The Unusual Beginning Of ‘The Golden Girls’
As is often the case with novel ideas, the inspiration for The Golden Girls came from an unconventional place. In 1984, actresses Doris Roberts and Selma Diamond made an appearance in an NBC presentation to help promote the network’s slate of programming to potential advertisers.
During the presentation, the pair adlibbed a sketch inspired by NBC’s upcoming show, Miami Vice. But instead of mimicking the concept of the actual show, their bit featured a program called Miami Nice, which featured retirees playing cards in a Florida community. Despite its origin as a spoof, the audience loved the concept.
This sparked an idea for the NBC execs at the meeting and they began to develop an actual show based on the sketch. They kept the working title Miami Nice before eventually adopting the name The Golden Girls. The first episode of The Golden Girls premiered on September 14th, 1985 and it quickly became a hit. Despite its unlikely start, the show went on to run for seven seasons, ending in 1992 after 180 episodes.
‘The Golden Girls’ Cast
The plot of The Golden Girls is centered around four older single women sharing a home in Miami. The owner of the house, Blanche (Rue McClanahan), was joined by Rose (Betty White) and Dorothy (Bea Arthur). In the pilot episode, Dorothy’s 80-year-old mother, Sophia (Estelle Getty) joins the other three after the retirement home in which she was living burns down. While the cast is now known for their iconic roles, the dynamics of the show could have been quite different.
The Golden Girls co-creator Susan Harris wrote the role of Dorothy with a “Bea Arthur-type” in mind, after working with the actress on Maude. Harris pushed for Arthur in the role, but she was reluctant due to typecasting concerns. Eventually, Rue McClanahan, who also worked with Arthur on Maude, convinced her former co-star to take the role, pointing out the originality and promise of the show’s concept. Typecasting also impacted the roles of Blanche and Rose. Betty White was originally cast as Blanche, a man-hungry character similar to her role on The Mary Tyler Moore Show. And Rue McClanahan was originally to portray the naïve Rose. The director of the pilot suggested flip-flopping the roles of the two actresses, cementing their characters.
Sophia wasn’t originally intended to be one of the main characters, but the producers were impressed by the dynamic between the four actresses in the pilot. And so, Estelle Getty also became a core member of the show. Even though she plays Bea Arthur’s mother in the show, Getty was actually a year younger than her on-screen daughter. It reportedly took the makeup artists three hours to transform Getty into her older character.
In addition to the main cast, The Golden Girls also featured a number of other famous – and soon-to-be-famous – faces. A few of the well-known Hollywood actors that appeared on the show during its run include Mickey Rooney, Rita Moreno, and Debbie Reynolds, among others. Several stars also appeared as themselves on the show, like Alex Trebek, Bob Hope, Burt Reynolds, and Sonny Bono.
Before he got his big break on ER, Georgy Clooney appeared in one episode as a police officer. The Golden Girls was also the first paid acting gig of future director Quintin Tarantino, who played an Elvis impersonator at Sophia’s wedding. Tarantino later told Jimmy Fallon that the money he made from the gig helped him fund pre-production costs for his first film, Reservoir Dogs.
The Golden Girls had some ultra-famous fans during its run. Queen Elizabeth, the mother of Queen Elizabeth II, was such a fan of the show that she had the cast flown to London in 1988 to perform as part of a royal variety show. According to “The Power of Positive Drinking,” a book by British comedian Cleo Rocos, Princess Diana was also a big fan of The Golden Girls. The book describes an afternoon in which Princess Diana and Freddie Mercury spent an afternoon drinking champagne and watching reruns of the show while improvising new dialogue.
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