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Today, marks the day that our entertainment lives were made infinitely better by the arrival of “The Golden Girls” to prime time television. On this date, 30 years ago, we met our favorite seasoned sisters Blanche, Dorothy, Rose and Sophia. And we loved them. Never before had people viewed older women as vibrant, thrill-seeking and sexy, but those women proved that it could be so. I could go on and on about my personal love for the show, how I’ve seen every episode at least thrice, (My real fans know that that really is a word.), and reference the one-liners frequently in my every day life. But it’s not about me today. It’s about how the planets aligned just right to bring us one of the best shows in entertainment history.

Check out some of the little known, behind the scenes secrets. And by little known, I mean the ones that aren’t included in the special features on the season DVDs. Peep them on the following pages.

The Idea

Brandon Tartikoff was NBC’s go-to-guy. And for good reason. He turned the company around bringing “Hill Street Blues,” “Law & Order,” “ALF” “Seinfield,” “The Cosby Show” and several other hit shows to the network. He originally conceived of the idea for “The Golden Girls” after visiting his elderly aunt. He watched as she bickered with her next-door neighbor, who just so happened to be her best friend. From there, he solicited the help of Paul Junger Witt and Peter Thomas to write the show. Junger Witt said he would present the idea to his wife, Susan Harris, who was supposed to be going into retirement. She found the idea so interesting that she postponed it to work on the show.

The Name 

“Miami Vice” was such a hit for the network that they thought they’d use a play on the title for their newest sitcom. Since the show was also set to take place in Miami there were plans to call it “Miami Nice.” Eventually, network executives, believing that it might disappoint viewers looking for a spin-off, decided to call it “The Golden Girls.”

The Straw Purse 

Estelle Getty found and bought this straw purse herself to help her get into the character of Sophia Petrillo. She even brought it to the audition with her. She kept it for all seven seasons of the show.

Stage Fright

Audiences loved Sophia. Perhaps more than Estelle Getty realized. When the show was initially conceived, Sophia was supposed to be a recurring character, who would show up every once in a while. But people were so tickled and taken with her that she was written into the house with the rest of the ladies.

Still, Getty was the least experienced of the women and she let it get to her. For weeks she suffered from stage fright. Which was an issue as the women had to perform in front of a studio audience. Thankfully, we couldn’t tell on camera as Sophia often delivered some of the show’s best one-liners.

Face Lift

Betty White also recalled that Getty had a fear of death. And though it was a topic broached quite often on a show following elderly women, it wasn’t something Getty felt comfortable discussing.

Perhaps it’s the reason she got a facelift shortly after the show started, much to the chagrin of her makeup team who spent hours trying to do the exact opposite and make her look older.

How old is Blanche?

There’s all this talk about a lady never revealing her age. I don’t know how well that goes over in real life but it was certainly the case for Blanche Devereaux. And while most fans may think her true age was never revealed on the show, those who were listening closely might have caught it. According to IMDB, in Season 3, Episode 25, Blanche admits, in a flashback, that she was 17-years-old in 1949. Which means in 1988, when the show first aired she was 53 and 60 when it ended in 1992. As someone who always finds it strange when women don’t reveal their age, I took great satisfaction in learning this little tidbit.

Beef

While it always seemed that the ladies were best of friends, on and off camera. Sadly, that wasn’t the case. While Betty White respected and admired Bea Arthur, the feeling wasn’t mutual. From accounts of their tension, it seemed like it was a matter of different personalities and Arthur’s quirks.

In an interview with Joy Behar, after Arthur had passed away, Betty White explained. You can see what she said in the video below.

But Bea and Rue got along just fine

Thankfully, all the rest of the cast members got along famously. Rue McClanahan had a particularly special relationship with Bea Arthur as she showed her great kindness during an incredibly difficult time. In an interview with William Keck for TV Guide, she explained.

Keck: What is your favorite memory of Bea?

Rue: She took care of me the Thanksgiving my mother died the first year of Maude. It was unexpected. My mother was young, and I was young. I went back to Oklahoma for the funeral and I was devastated. When I came back to California, I was grieving so. I heard from Bea and she said, ‘I’m having Thanksgiving dinner and you come over here immediately.’ I went over to her home in Santa Monica and she put me to bed, and tucked me in and brought me dinner. She calmed me down and I felt safe for the first time. You don’t forget things like that.

Interestingly enough, when Blanche lost her father, Big Daddy, it was Dorothy who was there to comfort her before, during and after the funeral.

Close Casting Calls

Though the script always called for a “Bea Arthur” type, casting directors saw a few other women before Bea made up her mind. First, they met with actress Lee Grant and Broadway legend Elaine Stritch. According to Stritch herself, she blew the audition by being too vulgar. She recounted the audition gone wrong in her one-woman show, where she explained that she tried to break the ice by asking if she could improvise the dialogue. She did so by changing the line “Ying, don’t forget the hors d’oeuvres” into “Ying, don’t forget the f**king hors d’oeuvres.”

Well, that type of language just won’t work on network television.

Arthur, believing that she would simply be reprising her role as Maude and Betty and Rue would be playing characters they’d played before, was hesitant about accepting the part. But once Rue told her that she was going to be the hypersexual vixen and Betty was going to be sweet and naive one, then she was on board.

 

Not Yet

Originally, “The Golden Girls” was set to last only five seasons but Bea Arthur agreed to stay on for two more years. And we were blessed with seasons six and seven.

The Golden Palace

While Arthur was done, the network thought they could capitalize on their good fortune by writing a spin-off called “The Golden Palace,” where the ladies, minus Dorothy, open and manage a hotel.

Rue McClanahan said that she was against the idea of a spin off initially. She even asked producers if they could write in another roommate to take the place of Arthur. They considered it and asked Doris Roberts, to take on the role. But it didn’t pan out.

Sigh.

Despite having Don Cheadle and Cheech Marin in the cast, without Bea Arthur, in this new setting, it just didn’t work. The show was cancelled after one season.

Werk!

But I’d hate to end on a bad note, so for the sake of happiness and good cheer, here’s this gif of Rose shimmying perfectly before she (and her convincing stunt double) killed that dance routine. It’s also quite fitting as Betty White, who was the oldest cast member, is the last golden one still standing.

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