BY JOHN CARTER JR
In remembrance of Estelle Getty, Beatrice Arthur, Rue McClanahan, and Betty White
At the very end of last year, the world received the news that beloved actress Betty White, 99, passed away in her sleep. Fans across social media shared their love for White and the moments in which they first came to know the actress. For many, their introduction to her work was on The Golden Girls by Susan Harris. The series has been popularized for its humor, wit, and slice-of-life good feels. Even while decades have passed since its run on NBC in the 80s and 90s the Golden Girls still connect with fans to this day. With White’s 100th birthday yesterday, let us look back at what made the Golden Girls so special.
Estelle Getty who played Sophia Petrillo on the show was originally only supposed to appear for the pilot however she quickly became a fan-favorite character and was kept on as a series regular. It was often Sophia’s sarcastic quick wit and no filter attitude that made Getty’s performance so charming. However, the show also had many moments of non-comedic depth for the character often relating to the relationship between Petrillo and her daughter Dorothy Zbornak.
Some of her best moments are in her “Picture it Sicily” monologues. It was this balance of sage savagery and tenderness that Getty performed consistently that established the character as one of the most beloved in television. Outside of television, she had also been an advocate for HIV/AIDS Healthcare and an ally to the LGBT community.
Veteran Beatrice Arthur who played Dorothy Zbornak who is known as being the brains of the group. Like Getty’s performance of Sophia Petrillo, Arthur’s is similarly witty, however, her specific skills in comedy are of the well-paced or slow-burn variety. She was a skilled actress with the ability to deliver a heartbreaking performance in one scene and a heartwarming one in the next while never breaking believability.
Similar to Alan Rickman, Beatrice Arthur was notable for slow-paced well-timed acting. Dorothy’s arc would be the one that ended the show, with her character being married to Blanche’s uncle. Outside of the show, Bea was known for her activism as an ally to the LGBT community going as far as bequeathing money to an LGBT organization the Ali Forney Center.
Rue McClanahan played the one and only Blanche Devereaux, and ain’t nobody gonna steal her man. Blanche was written as sexy and fabulous while also maintaining an air of youth about her. She is so loved for her over-the-top reactions and hilariously smooth southern performance. McClanahan had worked with co-stars Betty White and Bea Arthur before on Carol Burnett’s Mama’s Family and Maude respectively. The actress’s brand of comedy was uniquely hers. McClanahan’s performance often was filled with convection concerning her escapades as well as her schemes to engage in them, and her skills in comedy lied in her melodrama. Offscreen she was an animal welfare and LGBT advocate.
Last and most certainly not least Veteran Betty White played the lovable and ditsy Rose Nylund. Rose was the heart of the show, she was lovable and kind. This was not much different from White herself who was known for being kind and having a happy disposition. White’s performance as Rose represents the blissfully ignorant archetype. Rose is known for her zany Saint Olaf stories that could eventually pay off with well-timed wisdom or for an equally well-timed joke.
White is one of the most beloved American Actresses and will be sorely missed, however, it is not only performances like Rose which will also be remembered but the actress’s kindness. Outside of television Betty was particularly known for her animal welfare activism as well as being a supporter of gay rights and openly opposing racial injustices when she was in her early television career.
The Golden Girls was much more than just the individual women who comprised the cast. The narratives and comedy they were telling pushed bounds. Many episodes addressed topics that related to women, African Americans, LGBTQ people and more. The show served comedy and seriousness, love and struggle, and cheesecake.
It was and continues to be a favorite pastime of many who are looking to laugh, cry, and even heal from the woes of the world. They were advocates for many causes before, throughout, and after their success with the show including in the realms of discrimination towards specific oppressed populations and animal welfare. The Golden Girls will be remembered and there isn’t just one reason to pin down. Like our four leading ladies and in the words of Johnny from S.E. Hinton’s The Outsiders, if the Golden Girls have taught us anything it is to “Stay Golden”.
I give the Golden Girls a whole Cheesecake (10/10 slices) for their cultural impact, the conversations the show started, and its humor.