The idea for the sitcom is said to have come from NBC executive Brandon Tartikoff after he visited his senior citizen aunt. His aunt and her best friend/neighbor were constantly arguing and bickering with one another but, underneath it all, he could see how much they truly cared for one another. Tartikoff thought it would be a great concept for a show and suggested it to Soap creator Susan Harris.
Harris used that simple idea and created The Golden Girls. It was executive produced by her husband Paul Junger Witt and Tony Thomas through their joint company Witt/Thomas/Harris.
The series centered around four older women who lived together in a Florida home as they dealt with issues of aging, mortality, dating, sex and more. The characters were played by a quartet of wonderfully-talented veterans of stage and screen.
Beatrice Arthur, previously known to audiences as the Emmy Award-winning star of the Norman Lear sitcom Maude and the Broadway musical Mame, played substitute teacher and divorcee Dorothy Petrillo Zbornak. Dorothy was intelligent and forthright with her opinion while frequently becoming the butt of jokes about her height and size.
Sitcom veteran Betty White, best known from playing The Mary Tyler Moore Show’s Sue Ann Nivens and appearing on game shows like her late husband’s Password series, played the sweet and innocent Rose Lindstrom Nylund. Rose was well-known for her sunny and ditzy personality as well as long and contrived stories about her hometown in Minnesota, Saint Olaf.
Rue McClanahan (who’d worked with Bea Arthur on Maude and with Betty White on Mama’s Family) played the self-absorbed Blanche Elizabeth Hollingsworth Devereaux. Blanche was the owner of the house where they all lived and had a penchant for dating and sleeping with a wide variety of men.
Broadway actress Estelle Getty (Torch Song Trilogy) rounded out the quartet as Dorothy’s Sicilian mother Sophia Spirelli Petrillo. Sophia had had a stroke and, as a result, would usually speak her mind in overly sarcastic and caustic ways.