The Series Philosopher

Philosophising about the 'S'-word: Watch… and learn

The Golden Girls

the-series-philospher-Golden_Girls_titleThe Golden Girls is an American sitcom created by Susan Harris that originally aired on NBC from September 14, 1985, to May 9, 1992, with a total of 180 half-hour episodes spanning over seven seasons. The show stars Beatrice Arthur, Betty White, Rue McClanahan, and Estelle Getty, as four older women who share a home in Miami, Florida. It was produced by Witt/Thomas/Harris Productions, in association with Touchstone Television, and Paul Junger Witt, Tony Thomas, and Harris served as the original executive producers.

The Golden Girls received critical acclaim throughout most of its run and won several awards, including the Primetime Emmy Award for Outstanding Comedy Series twice. It also won three Golden Globe Awards for Best Television Series – Musical or Comedy.[1] Each of the four stars received an Emmy Award (from multiple nominations during the series’ run), making it one of only three sitcoms in the award’s history to achieve this. The series also ranked among the top-10 highest-rated programs for six of its seven seasons. In 2013, TV Guide ranked The Golden Girls number 54 on its list of the 60 Best Series of All Time. In 2014, the Writers Guild of America placed the sitcom at number 69 in their list of the “101 Best Written TV Series of All Time”.

Premise

The series revolves around four older, single women (three widows and one divorced) sharing a house in Miami, Florida. The owner of the house is a widow named Blanche Devereaux (McClanahan), who was joined by fellow widow Rose Nylund (White) and divorcée Dorothy Zbornak (Arthur), all three of whom are in upper middle age, after they both responded to a room-for-rent ad on the bulletin board of a local grocery store a year before the start of the series. In the pilot episode, the three were joined by Dorothy’s 80-year-old mother, Sophia Petrillo (Getty), after the retirement homewhere she lived burned down.

Cast and characters

Main

Main characters in the final scene from the season-two episode “Big Daddy’s Little Lady” (from left): Estelle Getty as Sophia, Rue McClanahan as Blanche, Betty White as Rose, and Beatrice Arthur as Dorothy

  • Beatrice Arthur as Dorothy Zbornak, a substitute teacher: Born in Brooklyn, New York City, to Sicilian immigrants Sophia and Salvadore Petrillo, Dorothy became pregnant while still in high school, resulting in a marriage to Stanley Zbornak (Herb Edelman) to legitimize the baby. Stan and Dorothy eventually moved to Miami, but divorced after 38 years when Stan left her for a young flight attendant. The marriage produced two children, Kate, in her early 20s, and Michael, who was inconsistently aged between his mid-20s and late 30s (Michael was purportedly the cause of the shotgun wedding). In the series’ finale episode, Dorothy marries Blanche’s uncle, Lucas Hollingsworth, and relocates to Atlanta. Arthur also played Dorothy’s grandmother, Sophia’s mother, in a flashback episode to when they lived in Brooklyn.
  • Betty White as Rose Nylund, a Norwegian American from the small farming town of St. Olaf, Minnesota: Known for her humorously peculiar stories of life growing up in her hometown, Rose was happily married to Charlie Nylund, with whom she had four children; 3 daughters: Kiersten, Bridgette, and Janella, and 1 son: Adam. Upon Charlie’s death, she moved to Miami. She eventually found work at a grief counseling center, though she later ended up as the assistant to a consumer reporter (Enrique Mas) at a local TV station. In later seasons, Rose became romantically involved with college professor Miles Webber. During season six, Miles was placed into the Witness Protection Program, but returned later in the season. Their relationship continued throughout the series, and shortly into the sequel series, The Golden Palace. In season one, Rose is stated to be 55.
  • Rue McClanahan as Blanche Devereaux, a Southern belle employed at an art museum: Born into a wealthy family, Blanche grew up as the apple of her father’s eye on a plantation outside of Atlanta, Georgia, prior to her relocation to Miami, where she lived with her husband, George, until his death. Their marriage produced six children; two daughters: Janet and Rebecca; and four sons: Doug, Biff, Skippy, and Matthew. A widow, Blanche was portrayed as man-hungry, and she clearly had the most male admirers—and stories detailing various sexual encounters—over the course of the series.
  • Estelle Getty as Sophia Petrillo, Dorothy’s mother: Born in Sicily, Sophia moved to New York after fleeing an arranged marriage to Guido Spirelli. She later married Salvadore Petrillo, with whom she had three children: Dorothy, Gloria, and Phil, a cross-dresser, who later dies of a heart attack (episode “Ebbtide’s Revenge“). Initially a resident in the Shady Pines Retirement Home after having a stroke prior to the start of the series, she moved in with Blanche, Rose, and Dorothy following a fire at the institution. During the series’ run, Sophia married Max Weinstock, but they soon separated. Throughout the series, she held a few part-time jobs, mostly involving food, including fast-food worker and entrepreneur of spaghetti sauce and homemade sandwiches.

Recurring

  • Herbert Edelman, as Stanley Zbornak, is Dorothy’s cheating, freeloading ex-husband who first appears in the second episode of season one, and appears in 26 episodes total throughout the series. He also appears in a later episode of The Golden Palace, in which he fakes his death due to troubles with the Internal Revenue Service.
  • Harold Gould as Miles Webber (or Nicholas Carbone, Samuel Plankmaker) is Rose’s professor boyfriend, who appears in 14 episodes, starting in season five. Gould also guest-starred in episode three in the first season as Arnie Peterson, Rose’s first serious boyfriend after her husband Charlie’s death. He also appears in two episodes of The Golden Palace.
  • Debra Engle, as Blanche’s daughter Rebecca Devereaux, has a baby girl named Aurora by artificial insemination and appears in three episodes (seasons five and six). Shawn Schepps played Rebecca in season three, when Rebecca returns from a modeling career in Paris, overweight and engaged to a verbally abusive man (Joe Regalbuto). She (Debra) also appears in the series finale of The Golden Palace, in which she is called upon by Blanche for an ovum.
  • Monte Markham as Blanche’s brother Clayton Hollingsworth is in two episodes, first when he comes out in season four and later to introduce his boyfriend (Michael Ayr) in season six.
  • Sheree North as Virginia Hollingsworth, Blanche’s sister, appears in two episodes, first in season one, then again in season five.
  • Sid Melton as Salvadore Petrillo, Sophia’s late husband, is usually seen in dreams or flashback sequences; he appears in eight episodes. He also appears as Don the Fool, a waiter at a medieval restaurant in season six.
  • Nancy Walker as Angela, Dorothy’s aunt and Sophia’s sister, with whom Sophia frequently fought; she appears in two episodes in season two.
  • Bill Dana as Sophia’s brother and Dorothy’s uncle Angelo, who appears in seven episodes (seasons three-seven). Dana also appears as Sophia’s father in a season-four episode.
  • Doris Belack as Gloria Petrillo, Dorothy’s younger sister in season one, is married to a wealthy man in California and wants Sophia to move in with her. She later loses all of her money and returns in season seven for a two-part episode played by Dena Dietrich, and upsets Dorothy, as she becomes romantically involved with Dorothy’s ex-husband, Stan.
  • Scott Jacoby as Dorothy’s aimless musician son Michael Zbornak appears in three episodes from seasons two, four, and five.
  • Lynnie Greene (credited as Lynn Greene) as a younger Dorothy is in flashbacks in four episodes.
  • Steve Landesberg as Stan’s psychiatrist, Dr. Richard Halperin, appears in three episodes in season seven.
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