On The Golden Girls

The Golden Girls remains one of my all-time favorite TV shows. According to the bio. article, “‘The Golden Girls’ & ‘OITNB’: Groundbreaking Women on TV“:

In 1985, the prime-time sitcom The Golden Girls became one of the very first American television shows to feature an all-female lead cast and it was wildly successful. Starring Bea Arthur, Betty White, Rue McClanahan, and Estelle Getty, its 177 episodes aired from September 14, 1985 to May 9, 1992, and continues to entertain audiences in its syndicated format. But perhaps most surprisingly, the amazingly popular show was not focused on car chases, sex, drugs, or violence. Instead, the sitcom was predominantly about relationships, in particular the friendships between four “older” ladies who shared a home in Miami, Florida. Overall, The Golden Girls received 68 Emmy nominations, 11 Emmy Awards, and four Golden Globe Awards throughout its run. It has been ranked among the best TV sitcoms of all times by TV Guide and the Writers Guild of America.

Behind all these accolades are four women who were daring enough to take a chance on a television sitcom featuring women’s relationships. And it paid off for them too. Not only did all four of the lead actresses win Emmy Awards for their performances on the show, legitimately securing each of them a place among America’s primetime television elite, but also, these four women and the characters they played made history. For perhaps the first time, a show dominated by women was monumentally successful and daring enough to showcase women and their relationships.

Additionally, according to The A.V. Club‘s review of the entire series DVD release, “The Golden Girls made aging fabulous”:

Last month, on the sixth-season premiere of RuPaul’s Drag Race, the contestants were asked to design a garment based on an iconic television show. RuPaul assigned eight shows to the eight competing drag queens, and alongside Dancing With The Stars, Here Comes Honey Boo Boo, and Game Of Thrones lodged The Golden Girls, a decades-old sitcom about elderly women living in a house in Miami. It’s been almost 30 years since the sitcom premiered, but clearly something about The Golden Girls sticks.

Part of the show’s enduring legacy is that there really isn’t anything else like it. The pitch for the premise of the sitcom would probably be laughed out of every network exec’s office—and certainly wouldn’t see the light of day at today’s NBC. “Four old ladies living in a house in Miami” isn’t exactly a story, and there’s minimal material there for eye-catching set pieces, famous guest stars, or even what you might call an “operational narrative”—the day-to-day storytelling that fuels any given episode of a series.

Instead, The Golden Girls is, not so subtly, a comedy about death. Its main characters are hanging out in death’s waiting room, trying to figure out how to spend their time now that children, husbands, and work are more or less behind them. Most episodes, they don’t leave their house—a charming bungalow furnished with ’80s-era floral patterns and Floridian pastels. The furniture is past its prime; so are the characters. This is a show about aging.

So it’s odd that it’s become such a cult favorite—the show does very well in syndication on the Hallmark Channel, Lifetime, and, of course, Drag Race’s home network, Logo. (Also worth noting: BenDeLaCreme’s costume, inspired by a decades-old show about elderly ladies, ended up winning the first runway competition of the season. The highlight of her costume was a plate of cheesecake attached to a long train, which she held her in hand. As she smiled and winked at the judges, she brandished a fork and took a bite for the camera. Blanche Devereaux would have been proud.)

The show lives on because despite (or perhaps because of) its unconventionality; it was fresh and relevant while it aired. And in every way that matters, The Golden Girls is still quite modern. It’s still smart, still funny, and in its 177 episodes, it tackles complicated issues The Big Bang Theory would dare touch. The Golden Girls took on HIV/AIDS in 1990, employed a gay male cook in the pilot, and even grappled with the idea that a beloved brother and son was a cross-dresser, perhaps even transgender. And it employed more actresses over 60 than any other show on television now (American Horror Story, itself groundbreaking, matches it).

And most importantly, it introduced the notion that women didn’t just expire when they were past marriageable age. These are women who may have been forgotten by society; but that doesn’t mean they have to forget themselves, or one another. Dorothy, Blanche, Rose, and Sophia approach aging with determined confidence, sarcasm, and an irrepressible attitude of making the most of their remaining years.

Susan Harris created the show and wrote the pilot as a standard multi-camera sitcom, complete with a laugh track and enthusiastic strings scoring. The series’ theme song, “Thank You For Being A Friend,” sums up the appeal of the show, and though there’s some continuity, the show is only loosely serialized. It was a premise that could be dived into easily, and its unconventional cast of characters and surprising setting—Floridian palm trees framed the exterior shots of every episode—contributed to making it an instantly recognizable, always watchable show. Harris kept her creator credit for all 177 episodes, but the series saw dozens of writers and story editors come and go—including a young Mitchell Hurwitz, in the early ’90s.

But the success of the show rested, ultimately, in the hands of its actresses. The Golden Girls has the advantage of a regular cast that is nearly perfect; the actors are so well cast they seem to blend into their characters. Bea Arthur, by the time she was cast as Dorothy Zbornak, had already made a name for herself as the lead character in Maude, an All In The Family spin-off that established her as an Emmy-winning actress in a groundbreaking, feminist role. Arthur is an unconventional presence on screens, even today—the actress was 5-foot-10 and had a low, dry tenor to her voice that cut through laughter like a knife. As a result, she had a deadpan humor that is simply unparalleled; and when she wanted to, she could turn that voice into a moving, cathartic weapon of pathos.

As such, she was a natural foil for Betty White, who played the guileless and naïve Rose Nyland. Dorothy had a knowing cynicism to her that was easily attributable to her New York roots. Rose, meanwhile, hailed from a made-up town in Minnesota that is now all but synonymous with the show—St. Olaf, a rural farm village the audience experiences entirely in Rose’s pointless, boring stories. Despite rumored friction between the two actresses on the set, White and Arthur create the most fundamental comic dynamic in the show. There isn’t an episode that goes by that doesn’t include at least one back-and-forth between the two—Dorothy says something; Rose comes to the wrong conclusion; Dorothy responds with a near-poisonous retort. In the best gags, this is followed up by Rose trumping Dorothy with even more guilelessness—a mind so naïve that it works with a logic of its own. “I heard a fable when I was a little girl in St. Olaf that might help. Can I tell you?” While tucking into the show’s ubiquitous cheesecake, Dorothy responds icily: “That’s right, Rose. Wait until my defenses are down, then take advantage of me.” There’s a pause while the audience laughs. And then Rose responds cheerily, “Okie dokie!” And launches into her fable.

Rue McClanahan rounded out the trio that made up the original concept for the show. (According to legend, McClanahan and White were actually cast for each other’s roles, and switched so they wouldn’t be typecast.) Blanche was the character the show had the most trouble with—a Southern belle with a voracious appetite for men and an obsession with her own beauty. The character was written broadly, and McClanahan threw herself into the role wholeheartedly—she was never afraid of milking every line of innuendo for all it was worth or exuding passion and desire for anything male that moved. Just as Dorothy’s cynicism and Rose’s innocence are defense mechanisms of a sort, Blanche’s absorption with her own desirability is another kind of desperation—she’s afraid of getting older and dying, so she’s holding onto lust for as long as she can. As the years went on, and the show got a little lazy, The Golden Girls got nastier and nastier toward Blanche. It’s hard to make this much fun of a character who dates a lot of men and still demonstrate empathy for her; it’s easy to call that same character a whore. At her best, Blanche is a conflicted character who can be both hilarious, self-aware, and lustful. At her worst, some cast member or another calls her a slut, and the audience roars with laughter.

The last, and near-accidental, cast member is Estelle Getty’s Sophia Petrillo, who started out as Dorothy’s odd mom who was going to visit for a few days and ended up moving in. Ostensibly because she had a stroke, and possibly because she’s so old she just doesn’t care anymore, Sophia is inappropriate, rude, and even selfish. This meant that often, the show used her to say things that they otherwise wouldn’t really be able to get away with. She’s a punchline generator, and of all the characters, even Blanche, Sophia’s got the most easily acquired humor. A casual viewer might very well remember Sophia as the funniest character—akin to Kramer in Seinfeld—but a fan is more likely to see her as a loudmouthed distraction.

Actually, Seinfeld is not a bad comparison for The Golden Girls. In the end, it is kind of about nothing, except an enormous reality that is largely unspoken—these are women who are washed up. Dorothy is divorced; her husband of 38 years left her for a stewardess. Blanche, Sophia, and Rose are all widows. Dorothy occasionally teaches; Blanche is independently wealthy; and Rose takes up various jobs here or there, but they’re all mostly getting by on careful budgeting of their retirement savings. That leaves a lot of long hours in the Florida sun, contemplating how their lives brought them to their 60s so suddenly.

It’s a time that could be a source of despair. In between jokes, the lives these women lead speak of loneliness and emptiness. Friends and relatives are passing on; their children are grown up and married. Finding purpose and companionship is not always easy. Where The Golden Girls strikes a universal chord is when it shows these women choosing to be there for each other. And doing so with attitude and style. The world has gone on without them—but they have found a place to belong, and damn if they aren’t going to flaunt it. This is a story about friendship, but it’s also a story about mustering enough self-possession to be fabulous, in whatever way you can, even when everyone else has forgotten about you.

Some interesting tidbits on the show and it’s cast can be found at the ABC News article, “‘The Golden Girls’ Turns 30: Facts You May Not Know About the Series“:

Thirty years ago today, “The Golden Girls” premiered on television.

The series, starring Estelle Getty, Bea Arthur, Betty White and Rue McClanahan as four women sharing a Miami home, was an instant hit — and eventually won all four of its stars Emmys.

“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.

Also, according to The Slate article, “Four Old Women Share an Apartment“:

As if presiding over a festive wake, both the Hallmark Channel and WE tv are airing Golden Girls marathons this week. This heavy-rotation tribute to the show’s top-billed star, Beatrice Arthur, provides die-hard fans with a low-key alternative to rending their garments. Additionally, it provides us all with a fine opportunity to assess the sitcom anew. We begin with the observation that The Golden Girls is way too good for WE, where it rubs its ’80s shoulder pads with Amazing Wedding Cakes and Women Behind Bars.

The show debuted in September of 1985, a time that, in TV terms, is as distant as the Enlightenment. The Golden Girls joined an NBC lineup that featured The A-TeamRemington Steele, Hill Street Blues, St. Elsewhere, Miami Vice, The Cosby Show, and Cheers. To be sure, there was room for raw idiocy on the schedule of programming executive Brandon Tartikoff. TV Bloopers & Practical Jokes aired on Mondays at 8 p.m., thus anticipating the current strategy of programming executive Ben Silverman: Howie Mandel’s Candid Camera knockoff does the practical jokes while his thought process behind greenlighting dreck like Crusoe covers the blooper angle. Those were different times, and The Golden Girls aired during a two-hour block of Saturday-night comedies. Yes, children, people used to watch network TV on Saturdays, instead of going to meth parties or diddling their Twitters or whatever passes for an evening’s entertainment nowadays.

It aired at 9 p.m., between 227 and The Facts of Life, two other gynocentric comedies, the one celebrating the role of women in holding communities together, the other inculcating a fetish for prep-school girls. But The Golden Girls—about a group of older women sharing a Miami house designed like a multichamber sunroom—trafficked in something like pop feminism, and it’s terrifically apt that Arthur played the Carrie Bradshaw figure in a sketch deftly spoofing on Sex and the City.

Created by Susan Harris—a pioneering producer and the writer of the famous abortion episode of Arthur’s MaudeGolden Girls boasted characters who were sharp in their humor and secure in their freedoms, which included the freedom to be mean. The show’s most biting laugh lines—which are shaped so well that these scripts would work for radio—achieve that ideal bitchiness animating The Women. In a typical moment, Blanche, the vain Southern belle played by Rue McClanahan, preens, “One thing I know for sure, I have not lost my hourglass figure.” Which is the cue for Arthur, as acid Dorothy, to snipe, “And it looks like somebody poured about 90 minutes of extra sand in the glass.” The in-studio audience laughs, and Blanche laughs it off. That the characters insult one another so viciously indicates their intimacy. When addressing the comforts and frustrations of friendship, The Golden Girls is more interesting than Friends (which had its moments) and as compelling as I Love You, Man(which has some rather awesome moments). Call it The Sisterhood of the Comfortable Slacks.

Let us review the girls’ bios, as if you need reminding: Blanche Devereaux was the youngest and most sexually ambitious, occasionally catching the vapors, sometimes mincing rhythmically. Blanche vamps along as a cartoon version of a Tennessee Williams hothouse flower, with her first name swiped from A Streetcar Named Desire and her regular references to her father as “Big Daddy” nodding to Cat on a Hot Tin Roof. But McClanahan brings the part to life by coming on like a light-farcical version of Maxine Faulk, the rapaciously lusty widow played by Ava Gardner in the underappreciated film version of The Night of the Iguana.

Betty White played Rose Nylund, who had relocated to Miami from St. Olaf, Minn., where all children are subnormal, based on the evidence of her cracked anecdotes and gloriously dingbatty self. The Golden Girls is a broad ethnic comedy, and she is its Norwegian-American emissary of the upper Midwest, as affable as Marge Gunderson’s accent, though without any brains. Not just the daffiest of the girls, Rose is also the prettiest, and the combination gives her an aspect of Elsie the Cow.

Estelle Getty was Sophia Petrillo, the mother of Arthur’s Dorothy. From Sicily by way of Brooklyn, she slices off her lines like Catherine Scorsese in her bit part in Goodfellas. Because The Golden Girls made the scene before the political correctness and identity politics of the 1990s, its writers didn’t get hung up on inappropriate jokes, and Sophia, because of her advanced age and old-world attitude, was given the most tasteless. In a fairly tame instance, she wonders, of a girl-on-girl hug, “What is this, Wimbledon?”

Which brings us to Dorothy Zbornak, who, despite having been raised by Sophia, speaks in the Catskills cracks and vaudeville cadences of Jewish humor. Either Dorothy is intended as a generically ethnic New Yorker or else she picked this up during her decades of marriage to ex-husband Stanley. Significantly, while the other three girls are widows, Dorothy is a divorcee. Her lines are the most bitter and world-weary. She exudes the strongest scent of desperation about dying alone.

Wrapping up the first night of its Golden Girls marathon on Monday, WE aired the series finale, the second half of a two-parter titled “One Flew Out of the Cuckoo’s Nest.” For a valediction, The Golden Girls married Dorothy off to an eligible bachelor played by Leslie Nielsen. In her angular white wedding dress, she looked like a hybrid of Ivana Trump, Krystle Carrington, Cruella DeVille, and a snowy egret. The episode ends with a group hug and then an encore of the hug. What was this, the LPGA tour? Then Dorothy disappears into the sunset, perhaps the one from the first scenes of the opening credits, with a jet sliding in front of an orange disc like a friendly vision of the great grand finale in the sky.

Notably, in the episode, “72 Hours,” the serious topic of AIDS comes up, and the NPR article, “What ‘The Golden Girls’ Taught Us About AIDS” discusses what transpires:

“Dammit, why is this happening to me? I mean, this shouldn’t happen to people like me.”

This desperate question from a beloved character (Rose) on a beloved show (The Golden Girls) is the defining moment in yet another landmark episode in the critically-acclaimed series. The show known as much for its hilarious comedy as for fearlessly venturing into taboo TV territory was tackling its next sensitive topic: AIDS.

In “72 Hours,” Rose receives a letter alerting her that she may have contracted HIV from a blood transfusion during gallbladder surgery six years earlier, and she is advised to get a test. As she waits for the results, worry and a deep-rooted panic take hold, and a pivotal scene takes place between the delightfully dimwitted Rose and saucy Southern belle Blanche.

Rose’s dialogue embodies several misconceptions about HIV infection, pervasive at the time: that “people like her” — an older, middle-class, heterosexual, “innocent” woman — shouldn’t get such a disease, that none of her friends will want to associate with her now, and that she is being punished for some kind of bad behavior.

To which Blanche thoughtfully replies, “AIDS is not a bad person’s disease, Rose. It is not God punishing people for their sins.”

In 1990 when the episode first aired, AIDS testing was still relatively new; just five years prior the FDA licensed the first commercial blood test. Since 1981, over 100,000 deaths from AIDS had been reported to the CDC by that year — almost one-third of them during 1990. It was a scary time, and despite efforts to educate the public, myths and misinformation ran rampant.

Cue the ever-tactless Sophia, who reacts by using Dorothy’s bathroom so she won’t have to share one with Rose and prominently marking her coffee cups with an “R.” The kind of groan-worthy moments of TV that make you want to crawl under the couch. After a verbal slap from Dorothy, Sophia admits, “I know intellectually there’s no way I can catch it, but now that it’s so close to home, it’s scary.”

But this is what The Golden Girls was so good at: bringing home those topics that often made people uncomfortable — racism, homosexuality, older female sexuality, sexual harassment, the homeless, addiction, marriage equality and more — and showing us how interconnected and utterly human we all are at any age. Served, of course, with that delicious trademark humor that infused the show throughout its groundbreaking, taboo-busting seven-season run.

In true kick-ass Golden Girls fashion, the storyline reinforces the importance of friendship — in this case, staring into the face of a terrifying disease. Because, of course, Blanche, Dorothy and Sophia showed up at the hospital while Rose took the HIV test and supported her during the nail-biting, three-day wait for the results.

Then the happy ending: Rose gets the all-clear and we’ve all had a hearty laugh. But in 21 minutes we’ve also learned something: AIDS is not just a “gay disease” and it can happen to anyone. Understanding is vital. A pretty good lesson from a show about four older women living together in Miami, Fla., don’t you think?

According to The Advocate Op-Ed, “Why The Golden Girls Never Lost Its Luster“:

Being fortunate enough to grow up in the 1980s and 1990s, both during the show’s original run and its start in syndication, I have no memory of a time when The Golden Girls wasn’t on the air.

We watched it as a family on Saturday nights, then in high school and college when it aired on Lifetime approximately 46 times a day. When I moved out of the country, the DVDs came with me and surfaced whenever I was feeling particularly anxious (i.e. frequently). My very first night in my first apartment in New York City, I slept on an air mattress surrounded by boxes, and unpacked two things: my laptop and my Golden Girls DVDs. Everything was new, and I just wanted to feel like I was at home.

When someone asks what I do for a living and I tell them I’m a bioethicist, I’m usually met with blank stares. Even after I describe what I do — examining complex ethical issues related to medicine and new technology — many people don’t realize that they have also considered similar issues either in their own lives or through popular culture.

Undoubtedly, shows like House and Grey’s Anatomy overtly address bioethics issues — whether or not viewers realize it, the ethical dilemmas doctors and patients face make for much of the compelling narratives unique to medical dramas. But what many also don’t realize is the fact that certain comedies — with strong writing and characterization — are also capable of prompting the same awareness and understanding of multifaceted ethical issues. The Golden Girls is a perfect example of that.

The Golden Girls depicted life in a household of a nontraditional family consisting of four mature women. This wasn’t a seven-season-long old lady joke, but rather a depiction of a completely acceptable and normal living arrangement. Whether they were trying to get visitation rights at the hospital, seeking joint home ownership, or making arrangements for end-of-life care, the women were very clear that despite the fact that they had their own children and grandchildren, they were a family.

The portrayal of these women as a family unit is comforting for those who found it difficult to identify with their biological family — including many LGBT individuals. It presented the possibility of finding a group of people to serve as a surrogate but very real family, even later in life. Living in a society with such an emphasis placed on heterosexual romantic relationships as the most authentic and the only basis for being considered a family, The Golden Girls emphasized the importance and legitimacy of a family falling outside those rigid parameters.

Going beyond offering just a handful of Very Special Episodes featuring addictions to caffeine pills or getting locked inside a refrigerator, The Golden Girls made complex ethical and social issues a staple of the show. It didn’t shy away from difficult discussions, providing the audience with examples of dialogue surrounding topics such as marriage equality, HIV stigma, and assisted reproductive technologies.

Although the show’s handling of LGBT issues — including making a transgender politician the punch line of an entire episode — was not perfect, it went far beyond most other sitcoms of the period. One of the main characters — Blanche — has a gay brother who announces that he is engaged to his partner. After Blanche questionswhy her brother wants to get married, Sophia, the show’s matriarch and oldest character, gives Blanche a now well-known speech on the importance of marriage equality, informing her that her brother and his fiancé want to get married for the same reasons she wanted to marry her husband. “Everyone wants someone to grow old with, and shouldn’t everyone have that chance?” Sophia asks the audience, via Blanche.

At the height of the HIV epidemic, The Golden Girls addressed the stigma resulting from misunderstanding that surrounded the diagnosis. Rose is notified by a hospital that she may have contracted HIV from a blood transfusion she received during a gallbladder surgery. Each character reacts in her own way. Sophia marks Rose’s mug with an “R” so she doesn’t accidentally drink out of it and contract HIV. Dorothy is supportive, but Blanche very clearly articulates to Rose — and the audience — in no uncertain terms that “AIDS is not a bad person’s disease” or  “God punishing people for their sins.” At a time when false information and panic enveloped many discussions about the disease, the show — via Blanche — makes a very clear statement against the stigmatization of those with HIV or AIDS.

Another famous scene in the show involves the women purchasing condoms — sorry, “King George Prophylactics” — prior to taking a romantic cruise with their longtime gentlemen friends (for the record: Jeff, Rich and Randy). Bear in mind that the women are no longer in need of birth control, yet they are conscious of the possibility of contracting various sexually transmitted infections, and therefore want to take all the proper precautions.

In true sitcom fashion, the pharmacist had to use the loudspeaker to request a price check on the condoms, leaving the women looking embarrassed about their sexually active statuses in front of all the patrons in the pharmacy. In true Blanche fashion, she takes the microphone and makes an impassioned speech on sex positivity and the importance of safer and responsible sex, regardless of age.

The women got away with many topics that may not otherwise have gotten past network censors not only because of their advanced age, but also because they managed to address difficult topics with a combination of their signature witty dialogue with liberal undertones and a comforting relatability.

The-Sohpia-Chair

The Sophia, part of the Glen and Jamie Collection.

In Canada, the TV series managed to inspire some furniture that was featured at the Canadian Furniture Show, running from June 4-7 at the International Center. Part of the Glen and Jamie Collection, manufactured by Van Gogh Designs in Vancouver, and sold in stores across Canada, each of the pieces has a distinct personality, which they named after the main characters from The Golden Girls:

The next new, cool thing you see in a furniture store is well on its way to a home — maybe even yours.

Where does a piece of furniture begin? One of the starting points is the Canadian Furniture Show, running June 4-7 at the International Centre, where retailers from across the country come looking for those great pieces. This year, for the first time, the public is invited to come and look (not to purchase, sorry).

We’re showing the next installment of the Glen and Jamie collection, manufactured by Van Gogh Designs in Vancouver, and sold in stores across Canada.

The evolution of a piece of furniture begins with how people use it in their homes. As designers, we often customize pieces to suit our clients. For instance, with our “Miller” chair that launched last season, we aimed for a relatively small chair with a round back to float in the middle of a room — but comfortable for all heights of people. Our clients often hosted parties and needed that flexibility, so the “Miller” was created (and named for them). We ended up ordering that same, custom piece many times for others, and it became part of our regular lineup.

Our newest collection was inspired in the same way. Each piece also has a distinct personality so we named it for a TV show often quoted around the office — and around the world still, 23 years after the series ended — The Golden Girls.

The Rose sofa, named after Betty White’s character, is very simple yet comfortable. There are few embellishments in the design yet it still has a feminine quality with the easy curve of the arm. Rose was definitely womanly in her approach to the world — but not particularly worldly. The back of the sofa holds you in and defines that small-town feel. While it isless crazy than events in Rose’s hometown St. Olaf, it is definitely cosy. We decided to introduce this piece in an off-white fabric, both as a nod to the great Ms White but also to recognize the simple, wholesome life that Rose lived.

The Dorothy has many of the qualities we associate with Bea Arthur’s character. She provided structure to the house shared by the four women — Dorothy seemed capable of dealing with almost anything. As well, there was a regal, buttoned-up manner she had when dealing with authority figures that oozed authority. You could count on her practical, “tell-it like-it-is” style and while she was always supportive, she let others make their own mistakes. This chair’s structure can deal with any body type, a button detail in the back that gives it a sense of refinement, and a low arm that offers support s but certainly won’t hold you if you learn too far over the side. The chair feels like it could be her chair from the TV series, it suits her character’s personality so well.

Then there’s the Blanche — her chair and sofa design were easy in all respects. The tight back has all the tension we have come to expect of The Golden Girls’ southern belle, however the flair of the arms with their slight curve out and the set back detail suggest that this is a sofa that would let anyone sit on it. The pitch of the back has a reclining, damsel element and the ample seat cushion is Blanche all the way. In one episode, for instance, Blanche explained she was a flirt because she was from that South and it was in her lineage. When Rose didn’t understand, Dorothy explained that it meant Blanche’s mother was also man-hungry. Red was definitely the best colour to show this piece.

The Sophia. Dorothy’s Italian mother moved in with the drama expected of a Sicilian girl who grew up in a family with mafia ties. With her short stature and big personality, Sophia embodied the charm of the Old World, complete with ever-changing stories and brazen remarks. Her suitors, engagements and husbands make her tales rich and varied. Our Sophia is also low to the ground with shorter legs — but the furniture piece has a fuller seat cushion, is embellished with diamond tufting, nail-head detail and traditional track (straight) arms with piping. The silhouette with a double-scoop arm speaks to more traditional styles popular in her youth. Purple velvet is a perfect fit for this god-fearing “Ma.”

Glen Peloso appears every two weeks in New in Homes & Condos. He is principal designer of Peloso Alexander Interiors, national design editor of Canadian Home Trends magazine and a design expert on the Marilyn Denis Show on CTV. Contact him at http://www.pelosoalexander.com/ pelosoalexander.comEND, follow on Twitter at https://twitter.com/peloso1 @peloso1END or https://twitter.com/glenandjamie @glenandjamieEND, and on https://www.facebook.com/pelosoalexander FacebookEND.

I wouldn’t want to conclude without delving into the history of the fantastic theme song of the show though, as according to The Atlantic article, “A Brief History of ‘Thank You for Being a Friend’“:

“Thank you for being a friend … (duh-duh-DUH-DUH) … traveled down the road and back again … (duh-duh-duh-duh-DUH) … your heart is true … you’re a pal and a confidante …”

The Golden Girls turns 30 today, which means that its theme song is also having a birthday. But the iconic song is older than the NBC sitcom (actually, sitcoms) most commonly associated with it: It was written, and first released as a single, by the musician Andrew Gold, in 1978. It was “just this little throwaway thing,”he said, and it took him “about an hour to write.”

Gold, the son of the Oscar-winning composer Ernest Gold and the singer Marni Nixon—she provided the singing voice for Audrey Hepburn in My Fair Lady and Natalie Wood in West Side Story—performed his song in a decidedly soft-rock kind of way.

NBC repurposed the song in a condensed form for the 1985 premiere of The Golden Girls, replacing Gold with an appropriately female voice: the jingle singer Cindy Fee—who was also the voice behind the Hoover vacuum cleaner (“Nobody does it like you”) and Pontiac cars (“Get on your Pontiac and ride”) and Wheaties (“Now go tell your momma … ​what the big boys eat”).

Fee performed “Thank You for Being a Friend,” famously—and, warning, ear-wormily.

Once it became associated with the lanai-tastic leisurewear of The Golden Girls, “Thank You for Being a Friend” took on a familiar trajectory: It became loved, in the kind of ironic-nostalgic way that makes the love, in a pop-culture context, endure. It was played during World Series games, and at the end of Super Bowl XL, and in, in a modified form, a cheeky NFL ad. (The lyrics in that case were adjusted to “thank you for being a fan,” natch.) It got meme-ified. It got tattooed. It got a replay, courtesy of Lenny, on The Simpsons. It got a death-metal rendition on Saturday Night Live. It got sassily ska-ified.

Quite a lot for a song that started life as “just this little throwaway thing.”-

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7 thoughts on “On The Golden Girls

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