Interview with Actor Monte Markham By Jesse Striewski

Late last year I spoke with legendary actor Monte Markham to specifically discuss his role as Clay Hollingsworth on The Golden Girls for an anniversary piece I was working on at the time for Rewind It Magazine. But with so much more material leftover from our over thirty minute long phone conversation, it felt like a waste not to print the rest (better late than never as they say).

After all, aside from his recurring role on The Golden Girls in the late ’80s/early ’90s, Markham’s acting career spans as far back as the ’60s, appearing on such shows as Mission: Impossible, Hawaii Five-0, The A-Team, Murder, She Wrote, and Baywatch, as well as such classic films as Midway and Airport ’77, just to name a few.

One of the questions I had asked him regarding his appearances on The Golden Girls was how he felt it compared to other TV shows he’s done. He replied; “As an actor I’ve done just about every type of performance you can do. But four-camera sitcoms in many ways are the most difficult to do because, one; it’s comedy, and two; it’s rewritten everyday at rehearsals. And the camera is in your face, but it’s about 20 or 30 yards away, so it’s like you feel like you’re on stage, but there’s an intimacy of the lens, so you have to adjust performance.I did several of them (sitcoms); The Mary Tyler Moore Show was really a good playing ground on them.”

I also asked why he felt this shows have endeared so many years later, and he stated; “Even with a movie you’ve seen numerous times before, why do you find yourself still staying with it? Because it’s a good film. It’s like with The Mary Tyler Moore show; I did the second episode after the pilot, and I can tell you, the cast were all very nervous about it because the guy who had directed the pilot wasn’t available. I remember Lou Grant coming up to me and asking, ‘Is this funny?’ (Laughs), and I reassured him, ‘No, no, it’s terrific!’ But it was that damn good, and that’s why they’re still in reruns around the world constantly. The interesting thing is, rather than just being old, a good show plays to a whole new audience.”

He also explained what he has done since many of his most memorable roles; “In ’92 I was still doing Baywatch in syndication and playing the Captain, which was great. I had an opportunity to form a company with my wife and son, and we did documentary production for A&E, which lead to doing the first shows for The History Channel. And I didn’t know from there we’d be producing, writing, and directing these documentaries for the next twenty years. It was a great ride, and I was able to travel all over the world, but I couldn’t act at that time because it was impossible to schedule anything, since we were always on the road.”

He continued; “Then in about 2010, we figured we had done about everything we could with that, and it was time to bring it in. So I went back into acting, which was very interesting…a whole different time with streaming, and the whole world being able to watch anything at any time. It’s a different business, a different world now. We just recently had a 30th anniversary party for Baywatch after they updated and remixed it, and the color and everything is spectacular. It’s a whole new looking show, but they couldn’t use the same music because it was tied up in all various kinds of licensing, so they had to re-record it.”

The last thing I wanted to know was what his thoughts were on the (embarrassing) 2017 Baywatch remake. He told me; “Well, in general the remake of Baywatch is pretty abysmal. Baywatch (the show) was what it was; sure, it was a lot of T&A and beautiful girls running in slow motion, but also had some really family-oriented, life lessons in there as well…just a lot of lightweight stuff, but it caught on. I remember back when we were doing the pilot, and looking at the real LA lifeguards around on set who were like, ‘Give me a break!’ (Laughs), even though the first two girls they cast could actually swim really well, but then they kind of got away from that. But when they do a remake these days, they throw all of what made it successful in the first place out the door, making it absurd, so it’s like just basically making fun of itself.”

Retrospective: 35 Years of ‘The Golden Girls’ By: Jesse Striewski

The Golden Girls: Rue McClanahan, Bea Arthur, Betty White, Estel

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.