Over the course of its 183-episode run, The Golden Girls followed the adventures of the sharp-tongued and sassy roommates as they shared lives and a home in Miami. There was Rue McClanahan’s sultry Southern belle, Blanche Devereaux; Betty White’s wide-eyed and naïve Rose Nylund; Bea Arthur’s gruff displaced Northerner, Dorothy Zbornak; and her salty mother, Sophia, played by Estelle Getty.
Each week, The Golden Girls taught viewers important lessons on love, family, and aging, and on the restorative power of friendship, humor, and, of course, cheesecake. They showed that even though they were in their golden years, they were still very much in the primes of their lives.
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All seven seasons of the show are coming to Hulu in February, which is the perfect excuse to grab a cheesecake and start singing “Thank You For Being A Friend.” Before you tune in, here are a few things that even the most devoted Golden Girls fan may not know about the show and its stars:
1. Sophia was not supposed to be a regular
When the show was originally pitched, the character of Sophia was meant to be merely an occasional guest star—Dorothy’s saucy mother stopping in for a visit. The producers underestimated the appeal of Estelle Getty, though. Sophia ended up being so popular—or as they say in Hollywood, she tested strongly with preview audiences— that the producers quickly made her a regular character, according to Mental Floss.
2. Sophia was a year younger than her on-screen daughter, Dorothy
On the show, Getty played Sophia, the little old lady whose sharp tongue was always getting her in trouble with her daughter, Dorothy, who frequently threatened to ship her off to the Shady Pines nursing home. Off screen, though, Getty was a year younger than Arthur who played Dorothy and Getty spent a lot of her time on-set in the make-up department transforming into the little old lady. The oldest actor in the cast was actually White, according to Mental Floss.
3. Betty White was originally supposed to play Blanche
In a conversation at the Paley Center in 2006, White unveiled a mind-blowing fact—she was originally supposed to play the seductive Blanche, not the milk-fed Rose. Additionally, McClanahan was supposed to play the Minnesota farm girl, Rose. The show would have looked very different with McClanahan spinning tales about life in St. Olaf while White invited a parade of attractive men onto the lanai.
4. Estelle Getty had serious stage fright
While Sophia Petrillo was known for her quick tongue and acerbic wit, she was actually petrified when the cameras were on. In an interview with the Archive of the Academy of Television Arts and Sciences, McClanahan revealed Getty’s stage fright. “She was a completely different person the rest of the week,” McClanahan explained. “But once it was the day of the show, she was like Pigpen with a black cloud. Poor thing.”
5. Broadway legend Elaine Stritch auditioned to play Dorothy
The legendary Tony and Emmy Award winning actress Elaine Stritch auditioned for the role of Dorothy. “It was a damn good script,” said Stritch later talking about blowing her audition. “I blew a multi-million, zillion dollar, international, syndicated, residual-grabbing, bopparoni, smasharoni, television situation comedy entitled, The Golden Girls!”
6. Bea Arthur hated cheesecake
Cheesecake was practically the fifth roommate on The Golden Girls, but not all of the actors were fans of the creamy treat. Turns out, Bea Arthur detested the dessert, according to fan site Golden Girls Central.
7. Rue McClanahan loved Blanche’s wardrobe
Blanche Devereaux was known for satin nightgowns, sultry loungewear, and shoulder-padded power blazers. Her outfits earned a real fan—Rue McClanahan. She loved the wardrobe so much that she took much of it home with her, turning a kitchen in her apartment into a closet to house her expanded wardrobe.
8. Bea Arthur was a U.S. Marine
Before she was an actress with a starring role in Maude, Arthur had a very different job—a truck driving Marine. Arthur volunteered for the United States Marine Corps as one of the first members of the Women’s Reserve before World War II. She worked for the military as both a typist and a truck driver and on her volunteer application, listed her active hobbies as hunting with a “.22 caliber rifle and a bow and arrow,” according to The Smoking Gun.
9. The show was a reunion of sorts
Arthur and McClanahan had worked together on Maude, while McClanahan had worked with White on Mama’s Family.
10. The Golden Girls performed for the Queen Mother
The hit TV series earned fans around the globe, including in Buckingham Palace. In a Reddit Q & A, White recounted the time the cast flew to London for a live performance of a Golden Girls script for the British Royal Family at the invitation of the late Queen Mother, who was a huge fan of the show. “It was very exciting,” White told fans on Reddit. “The Queen was lovely. We were told not to address her unless we were addressed. She was up in a box and she came down on stage after with Princess Anne. She said, ‘Lovely, pretty girls’ and I said, ‘Not bad bodies,’ and she said ‘Oh, no, not bad bodies!'”
11. The Golden Girls were supposed to have a chef
In the original script, according to Buzzfeed, the Girls had a personal chef named Coco played by actor Charles Levin. He appeared in the pilot episode of the show, but was ultimately cut as the show became a series, because the producers wanted the kitchen to be where much of the action took place and thought a chef would detract from that camaraderie. Plus, Sophia was a great cook.
12. McClanahan and White were friends on- and off-screen
“Just being with all the girls was wonderful,” White said in a Reddit Q & A, but she had a special bond with McClanahan. “We used to have riddles for each other between scenes and when the scene was over, we would give each other the answer.”
13. Getty was picky about the jokes Sophia would make
While it seemed that no one was safe from Sophia’s acerbic wit, there were some lines that Getty would not cross. “I have a thing about gratuitous pain,” Getty explained in an interview. “Why would you make fun of somebody who’s fat or who’s cross-eyed or who’s bald? And I won’t do gay-bashing jokes.”
14. Getty was terrified of death scenes
In her book If You Ask Me, White revealed that Getty absolutely hated doing any scene involving death and funerals. “Estelle Getty was so afraid of dying that the writers on The Golden Girls couldn't put a dead joke in the script,” White wrote.
15. George Clooney guest starred on the show
Clooney played police officer Bobby Hopkins in an episode called “To Catch A Neighbor.” He wasn’t the only star to appear on the show, though: Quentin Tarantino, Dick Van Dyke, Jeffrey Tambor, Mickey Rooney, Bob Hope, Jerry Orbach, Hal Linden, Rita Moreno, Sonny Bono, Jeopardy host Alex Trebek, Leslie Neilsen, and Debbie Reynolds all appeared in the series.
16. The show had a spin-off called The Golden Palace
Most fans remember Empty Nest the spin-off that starred Leslie Nielsen as a Miami-based pediatrician whose grown children drive him up a wall (with love), but even the most devoted fans of The Golden Girls may have forgotten about The Golden Palace. When The Golden Girls ended with Dorothy getting married and Blanche selling the house, Sophia, Blanche and Rose bought an abandoned hotel and ran it with the help of Cheech Marin and Don Cheadle. The Golden Palace only lasted a season.