Dorothy. Sophia. Blanche. Rose. If those names don't immediately bring to mind a Florida home sporting wicker furniture and tales of "Picture it...Sicily..." you've missed out on the gift that was The Golden Girls. The show starred Bea Arthur, Betty White, Estelle Getty, and Rue McLanahan. Made in the eighties, it wasn't just a fun show about the challenges of meshing very different personalities later in life. The show broke barriers and commented on politics, frequently referenced sex and sexuality like Blanche's gay brother, and approached race in a head on, straightforward way when Dorothy's son married into a black family. It also guest starred faces that are instantly recognizable today, before they ascended to true fame. These included Mario Lopez, George Clooney, and even Quentin Tarantino, just to name a few.
The show ran for seven seasons and totaled 180 original episodes. The women had great chemistry, and many of their most important moments happened in the kitchen. There they kicked back, ate cheesecake, and shared pieces of their lives before and during the show. Almost at once, when the show wrapped, a cult following was born that remains intact today. Scroll below to learn more about the iconic grandmas that were The Golden Girls.
Sophia, Dorothy's mom, wasn't supposed to be in every episode. She was slated to only make guest starring appearances, but that idea was scrapped when test audiences really took to the character. Therefore, Sophia was written in as a main character and made her first appearance in the pilot episode when her nursing home burned down. That plot line would continue to pop back up, with Sophia once believing she would be sent to jail for her role in starting the fire by making s'mores on an unauthorized hot plate in her room. The ladies of her house banded together to try to prove her innocence as well as consider how different their lives would be without Sophia's maternal, and sassy, presence.
Sophia Petrillo was undeniably, bone-deep Italian. It influenced her cooking, her views on family, and her vernacular. However, Estelle Getty wasn't Italian in the slightest. The diminutive but powerful lady was born to Polish Jewish parents and got her last name from shortening her husband's Gettlemen. She saw her star begin to ascend in Yiddish theater. This makes the episode where Dorothy befriended a famous author only to find out she frequented a place that didn't allow Jewish folk in even more pointed. Estelle's own parents were immigrants and owned a glass store in New York, a state she and Sophia do have in common.
The lady that played Blanche Devereaux wasn't actually named Rue. Her real name was Eddi-Rue McClanahan. She also wasn't the southern belle that she played. In fact, Eddi-Rue grew up in the Midwest alongside her working class parents, a beautician and builder. She was Irish and Choctaw, with a great grandfather who went by the name Running Hawk. The actress was a card carrying member of the tribe, and that heritage was passed down through her mother's side. The actress wasn't just the pretty face she played on the show, either. She graduated cum laude from college, where she majored in German and theater together.
Originally, Rose Nylund was supposed to be played by McClanahan, who played a similar character on 'Maude.' Additionally, Betty White played a man eater on 'The Mary Tyler Moore Show.' Though they were comfortable in these familiar roles, the producers of the show didn't want Golden Girls to come across as a knockoff. Therefore, they asked the ladies to learn the lines of both their intended characters and each other's. The switch originally didn't sit well with Betty White, but both women learned to love their new roles. All this and more is detailed in the book Golden Girls Forever: An Unauthorized Look Behind The Lanai.
A theory has popped up on the net, first penned by Darcie Wilder. In it, she states that Rose as we mostly knew her was on drugs, which were affecting her batty personality. For a close watcher, her theory is spot on. That's right, folks. One Rose Nylund was strung out for the first entire four seasons of the show. How do we know? The episode 'High Anxiety' found Rose suddenly trying to dry out from the pain pills she admited to being on for thirty some years. When the other ladies tried to convince Rose that this is a problem, she at first denied it. Then, she agreed to go to a rehab program. The girls worried that the Rose that came home from said program would be completely different than the woman they knew. However, dingbat Rose came back quite recognizable.
Stan was Dorothy's philandering ex-husband, the one who up and married a much younger airhead after his and Dorothy's long delayed divorce. Stanley spends most of his time on the show still very much in love with Dorothy although he can't and couldn't ever truly and properly commit. He's also a pain in Sophia's backside. Though we see Stan in the last episode of Golden Girl's, hale and whole, we find out in the subsequent Golden Palace that Stan is probably dead. The date and location of his death are listed as 1996 in Spain, where he was hiding out from the IRS. Why did we use the 'probably' qualifier? Only Sophia can see Stan, and it seems that this may be because she's finally starting to succumb to her old age.
Bea Arthur, then Bernice Frankel, was, like her character Dorothy, the child of two immigrants. In the 1940's and amidst the hubbub that was the second world war, Bea waited five days after the Marines began adding women to their ranks to sign up. She had to have the permission of her parents to do so, since she wasn't yet 21. During her years with the Marines Bea worked as a dispatcher and driver both. She also married her first husband while she was stationed in North Carolina, and it's from him she took the last name Arthur. Her husband was a fellow Marine, but the marriage only lasted 2+ years.
There are superfans, and then there are Sam Hatmaker level superfans. Sam is a New Yorker whose hobby is turning Legos into detailed sets and even recreations of iconic Golden Girls scenes. Like a television set, Sam's rooms all have three walls and leave the fourth open for viewing. Here, the girls are seen engaged in one of their familiar, immediately recognizable talks around the kitchen table. Sophia stands behind the counter preparing food. Each lady sports her distinct hair color and signature style. Aside from the four main characters, Sam also created a Stanley figurine who he's posed getting ready to knock on the girls' front door.
Rose's, "Back in St. Olaf..." was the start of many a story that drove Dorothy bonkers. The St. Olaf of Rose's recollections was, of course, fictional. However, there is a real St. Olaf township in Minnesota, and it has less than 400 citizens as residents. It was named after a Roman Catholic saint, one early king of Norway. In the show, despite its several mentions, the town itself was only shown three times. Once, the town named Rose Woman of the Year. This was in large part due to Dorothy and Blanche writing Rose a fake and exaggerated recommendation. Rose was unaware of the girls' well meaning lies until she was about to receive the award. After being honest about her friends' white lies, Rose still received her town's highest honor.
Rue McClanahan was like Blanche in one way- they both had a way with men. A young Rue found herself with a baby boy, two failed marriages behind her, and needing to support herself while trying to make it in acting. So what'd she do? She started nude modeling for art students. This worked for a while, keeping her afloat financially at $2.00 an hour, until she was able to land a job with the Pasadena Playhouse. All this happened in the 1950's, the same decade in which Marilyn Monroe's amateur nudes graced the cover of nascent Playboy. Despite both women doing this for money, the 50's were still quite conservative overall.
Despite their great chemistry and Getty's natural ability to pull all the girls together, Getty, the actress that played Sophia Petrillo, was in fact a year younger than her TV daughter. Estelle was born in July of 1923. Bea was born in May of 1922. They also were both born in New York and died in Los Angeles, a year apart. Getty passed in 2008, and Bea followed months later in 2009. A final thing the ladies shared in common was their family size. Both ladies had two children, sons, from their marriages. In order of birth the Golden Girls go like this- Betty White (January, 1922), Bea Arthur (May, 1922), Estelle Getty (July, 1923), and Rue McClanahan (February, 1934).
The Golden Girls production had its own costume department, as is observable in their multiple changes in each episode. While some clothes were bought off the rack, a good deal were made specifically for the ladies. This was especially true of Bea Arthur, since her height made buying off the rack a challenge. Rue McClanahan had a special clause written into her contract that stated she got to take all of her costumes home. Everything from Blanche's evening wear to her silky negligees left the set with her. Many are on sale at The Estate of Rue, where jewelry from the show as well as scripts often make an appearance.
Although the exterior of the house (the fictional 5161 Richmond Street in Florida) was first filmed on location in California, an exact replica was built at Disney's Hollywood studios in Florida and all other exterior shots from then on were filmed at the park. The exterior remained part of a Disney attraction until 2003, along with other famous exteriors. The brown house with its tropical greenery out front was first owned by Blanche and her husband, after whose passing Blanche listed the extra bedrooms for rent. We want Disney to bring back the Residential Street ride so we can relive the glory of the Golden Girls for ourselves.
In an episode, Blanche tried to gain entrance to a group, the DOS. It was an abbreviation of Daughters of the South, and Blanche ended up finding out that she was 1/8 Jewish. Her great grandmother was a New Yorker named Rosalynd Feldman before she married Blanche's great grandfather, a Roquet. While, as far as we can find, the Daughters of the South are not a real group. However, a similar group called the Daughters of the Confederacy is real. They call themselves a 'heritage' group, Lately, the group has been behind calls to leave statues of confederate soldiers standing. Ech.
In an arc during season five of Golden Girls, Dorothy experiences strange and persistent symptoms. She's tired all the time. There are bouts of confusion. She has pain that seems to have to direct cause. Dorothy spends time trying to discount her symptoms, much to her mother's chagrin. When she does finally seek help, a slew of doctors write of her experiences as being exaggerated and simple womanly woes. Dorothy is finally diagnosed with Chronic Fatigue Disorder, and many people were first introduced to this disease via the show. Yet, the disease is pervasive. Over 200,000 new cases are now diagnosed every year, with women being more likely to be patients than men.
Blanche's mother, sometimes called 'Big Mommy,' is mostly referred to as Elizabeth. However, in some instances she's called Samantha. This is odd since her full name appears on the show- Elizabeth Ann Hollingsworth. Her first name is inspiration for Blanche's middle one, and Dorothy makes the observation that Blanche's initials spell BED. Elizabeth, in frail health, appears in one episode of the show. She's shown in a nursing home and surprises Blanche by not only recognizing her but recalling in detail one of Blanche's naughtier episodes as a teenager. By the time Blanche's father, Big Daddy, passes, he joins Elizabeth in the family cemetery.
While none of the girls were unfaithful to their spouses, it seems that wasn't the case for the men in their lives. Blanche finds out that her late husband, George, had a child outside of their marriage despite the fact that the two had been together since high school. She also learns by accident that her nanny and father carried on a torrid affair for many years right under her mother's nose. Dorothy's ex-husband Stan had multiple transgressions during their marriage. Dorothy dates a man she knows to be married despite her mother's disapproval. He swears that it's a marriage in name only, but Dorothy eventually breaks things off when she can no longer live with the guilt. Rose dates a man who has a heart attack in her bed one night. Only after his death does she find out he was married and a lifelong philanderer.
A Manhattan cafe was opened in 2017 that was half eatery and half Golden Girls museum. The owner, a personal friend of Rue McClanahan's, decorated the space to look like a TV set laden with Golden Girls memorabilia. People like Lin-Manuel Miranda and other super fans flocked to the cafe, making it a popular destination. Yet, the cafe closed at the end of 2017 with no solid plans to reopen. The owner called the cafe's run a "rehearsal," but it seems like this show may not be going to production. Why?! We need more places like this. Can there be a Golden Girls cocktail bar? If so, that's what heaven may look like. However, in the meantime, you can pick up Golden Girls produ