On September 14, 1985, Americans everywhere welcomed four irresistibly lovable ladies into their living rooms for the very first time when it premiered on NBC. The series was created by Susan Harris, who also served as executive producer, along with her husband, Paul Junger Witt, and Tony Thomas.
Set in Miami, FL, the show followed roomates Dorthy Zporank (played by Bea Arthur), Rose Nylund (Betty White), Blanche Devereux (Rue McClanahan), and Estelle Getty as Dorthy’s mother Sophia Petrillo, who was originally only slated to be a recurring ‘guest’ before testing so well with audiences she ultimately replaced the show’s original fourth character, a housekeeper named “Coco” who only appeared in the pilot episode (portrayed by the late Charles Levin).
Since my earliest memories of first seeing the series, I’ve often related the women on the show to the ones in my own life; airy but lovable Rose reminded me of my mother, Joyce; feisty Sophia bore a striking resemblance to my late grandmother, Mary; and sultry southern belle Blanche was the spitting image of my late Aunt Roberta, who actually lived in south, FL at the time the show was on the air. It wasn’t until I eventually met my lovely wife Brooke many years later, who also re-introduced me to the show after many years of being away from it (we now fall asleep with it on nearly every single night), that I would finally come full circle and find someone that represents the strong willed Dorthy.
Actress Deena Freeman, who played Dorthy’s daughter Kate on the season 2 episode “Son-in-Law Dearest” from 1987, can also relate to the same sentiment on an even more firsthand basis. In a recent conversation via email, Freeman, who currently runs a teen acting studio out of Los Angles with her husband, reflected on her time on the set to me; “It was a sheer pleasure to work on The Golden Girls; I was flying high. Working with Bea as my mom is a memory I cherish forever.”
Aside from it’s ability to produce witty one-liners at a rapid pace, the series was also timely throughout it’s run, touching on multiple topics ranging anywhere from discrimination, teen pregnancy, and homosexuality. Actor Monte Markham, who first appeared as Blanche’s gay brother Clay Hollinsworth in the season 3 episode “Scared Straight” from 1988, took the time to speak with me over the phone regarding his appearances on the show. He says; “The Golden Girls was probably one of the best on-camera experiences I ever had. I had actually known some of the ladies prior; Bea I had known from New York – her husband (Gene Saks) had directed me in (the Broadway production) Same Time, Next Year. And Betty and I had crossed paths many times over the years, so to finally get to work with her on camera after all those years was truly great. The set was brilliant, the writing was brilliant…and everything you could possibly want or need from a show was just there. Corralling all those ladies with such different personalities to work together like that was really quite amazing.”
Markham would later reprise his role again in the 1991 episode “Sister of the Bride,” and notes the subtle changes that had occurred on set since his last appearance; “When I went back for the second episode, there was a new director that was very abrupt, and the atmosphere had changed and just felt like it was more about ‘business as usual.’ I think they knew by then they weren’t going to be doing the show much longer.”
And indeed they would not, as the show would come to an end just one year later in 1992. A short-lived direct spin-off, The Golden Palace, would premiere in the fall of that same year. But despite having all of the actresses attached sans Arthur, it didn’t have the same effect as the former show, and would only run for one season before falling through the cracks by 1993.
With the series now on round-the-clock syndication and perhaps more popular now than ever in pop culture thanks to everything from board games to t-shirts, The Golden Girls remains an enduring classic that continues to gain new generations of fans. The one and only Betty White herself was kind enough to provide Rewind It Magazine with a brief quote (via her agent) reflecting on her time playing Rose Nylund on the show; “It was always great fun shooting each episode and I truly miss everyone involved.” One thing is for certain; no matter how much time may pass, the lasting legacy created from The Golden Girls will always continue to entertain and endure. Always.