Airing from 1985 to 1992 with seven seasons in total, The Golden Girls was a smash hit during the entirety of its run.
It was popular for addressing a demographic that rarely saw the spotlight on television or in Hollywood: senior women.
Bea Arthur as Dorothy Zbornak, Estelle Getty as Sophia Petrillo, Betty White as Rose Nylund, and Rue McClanahan as Blanche Devereaux in the 1985 sitcom The Golden Girls (Credit: NBC)
The sitcom was conceptualized by writer Susan Harris. Before The Golden Girls, she was most renowned for creating the series Soap, which parodied daytime soap operas such as The Young and the Restless.
Soap lasted for four seasons and was marred by controversy due to Harris’s insistence on including content that dealt with themes of sexuality, religion, and race.
Luckily, Susan Harris didn’t lose her spark after Soap concluded, as she included much of the humor and sharp wit that made Soap popular in The Golden Girls as well.
The main cast of The Golden Girls included Rue McClanahan as Blanche Devereaux, Betty White as Rose Nylund, Bea Arthur as Dorothy Zbornak, and Estelle Getty as Dorothy’s mother, Sophia Petrillo.
Each of the four main stars received an Emmy Award, making The Golden Girls one of only four sitcoms in the Primetime Emmy Award’s history to achieve this
Let’s see how each actress was cast in their respective roles and how their careers continued after the show concluded.
It’s time to look back at the golden years with our favorite Golden Girls.
1. Rue McClanahan as Blanche Devereaux
Arguably the main protagonist of the show, Blanche Devereaux is portrayed by Rue McClanahan. She joined the show after Estelle Getty, who was the first actress to be cast in The Golden Girls.
McClanahan was 51 years old by the time The Golden Girls premiered, and she was 58 when it concluded.
Rue McClanahan as Blanche Devereaux in the 1985 sitcom The Golden Girls (Credit: NBC)
The producers of The Golden Girls decided to cast Bea Arthur, Betty White, and Rue McClanahan after seeing them act alongside each other in shows like Maude (1972-1978) and Mama’s Family (1983-1984).
Initially, the producers wanted Betty White to play Blanche because she had been famous for playing promiscuous characters in the past. However, White and McClanahan wanted to play against their typecasting, so McClanahan was cast as Blanche instead.
McClanahan insisted on the character having a thick Southern accent, a popular aspect of her character throughout the show.
Blanche was inspired by the popular fictional characters Blanche DuBois (from A Streetcar Named Desire, a famous 1947 Broadway play written by Tennessee Williams) and Vivien Leigh, who portrayed the same character in the 1951 film adaptation alongside Marlon Brando.
Iconic Golden-era Hollywood actress Scarlett O’Hara was also reportedly an inspiration for the role.
Rue McClanahan, Estelle Getty, and Betty White reprised their roles in the 1992 spin-off series The Golden Palace (Credit: CBS)
McClanahan continued to portray the role of Blanche in the spin-off series The Golden Palace, which only lasted for one season from 1992 to 1993. She passed away in 2010, at the age of 76, after suffering a brain hemorrhage.
2. Betty White as Rose Nylund
Betty White was famous in Hollywood for being a pioneer of television dating back to the 1950s. Cast alongside Rue McClanahan, she impressed the producers of The Golden Girls with her recurring role as Ellen in Mama’s Family.
Vicki Lawrence as Thelma Harper and Betty White as Ellen Harper-Jackson in the 1983 sitcom Mama’s Family (Credit: NBC)
Initially, White was considered for the role of Blanche Devereaux, which eventually went to Rue McClanahan. She joined the cast as Rose Nylund, a Norwegian-American hailing from St. Olaf, Minnesota.
Reportedly, White doubted that she could effectively play the role of Rose. It wasn’t until she was informed of Rose’s naivety that she gained the confidence to play the role and pull off the character.
Betty White as Rose Nylund in the 1985 sitcom The Golden Girls (Credit: NBC)
Born on January 17, 1922, Betty White was the oldest of the four main stars. This means that she was 63 years old by the time the show premiered in 1985.
Although the four main stars appeared to have good chemistry onscreen, there was some tension on the set between Betty White and Bea Arthur, whose personalities clashed during filming.
In an interview with The Village Voice in 2011, White stated that Arthur “found me a pain in the neck sometimes. It was my positive attitude, and that made Bea angry sometimes.”
Ironically, despite being the oldest actress in the show, Betty White was the last of the main stars to survive. She passed away after suffering complications from a stroke at 99 years old on December 31, 2021, just 17 days before her 100th birthday.
Betty White’s heartbreaking final post on her Instagram with the caption: “My 100th birthday… I cannot believe it is coming up, and People Magazine is celebrating with me!” (Credit: Betty White’s Instagram)
3. Bea Arthur as Dorothy Zbornak
Often deemed as the “den mother” of the main characters in the show, Bea Arthur played the role of Dorothy Zbornak, a substitute teacher hailing from New York City.
Bea Arthur as Dorothy Zbornak in the 1985 sitcom The Golden Girls (Credit: NBC)
Arthur was born on May 13, 1922, making her the second oldest actress in the main cast. She was also 63 years old by the time The Golden Girls premiered in 1985.
Apparently, writer Susan Harris envisioned a “Bea Arthur type” when conceptualizing the character of Dorothy. Actress Elaine Stritch was also considered for the role, but she blew her audition by using curse words, which was something that the writers felt was out of character for Dorothy.
When Arthur first received the script for The Golden Girls, she loved the concept of having senior women as the stars of the show.
She remarked that “it was revolutionary because it was the first time older women were shown in an atmosphere where they were well-groomed, well dressed, had active sex lives. Prior to that, when old people were shown on television, you could almost smell them.”
Estelle Getty as Sophia Petrillo, Bea Arthur as Dorothy Zbornak, Rue McClanahan as Blanche Devereaux, and Betty White as Rose Nylund in the 1985 sitcom The Golden Girls (Credit: NBC)
Despite her enjoyment in playing Dorothy, the show eventually concluded when Bea Arthur decided to depart the show in 1992.
The reasons for her departure are speculative, but the popular theory is that Arthur felt as though the quality of the sitcom had begun to slip by the seventh season, and she wanted to leave while the show was still popular.
That’s also the same reason why she refused to reprise her role in the spin-off series The Golden Palace, which featured Betty White, Rue McClanahan, and Estelle Getty.
At the age of 86, Bea Arthur passed away from lung cancer in April 2009.
4. Estelle Getty as Sophia Petrillo
Estelle Getty portrayed the role of Sophia Petrillo, the mother of Dorothy Zbornak (Bea Arthur’s character).
Bea Arthur as Dorothy Zbornak and Estelle Getty as Sophia Petrillo in the 1985 sitcom The Golden Girls (Credit: NBC)
Although Sophia appears to be much older than the other girls in the show, Getty was actually younger than both Bea Arthur and Betty White. She was born on July 25, 1923, making her 62 years old by the time the sitcom premiered.
To portray Sophia Petrillo, Getty was required to wear makeup and a wig to appear visibly older than her co-stars.
Initially, the producers of the show had planned for Getty only to be a recurring guest. However, her popularity with audiences caused Sophia to become a main character in the series.
Estelle Getty as Sophia Petrillo in the 1985 sitcom The Golden Girls (Credit: NBC)
Getty was the first actress to be cast, and her role was intended to make the rest of the characters appear younger.
Interestingly enough, Estelle Getty suffered from stage fright and would often freeze on camera during the filming of The Golden Girls. She was especially intimidated by her co-stars, who were all higher profile actresses than she was.
Estelle Getty reprised her role as Sophia in The Golden Palace, which only lasted for one season. She passed away from Dementia with Lewy bodies (DLB) on July 22, 2008, at 84 years old.
“Thank you for being a friend.”
The Golden Girls will always be remembered as a show that put a spotlight on senior women in a way no other show had done before. It shattered stereotypes and even made that demographic entertaining for audiences of all genders and ages.
Estelle Getty, Rue McClanahan, Betty White, and Bea Arthur as the beloved main cast of the 1985 sitcom The Golden Girls (Credit: NBC)
But what made the show golden were its stellar cast and the beloved characters they portrayed. We will always remember Rue McClanahan, Betty White, Bea Arthur, and Estelle Getty for bringing joy into our lives and for being our friends.