Thirty years ago today, "The Golden Girls" premiered on television.
"It was so exciting to be with four people with that chemistry. I'll never forget that first read," White once told DVD Talk. "That just continued through the series. It was such a pleasure to see four professionals who knew good material and respected it."
The chemistry between the four actresses is obvious to anyone who's watched the show, but here are a few facts that even the biggest "Golden Girls" fan might not know.
1. The original pilot had a butler that didn't make it to the series.
2. Many of the stars worked with each other before. Arthur and McClanahan were friends on “Maude” and White and McClanahan collaborated on “Mama's Family.”
3. The series had several writing teams which may account for the huge difference in number and names of kids, different relatives, and character histories between seasons.
4. The layout of the house also changed.
5. The theme song, “Thank You for Being a Friend,” was originally written and recorded by Andrew Gold. For the show, however, Cynthia Fee sang.
6. Elaine Stritch auditioned for the part of Dorothy, but claimed that the writer didn’t like her very much. “I didn’t get the job,” she said. “I blew a multi-million, zillion dollar, international, syndicated, residual-grabbing, bopparoni, smasharoni, television situation comedy entitled, ‘The Golden Girls’!”
7. Arthur auditioned for “Golden Girls” after Dorothy was described initially as “a Bea Arthur-type.” “I thought it was brilliant,” she told the Archive of American Television of reading the first script. “I thought it was one of the funniest, most adult, hilarious, sophisticated, terrific, delicious things I had ever read.”
8. McClanahan remembered things a bit differently. She said that Susan Harris, the show’s co-executive producer, asked her to persuade Arthur to take the part, as she kept turning it down. “I said, ‘Why are you turning down the best script that’s ever going to come across your desk as long as you live?’ and she said, ‘Rue, I have no interest in playing Maude and Vivian meets Sue Ann Nevins.’” Eventually, McClanahan explained that she was going to play Blanche and White was going to play Rose, and that piqued Arthur's interest.
9. Arthur's confusion would have been understandable. Originally, the part of Blanche was offered to White, and McClanahan was given the part of Rose. Eventually, they switched.
10. According to the New York Times, Getty won the role of Sophia after she showed up to the audition looking like “a little old lady.”
11. Still, Getty was not the oldest "Golden Girl" in real life. That title belongs to White.
12. According McClanahan, Getty, a Jewish woman, tried to make her character Sophia's backstory more in sync with her own life. “She kept saying, ‘Can’t we make these characters Jewish?!’ She would’ve felt so much more comfortable than trying to be Italian,” she recalled. “Although, I mean, it worked.”
13. Unlike her character, Arthur hated cheesecake.
14. The queen mum was a huge fan of the show. The stars actually performed for her.
15. McClanahan wrote in her memoir that Sir Laurence Olivier was a fan of the series, too.
16. In a talk show interview, McClanahan and Getty said it took nine hours to rehearse an episode.
17. "Golden Girls" hit many controversial topics for its time including AIDS, gay marriage, and teen pregnancy.
18. Getty said in one interview that she was choosy about what Sophia would say. “I have a thing about gratuitous pain,” she said. “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.” She also rejected a joke once that had a punchline relating to domestic violence.
19. White, a frequent game show competitor, would play word games with equally competitive McClanahan between takes.
20. McClanahan had a clause in her contract to keep all her clothes.
21. She also wasn't super-close with Arthur. "Bea and I didn’t have a lot of relationship going on. Bea is a very, very eccentric woman. She wouldn’t go to lunch unless Betty [White] would go with her," McClanahan said in an interview with the Archive of American Television. “She was very dependent on keeping everything as it always had been, and I was anything but that.”
22. Getty had horrible stage fright in front of live audiences.
23. Arthur said that one of her favorite scenes was with Getty in which they dressed as Sonny and Cher and sang “I Got You Babe." "Oh God, it was fun," she told the Archive of American Television.
24. Many actors guest-starred on the show including Leslie Nielsen, Caesar Romero, Sonny Bono, Lyle Wagner, and even George Clooney.
25. Every character was engaged or married in the show. Dorothy got married and moved in the final episode.
26. According to reports, 27.2 million people watched the show’s 1992 series finale.
27. "Golden Girls" spawned two spin-offs: “Empty Nest” and “Golden Palace.” The “Empty Nest” pilot was an episode on “Golden Girls” featuring Rita Moreno. “Golden Palace” was the show that came after the “Golden Girls” featuring three of the four stars. (Arthur passed.)
28. McClanahan wrote in her memoir, “My Five Husbands… and the Ones Who Got Away” that she proposed the idea of having a fourth roommate replace Dorothy in “Golden Palace," but the producers rejected the idea. "'The Golden Girls' was already in syndication which is where the producers make the megabucks," she wrote. "This new show only had to last three seasons to go into syndication. More megabucks. But it was too big a gamble in my opnion, which of course, counted for a flea’s fart.” "Golden Palace" was canceled after one season.
29. McClanahan also wrote that all three actresses involved in “Golden Palace” made the same salary.
30. Betty White is the only living "Golden Girl." Estelle Getty died in 2008 at 84 from Lewy body dementia, Bea Arthur died of cancer at 86 in 2009, and Rue McClanahan died at 76 in 2010 from a stroke.