The Golden Girls arrived on Disney Plus on Friday, July 2nd, in the United Kingdom and Ireland. What better time to look back at the enormous legacy of the series, through some fun trivia about cut characters, Russian remakes, and the real St. Olaf, Minnesota.
In the United States, The Golden Girls is already available on Hulu. (It’s stuck on Amazon Prime in Canada.)
1. It was nicknamed Miami Nice by NBC staff.
2. Early publicity only mentioned three female leads.
When series creator Susan Harris was promoting Hail to the Chief in April 1985, she promised “Betty White and Rue McClanahan — and the third will be someone equally exciting.”
Later, Estelle Getty and Bea Arthur were cast, and by the end of the month, the show was soon greenlit.
3. The widows were originally meant to be joined by Coco, the Girls‘ cook in the pilot episode.
In the pilot episode, the girls have a “fancy man in the kitchen,” as Sophia calls him. Coco was to be a main character, both a friend and servant to the trio.
Series creator Susan Harris actively added gay characters to her series, including Billy Crystal’s Jodie in Soap, and a Secret Service agent in the Hail to the Chief. That Patty Duke series lasted just 7 episodes in the spring of 1985.
The director of The Golden Girls‘ pilot episode, Jay Sandrich, had actor Charles Levin to drop the stereotypes common in that era. While the character was a large part of the script, it ran five minutes overtime on tape, and his scenes were mostly trimmed out.
He was such a blip in the pilot, the network didn’t bring him back when the series was greenlit. He was mentioned in early publicity, but two months before the series made air, Betty White replied that “there just wasn’t that much room with four big-mouthed ladies.”
Coco would have pointed the show in a different direction. It’s hard to frame the women as cash-strapped, when they have staff.
4. Rue McClanahan got to keep all of Blanche’s clothes.
If your character is going to wear one-of-a-kind clothing, do what Rue did, and get it in your contract that you can keep the pieces. After her death, friends and family were allowed to take their pick, before the items were posted online. A copy of the website is still available through the Wayback Machine.
5. The Emmy winning costume designer got her break in, Camelot, an Academy Award-winning production.
Costumes in The Golden Girls were designed by Judy Evans, who won an Emmy Award for her costumes in the television series Beauty and the Beast. (She was nominated two other times for that series, and once for The Golden Girls.) Her other credits include Susan Harris series Soap, Benson, and Empty Nest, as well as the pilot of Designing Women.
Bea Arthur recalled “she knew Dorothy had a dramatic side, so she’d give me crazy earrings to wear. She was extraordinary.”
One of Evans’ earlier screen contributions was working as a costume illustrator and assistant designer for the film Camelot (1967). Lead designer John Truscott, who she worked with for almost a year, received the 1968 Academy Award for Best Costume Design for the designs.
6. Dorothy’s earrings were clip-ons.
Bea Arthur didn’t have pierced ears.
7. The theme song actually a pop song released in 1978. It spent two weeks at #11 on the Billboard charts.
The Mad About You theme song, “Final Frontier”, was composed by Andrew Gold specifically for that series.
8. Mario Lopez had an early break as a guest.
The show was the big break for Mario Lopez, who as a child actor had begun his career with a small role on the quickly-cancelled Norman Lear sitcom a.k.a. Pablo (1984), and as a dancer on Kids Incorporated.
“I had worked with Bea Arthur a couple times before, and I did a couple of pilots for the producers Witt and Thomas, and then they brough me onto The Golden Girls.”
9. Dorothy Zbornak’s last name is taken from stage manager Kent Zbornak.
He’s worked his way up, through the years. Zbornak has produced a variety of programs, including co-executive producing the first four seasons of The Office. More recently, he was the co-executive producer and unit production manager for the first season of ABC’s The Conners.
10. There’s a 1984 episode of The Love Boat with both Rue and Betty.
Rue McClanahan and Betty White crossed paths at once before The Golden Girls. Both appear in the fourth season The Love Boat episode “How Do I Love Thee?/No More Alimony/Authoress! Authoress!” (1984).
Betty White’s storyline features Cesar Romero, who would later appear in The Golden Girls episode “Girls Just Wanna Have Fun… Before They Die” (1990).
11. There’s was Greek remake of the show, airing from 2008 to 2009.
Running for 40 episodes, Τα Χρυσά Κορίτσια made Dorothy into Dora, and Sophia became Sofia. Rose became Fifi, and Blanche, Bella.
12. Estelle Getty’s makeup for Sophia took 45 minutes.
It took 45 minutes to add 20 years to Getty’s age, a process sometimes watched by entire conferences of skin care students. Getty was notably younger than Bea Arthur, who played her daughter.
13. Russian remake Большие Девочки aired in 2006
14. One of the Elvis impersonators at Sophia’s wedding is a two-time Academy Award-winning director. It helped him during pre-production on Reservoir Dogs.
Before his success as a film director, Quentin Tarantino had what he called a “very unsuccessful acting career.” The only notable credit in this early era? As an Elvis impersonator in the fourth season episode “Sophia’s Wedding: Part 1”.
“One of the gigs I did get, and not because I did a wonderful audition, but simply because they sent my picture in, and they said ‘he’s got it’, was for an Elvis impersonator on The Golden Girls,” Tarantino told Jimmy Fallon on The Tonight Show, in 2020.
“I walked around dressed like Elvis in the eighties. I wore a pompadore all the time. I actually went to a rockabilly place to get my hair cut. Like the people who cut The Stray Cats hair, and the people who The Blasters’ hair, they cut my… hair… And the black shoe polish going on, and I wore houndstooth coats, and I dressed like a hillybilly cat.”
Tarantino got residuals every time either the first or second part of the episode aired, as well as from a Best of the Golden Girls release. While he was paid roughly $650 for the episode, he made $3000 in the next three years. “And that kept me going, during our pre-production time, trying to get Reservoir Dogs going.”
15. The veteran actresses would still get “the jitters” before performing in front of the studio audience.
“We are all tense and nervous and all four of us show it in four different ways,” confided Betty White to Disney News Magazine in 1986. “Rue swears she’s not tense, she just can’t wait to get out in front of the audience — she’s like a firehorse. I try to be a mistress of revels and keep everybody’s spirits up, but I’m dying inside. Bea is kind of fidgety and jittery and scared — it came as such a surprise that she was scared. Estelle is a basket case. So it’s four different attitudes, all of which are covering panic underneath.”
16. The kitchen set was recycled from It Takes Two.
Also a Witt/Thomas/Harris Productions sitcom, the series lasted 22 episodes. It starred Richard Crenna, Patty Duke Astin, Helen Hunt, and Anthony Edwards.
17. They were so popular, that even kids’ science magazines featured them.
Science and technology magazine 3-2-1 Contact featured pages of BASIC code, and was targeted at 8-to-12-year-olds. To talk about human aging, they interviewed Estelle Getty.
18. There was a six season Israeli adaptation, set in Tel Aviv.
בנות הזהב, which translates directly as The Golden Girls, ran for six seasons. The characters include Shoshana, who frequently would regale the others in outlandish stories of growing up in Ma’ale Yehezkel, an agricultural community.
19. There’s a Rue documentary that’s never been released.
The actress was working on adapting her memoir, My First Five Husbands… And the Ones Who Got Away, at the time of her death. Over 150 hours of footage was recorded.
Back in 2011, her estate released clips, in advance of a never-realized DVD release. Disney Plus, any chance of paying for a final edit?
20. Rose’s hometown of St. Olaf isn’t real, but she visited the state’s St. Olaf College in 1992.
Throughout the series, Rose would regale the girls with stories about her hometown of St. Olaf. Like many communities mentioned on television, it’s the invention of the writers. It’s not known who chose the name, but the school was asked for permission, ahead of the series airing.
But there is a St. Olaf College in Northfield, Minnesota. Betty White made a two-day visit to the school, speaking to their theatre class, attending a choir concert, and a softball game.
In 2008, she recalled that she was apprehensive of visiting, “as I was afraid they would resent the fact that Rose wasn’t the brightest bulb in the chandelier, but they couldn’t have been warmed and more welcoming. To this day I have my Uff Da cup and shirt.”
21. Betty White is a Disney Legends Award recipient.
She received the honor in 2009. Beyond her iconic Touchstone series, her credits for the house of mouse include Whispers: An Elephant Tale and Steve Martin film Bringing Down the House.
22. Spain adapted the series, twice: in 1995 and in 2010
Neither is terribly well remembered, if IMDb is representative. The first attempt has a 3.6 rating, the second, 2.6.
Benigna (Sophia), Rosa (Rose), Nuri (Blanche), and Julia (Dorothy) were the characters in Juntas pero no revueltas (1995-1996).
Las chicas de oro (2010) character names are surprisingly similar: Sofía Garcés, Blanca Devereaux, Rosa, and Doroti.
23. One of its spinoff series, The Golden Palace, is impossible to watch officially.
The series’ one season spinoff saw Rose, Blance, and Sophia all open a hotel, with Don Cheadle and Cheech Marin as staff. The writing staff included Marc Cherry (Desperate Housewives) and James Vallely (Arrested Development).
Is Disney just embarrassed to admit to the spin-off? Are there issues with music rights? Contractual issues with the cast? Whatever the case, the series seemingly had never been on a streaming service or had an official DVD release.
The show also spawned Nurses and Empty Nest.
24. Betty White did a Disney Channel special at Disney-MGM Studios, before it opened.
A Conversation with Betty White was filmed in 1989 at Disney-MGM Studios, before the park opened to the general public.
25. There’s an episode of Blossom with Sophia.
Both Six and Blossom are dressed as Sophia in the episode, also.