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The Golden Girls: Part 1, The Queens of NBC’s Saturday Night

The Golden Girls - illustration by Glen HansonThe Golden Girls debuted on September 14, 1985 and ran for seven seasons. The show was a snappy comedy and quickly became a cornerstone of NBC’s Saturday night line-up.

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.

With such a wonderfully talented cast and creative team, it’s no wonder that The Golden Girls became a huge success. How did it begin? Stay tuned . . . TV Series Finale home page

Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3 | Part 4 | Part 5 | Part 6 | Part 7
Podcast, part one | Podcast, part two


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{ 14 comments… read them below or add one }

Beccabiggestfan July 31, 2008 at 12:56 am

I loved the Golden Girls and Sophia (Estelle G. and Betty W. were 2 of my favorites) if you could pick just 2. I loved them all. When you have a group of women of their caliber you knew you were in for a show the entire family could enjoy. I try to catch the reruns when ever I can.
Thanxs for so many hours of laughter.


Luis July 23, 2008 at 12:08 pm

RIP Estelle, thanks for all these years of laughter. Goodbye Mamma Petrillo, we’ll miss you.


AbiGaiL July 22, 2008 at 8:36 pm

Golden Girls is easily my favorite show. RIP Estelle Getty aka SOPHIA…you will be missed by all true G.G. Fans everywhere! :(


Rick July 22, 2008 at 2:26 pm

My favorite scene with Estelle Getty:

Sophia: All right, all right, I can pick up a cue. Picture it: Sicily, 1912. A beautiful young peasant girl with clear olive skin, meets an exciting but penniless Spanish artist. There’s an instant attraction. They laugh, they sing, they slam down a few boilermakers. Shortly afterwards he’s arrested for showing her how he can hold his pallet without using his hands…But I digress. He paints her portrait and they make passionate love. She spends much of the next day in the shower with a loofa sponge scrubbing his fingerprints off her body. She sees the portrait and is insulted. It looks nothing like her, and she storms out of his life forever. That peasant girl was me. And that painter was…Pablo Picasso.

Dorothy: Ma, I have a feeling you’re lying.

Rose: Be positive, Dorothy.

Dorothy: OK, I’m POSITIVE you’re lying!

-It is a shame she had to go. But I will always remember how much laughter she brought to me.

RIP Estelle


Ray C. Bannister July 22, 2008 at 12:59 pm

R.I.P. Estelle Getty, who died this morning of lewy body dementia. Thank you for your contribution to our enjoyment.


Roy June 8, 2008 at 3:17 pm

Have watched this show while in Miami for weeks holiday every morning, I had a grate laugh watching before i set off touring each day, I wish this programe was showing in the UK.


Jen January 15, 2008 at 1:28 am

I just love this show. Estelle Getty is so funny as the mother!


Darla Wiggins November 14, 2007 at 6:11 pm

I watch the Golden Girls at 8am, 3pm and midnight! I love it, it reminds me of my Grandma who has passed away. I can be down and watch the show and feel an automatic peace and happy mood come over me. I love it!!


Ali September 25, 2007 at 7:36 am

I have watched this show on and on and continue to watch it up to date. Not only is it hilarious, but is also heartwarming and touching. I thank the girls for this unmatched show, as well as all those who made it happen.


pernae barnes September 6, 2007 at 5:14 pm

I am a huge fan of the Golden Girls. I watch it every day and it still makes me laugh. I also think of my late sister Gloria when I watch certain episodes.


Maggie April 29, 2007 at 7:05 pm

in the last episode Dorothy told Stan that everytime she lays with Lucas there is … of him … our beds are crowded. What is that quote.


beth April 9, 2007 at 11:50 am

I have heard many rumors of Bea and Betty’s supposed feud. If true, does anybody know the the source of the feud, or if there is any websites out there to substantiate it? I am just very curious:)


Trevor December 20, 2006 at 9:50 am

You’re absolutely right and I knew that. They mentioned it many times. I must’ve had my own little stroke or something. ;-) Thanks for the note. I’ve made the correction.


Sassafras December 20, 2006 at 9:08 am

Sophia was believed to be in the early stages of Alzheimer’s and would usually speak her mind in overly sarcastic and caustic ways.

Although Estelle may have been in the early stages of Alzheimer’s, Sophia had suffered a stroke that affected the “inhibition” part of the brain that controls and regulates what is appropriate. Hence, she made some very inappropriate, and hilarious, comments.


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