If you regularly read this blog you may have noticed that I love The Golden Girls, I wrote about it in my post on what to watch when there is nothing on and it is one of my top 10 comfort TV shows. I recently omitted the girls from my post on badass ladies of TV because all four of the ladies on TGG are pretty badass.
The show was on NBC for seven seasons from 1985-1992 and spawned two spin-offs, The Golden Palace (all the ladies minus Dorothy, plus Don Cheadle, run a hotel) which only lasted one season (I love the Cheadle but he is no replacement for Bea Arthur) and Empty Nest which was also on NBC for seven seasons (people LOVED Park Overall). TGG was created by Susan Harris, who had previously created several other shows, most notably Soap (one of the greatest comedies of all time) and its spin-off Benson (man I loved Benson). TGG was her most successful show –of course it was. Other notable people to work on TGG were Mark Cherry (created Desperate Housewives), Christopher Lloyd (created Modern Family) and Mitchell Hurwitz (created Arrested Development).
TGG was ahead of its time. I am continually surprised by the story-lines. The show has dealt with in some way or another: getting older, sex and getting older, STDs and the elderly, embracing women’s sexuality, embracing ones body, joining the workforce late in life, homosexuality and marriage equality (see below), choosing single motherhood, May-December romances, interracial romances, prescription drug abuse, women’s health and more importantly how women are treated by healthcare professionals, feminism and many many more. The fact that the show was able to bring up so many different social issues, many of which are still currently the leading social issues of today almost thirty years from its premiere is remarkable, but the fact that it was and still is one of the most consistently FUNNY comedies EVER is truly remarkable. If you look past the clothes and only focus on the dialog you could mistake TGG for a current TV show. The largest reason for this was the talent of the girls themselves.
Dorothy Zbornak – Bea Arthur
Dorothy was the sardonic and tough member of the group. She was divorced after 38 years of marriage to Stanley Zbornak (one of the few male recurring characters –always a great foil) and is a substitute teacher. She is the most vocal feminist of the group. In the later years she suffered from Chronic Fatigue syndrome (which Harris also suffers from and which had kept her from working on the show) which on initial viewing seems like a “very special episode” but recently while re-watching I realized it is also an indictment on how doctors and the medical industry treat women and women’s health issues. Having Dorothy dealing with doctors who don’t listen and then treat her like she is mentally ill because they don’t know what’s wrong with her paired with her no bullshit attitude, is both comedy gold and insightful.
In real life Bea Arthur was also a badass. She served in the Marine Corps during WWII, was an activist for both civil and animal rights, feminist, and liberal democrat like Dorothy and Maude (her character from All in the Family and it’s spin-off Maude). Maude was notable for having a late in life abortion in November of 1972 (Bea Arthur always on the right side of history). She also won a Tony Award as Vera Charles in Mame with Angela Lansbury.
Rose Nylund – Betty White
If Dorothy was the tough one Rose is the dumb one. She is a widow (her husband Charlie died of a heart attack while they were having sex) from Minnesota. The show spent a lot of time dealing with Rose’s employment. When she was married she didn’t work but as a widow she was a grief counselor, then she was unemployed and had to deal with age discrimination and she worked as an associate producer at a local TV station. Rose is the nice one but she can also be tough as in the episode where Jenny Lewis from Rilo Kiley tries to steal Rose’s teddy bear Fernando (this is funny just to see a young and sadistic Lewis) [Did this inspire the JL song “See Fernando”? CONSPIRACY ALERT. -M] .
Betty White was initially supposed to play Blanche but she and Rue McClanahan were switched because producers though Blanche was too close to Betty’s character in Mary Tyler Moore (ANOTHER FANTASTIC SHOW AND SO FEMINIST). Betty is still working and STILL winning awards on the TV Land show Hot in Cleveland. I have never watched that show but I hear she is the best thing –NOT SHOCKING.
Blanche Devereaux – Rue McClanahan
Blanche is also a widow, southern belle, and hedonist when it comes to sex. I will NOT call Blanche a slut because lets face it don’t we all wish we were as free, liberated and as proud of ourselves as Blanche is. Blanche worked in an art gallery and owned the house all of the girls lived in. Despite being liberated in the bedroom Blanche did have hang-ups. She was initially not that accepting when her daughter wanted to have a baby on her own and when her brother Clayton came out, but Blanche eventually came around–usually after one of the girls set her straight.
Blanche was played by the fabulous Rue McClanahan who had been on Maude playing Bea Arthur’s best friend. Rue was also a democrat and activist (I’m thinking this is why the show was so progressive, so many liberals). Rue was married six times.
Sophia Petrillo – Estelle Getty
Sophia was the oldest Girl as she was Dorothy’s mother who has to move in after a fire at Shady Pines Retirement community (a hell hole Dorothy stuck her in after a slight stroke). She is Sicilian and a great cook. She is also tough as nails and sarcastic as fuck. Sophia does not suffer fools gladly AND she is the queen of the cut-down. She was also extremely progressive for her age generally giving the other girls guidance on doing the right thing. She is also protective of all of them.
Estelle Getty was younger that Betty White and Bea Arthur (who played her daughter). A Jewish New Yorker she was mostly known for originating the role of Harvey Fierstein’s mother in Torch Song Trilogy on Broadway before TGG. Fun Fact: she released a work out video for seniors in 1993!
For more Golden Girls fun check out Buzzfeed’s 20 best comebacks.