Girls, Betty White (who was born in January, 1922, four months before Arthur), is still alive, still working, and probably more popular than she was twenty years ago. Having seen a few recent interviews with her, White is comforting evidence that a sharp mind doesn’t necessarily deteriorate at age 90.
The show spawned three spin-offs. Apart from The Golden Palace, which can be filed with Joey and Joanie Loves Chachi in the bad-idea drawer, the Richard Mulligan show Empty Nest emerged as a successful offshoot, running for an equally long seven seasons. Estelle Getty’s Sophia was even a series regular for the last two years, which didn’t prevent the show from finishing 118th in the ratings.. Nurses was a spin-off of Empty Nest which survived for three seasons.
The Golden Girls refuses to die. A number of reboots have been launched around the world, with Dorothy, Rose, Blanche and Sophia emerging as foreign equivalents. Brighton Belles (UK, 1993) featured Frances, Annie, Bridget and Josephine. It lasted 10 episodes. Juntas pero no revueltas (Spain, 1996, literally “Together, But Not Mixed”) followed Julia, Rosa, Nuri and Benigna. Again, one season. In 2010, Spanish TV tried out Las chicas de oro (literally “The Golden Girls”), with Doroti, Rosa, Blanca and Sofia. It was a success.
But wait, there’s more. Bolshie Devochki (Russia, 2006, literally “Big Girls”) tried unleashing Irinia, Margarita, Nadejda and Sofya on the Russian public. Another one-season entity. Chrysa Koritsia (Greece, 2008, translates as “Gold Girls”) fared a little better also, focusing on Dora, Fifi, Bela and Sophia. Lastly there’s a Dutch version being launched for Netherland audiences this fall.
A good idea finds a way to survive. I feel I’ve learned some useful things today, so long as one’s definition of ‘useful’ is particularly vague and broad. But hey, it’s something.