The Golden Girls was TV’s unlikeliest smash hit, but the show’s seven years of cheesecake, friendship and gut-busting laughs have made it iconic, earning it a permanent spot in the lexicon of classics.
Experts, crew and family all weigh in as part of the star-studded REELZ special, The Golden Girls: Ageless. Pairing three seasoned TV pros and one small-screen newbie with ingenious writing resulted in a hilarious sitcom that broke boundaries and opened doors for other women in the entertainment industry. Find out how Betty White and Rue McClanahan were almost cast in each other’s roles, and other insider secrets about the hit show.
"Vivian, played by Rue, was Maude's kind of Ethel Mertz in a way. She was her best friend and second banana," says H. Alan Scott, host of the “A Golden Girls Podcast,” upon reflecting on the characters and where they got their starts.
"Rue McClanahan was going to be Rose initially, and Betty White was going to be Blanche, but Betty White had played that originally on The Mary Tyler Moore Show as Sue Ann Nivens," he continues in the special. "Rue McClanahan had kind of played a Rose type on Maude, so when they decided to flip, it changed the world."
The show also reveals that the toughest role to cast was octogenarian spitfire Sophia. Estelle Getty went on to win the role after having mostly done theater with just one major role on Broadway under her belt.
"She got her name really later on in life as an actress playing the mother to Harvey Fierstein in Torch Song Trilogy," says Scott.
Getty's son, Carl Gettleman, remembers how she was determined to win the role.
"She created this character, she went out to this thrift shop and found some dress and found this whole iconic purse that she wore all the time in the crook of her arm, and she went into the audition in character instead of just reading the part, and she got cast," he says.
According to Golden Girls biographer Jim Colucci, they had Bea Arthur in mind for the role of Dorothy from the beginning, to the point where they had written "Bea Arthur type" in the breakdown for the pilot.
"It was so improbable that this little 4'1" woman has a 6'1" daughter, and that even though they're virtually the same age in real life, that this woman is that woman's mother," Gettleman says of the relationship between Sophia and Dorothy. "This is what the miracle of that show is. None of it mattered."
For more on the legendary sitcom cast, watch The Golden Girls: Ageless on Saturday, March 13, at 8 p.m. ET/PT on REELZ.
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