Apparently, Dorothy and Rose didn’t always thank each other for being a friend.
It’s been nearly 32 years since viewers fell in love with our favorite senior foursome, Dorothy, Rose, Sophia, and Blanche of NBC’s The Golden Girls. Audiences felt like they were right there with the women when they engaged in their nightly cheesecake ritual, while talking through their problems and offering each other advice. Yet, for all the years we watched their unlikely friendship play out on TV, it turns out that two Golden Girls weren’t nearly as friendly off-camera.
Since the beloved series ended in 1992, more and more interviews have been released, highlighting an ongoing rift between the actresses in real-life, particularly between Betty White and Bea Arthur, who played Rose Nylund and Dorothy Zbornak, respectively.
Those closest to the two women have spoken candidly about the feud over the years, with many pointing the finger at Arthur for perpetuating their off-screen rivalry. Arthur, born Bernice Frankel, died in 2009 at age 86 from complications of advanced cancer. But her adopted son Matthew Saks did an interview with Closer magazine in 2015, where he divulged some of the reasons for the tension behind the scenes of the comedy sitcom.
"My mom unknowingly carried the attitude that it was fun to have somebody to be angry at," Saks told Closer.
He added, White became her "nemesis," the person she could roll her eyes about.
But things weren’t always so bad between the actresses, with Saks recalling the times White and Arthur would ride to work together. In fact, Rue McClanahan, who played Blanche Devereaux, the promiscuous Southern belle, said Arthur wouldn’t go to lunch with her unless White was in attendance.
So what exactly caused the co-stars’ rocky relationship to develop off-set? White, herself, spoke on the matter in 2011 during a HLN interview with Joy Behar.
"She was not that fond of me," White said of Arthur. "She found me a pain in the neck sometimes. It was my positive attitude—and that made Bea mad sometimes. Sometimes if I was happy, she'd be furious!"
In addition to differing attitudes, perhaps the tension could also be attributed to contradicting acting methodologies. According to Jim Colucci, author of Golden Girls Forever: An Unauthorized Biography, Arthur drew upon her stage play background during taping, where she always stayed in character. White, on the other hand, was more loose, talking and joking with the live audience between takes. Arthur, reportedly, wasn’t the biggest fan of her breaking character.
"Sometimes Betty would go out and smile and chat with the audience and literally go and make friends with the audience. Which is a nice thing—a lot of them have come from all over the country and are fans," Saks told The Hollywood Reporter. "I think my mom didn't dig that. It's more about being focused or conserving your energy. It's just not the right time to talk to fans between takes. Betty was able to do it and it didn't seem to affect her. But it rubbed my mom the wrong way."
It’s also possible the hostility reached a fever pitch between the two because of White’s Emmy win in 1986 for Outstanding Lead Actress. Though the ladies would all go on to win Emmys much later, according to McClanahan’s 2007 memoir, My First Five Husbands...And the Ones Who Got Away, Arthur was angry that White won it first. Reportedly, Arthur didn’t have very nice things to say about the Emmys snub.
"My mom was the real deal," Saks suggested. "I think she felt she was more of an actress than Betty. Mom came from Broadway. Betty starred on a game show at one point."
Naturally, Arthur, whose character was often the voice of reason on the show, was the one to slow things down to a grinding halt, ending the show after a mere seven seasons. However, if she had it her way, the show would’ve ended much sooner, with biographer Colucci citing creative differences for Arthur’s growing weariness.
Disparaging jokes about Rose’s naiveté and cluelessness or Blanche’s promiscuity "could roll off [White's and McClanahan's] backs because they were not like their characters," said Colucci, but "the things that were said about Dorothy was that she was big and ugly. And that wears on an actress after a while."
Unfortunately, the two never got to mend fences before Arthur died. White, who has had a comedic resurgence since The Golden Girls ended, starred in the successful film The Proposal and the hit TV series, Hot in Cleveland. At age 95, she is the only member of the cast that’s still alive. Estelle Getty, who played the sassy and wise-cracking Sophia Petrillo, died in 2008 from Lewy body dementia, and McClanahan passed away in 2010 from a cerebral hemorrhage.
Despite whatever was going on behind the scenes of The Golden Girls, we’re just glad they welcomed us all into their Miami home week after week for laughs, tears, and a few slices of mouthwatering cheesecake.