Rue McClanahan was to play Rose and Betty White was to play Blanche (The producers originally wanted Rue to play a version of her naive Vivian Cavender character from Maude and Betty White to play a version of her man-hungry Sue Ann Nivens from Mary Tyler Moore.) They switched roles because they didn't want to be typecast.
When the original pilot script was submitted to Disney/Touchstone, 'Michael Eisner' liked it but he felt something was missing. He thought a show about three old women living together might scare away younger viewers. He asked Susan Harris to keep working on it. Harris then added the character of Sophia. When she was added, Dorothy became just another woman dealing with her mother and Eisner loved it. After Sophia was added and a pilot was shot, a character named Coco, a gay male servant was cut from the series.
The writers of the show always tried to give Sophia the raciest lines. They did this because her character had a stroke earlier in life, which made her unable to control the things she was able to say.
The idea for the show came from NBC executive Brandon Tartikoff, who was visiting his elderly aunt one day and saw how she and her next-door neighbor, who was also her best friend, interacted with each other. Even though they would argue and bicker a lot, they were still best friends and loved each other. Tartikoff thought that would make a great show, and "The Golden Girls" was born.
Cynthia Fee sang the theme song for the series, "Thank You for Being a Friend". It was originally written and recorded in 1978 by Singer/Songwriter Andrew Gold, whose version was a minor hit on the Billboard Pop Chart.
Brandon Tartikoff, then head of NBC, originally conceived the idea for the show during a NBC affiliate meeting promoting new shows for the 1984-1985 television season. Actress's Selma Diamond, of Night Court fame, and actress Doris Roberts, then of Remington Steele fame, performed an opening monologue the proved to be a hit with the audiences. Tartikof apparently began to ponder the idea about doing a sitcom dealing with the trails and tribulations of older woman.
Though it is widely believed that Blache's age is never actually revealed, in Season 3, Episode 25 entitled "Mother's Day" (Aired May 7, 1988), it is admitted in a flashback that Blanche was 17 in 1949. That would make her 53 years old when the series began in 1985 and 60 when it ended in 1992.
During the first season a real house, in Pacific Palisades, California, was used for the exterior shots of the house. For the rest of the series a replica of the exterior was built on the studio's lot. This exterior facade was part of the backstage studio tour ride at Disney/MGM studios. This facade - along with the Empty Nest house - was among those destroyed in Summer 2003, as Disney bulldozed the homes of "Residential Street" to make room for its "Lights, Motors, Action!" attraction.
Dorothy has two children: Kate and Michael. Blanche has six children: Matthew, Janet, Biff, Doug, Skippy and Rebecca. Rose has four children: Adam, Janella, Kirsten and Bridget. Sophia has three children: Dorothy, Phil, and Gloria.
The house's kitchen was recycled from the short-lived Susan Harris series It Takes Two, which ran in 1982-83. After the first few episodes in season 1, the polka dot wallpaper of the original kitchen was replaced with a leafy pattern, deemed to be more "tropical" in appearance.
Stories abounded that the exclamation point seen on the back of the front door was carved into the wood by Bea Arthur prior to the filming of the first episode. It has been stated by the creators that the story about Arthur carving it was not true, rather that it was just a flaw/mark in the wood and has no significance.
When the show first aired, the Queen of England loved it so much that she wrote to the four actresses and asked them to perform a live show especially for her. They obliged, and acted out an episode in which the girls visit London on stage in front of the queen and her family.
Many actors and actresses were invited back to play different characters. Harold Gould played two of Rose's boyfriends, Arnie and Miles. Bill Dana played Sophia's brother Angelo and her father. Ellen Albertini Dow played Sophia's friend Lillian and an unnamed member of an old folks home. Chick Vennera played a prize fighter and TV reporter Enrique Mas. Paul Dooley played Rose's date Isaac Newton and a neighbor doctor for a semi-failed pilot of what would become Empty Nest. Philip Sterling played two different psychiatrists. Sid Melton played Sophia's late husband and a waiter at a restaurant. George Grizzard played Blanche's late husband and her brother-in-law. Numerous other actors with much smaller parts were asked back twice, sometimes to play non-speaking extras.
In season 2's 'Big Daddy's Little Lady' when the girls are in the kitchen having cheesecake and Rose starts to tell a story, Blanche cuts in and says 'must we take yet another trip to Petticoat Junction?' Betty White had actually appeared in one episode of Petticoat Junction back in 1969 (season 6's 'The Cannonball Bookmobile').
In 2003, an off Broadway production of the show titled "The Golden Girls: Live!" ran for several months before Susan Harris, the shows creator, demanded the production be stopped. The entire cast consisted of male actors.
Rose was the only character whose husband (named Charle) was never depicted on the show. Dorothy's ex-husband Stan was featured as a recurring character, Sophia's husband Sal was seen in flashbacks, and Blanche's husband George was depicted in an episode depicting a dream by Blanche.
One of the few series of its era to include openly gay and lesbian characters, and deal with related issues. The Pilot featured the Girl's openly gay personal chef Coco, and Blanche had an openly gay brother Clayton, who appeared in a couple of episodes. Another episode featured an old friend of Dorothy's who was Lesbian. At least one other episode dealt with the theme of HIV/AIDS. The series has also attracted a strong following among the LGBT community.
Bea Arthur initially resisted efforts to be cast in the series. She saw it as redundant for her and Rue McClanahan to essentially reprise their roles from Maude, with Betty White more or less in her same role from The Mary Tyler Moore Show. Arthur finally agreed when McClanahan told her that she and White decided to swap roles.