When the show first aired, the Queen Mother 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.
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.
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.
Dorothy has two children: Kate and Michael. Blanche has six children: Matthew, Janet, Biff, Doug, Skippy and Rebecca. Rose has five children: Charlie Jr., Adam, Janella, Kirsten and Bridget. Sophia has three children: Dorothy, Phil, and Gloria.
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.
In the first season exteriors of the house were shot from a real house in California. For later seasons exterior shots were filmed at Walt Disney World's MGM Studios (now "Disney's Hollywood Studios"). They built an exact replica of the house in Orlando. This replica was demolished in 2003.
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.
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 (1988). 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.
Due to Estelle Getty's intense stage fright, during Friday tapings she would often freeze on camera. She was the least experienced actress of the four, and it intimidated her. She stated in a 1988 interview that working every week with talent like Bea Arthur and Betty White scared her out of her wits. She felt like a fraud and worried that the fans would "find out" that she wasn't as good as her co-stars.
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 (1972) and Betty White to play a version of her man-hungry Sue Ann Nivens from Mary Tyler Moore (1970).) They switched roles because they didn't want to be typecast.
Rue McClanahan has stated that she was originally against the idea of a Golden Girls spin off (which aired as The Golden Palace). McClanahan asked the producers if they could write a new room mate in for the Girls. The producers briefly considered the idea and even spoke with Doris Roberts to join the show.
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.
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.
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.
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 (1988) 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.
Rue McClanahan had a clause written into her contract that she be allowed to keep all of Blanche's custom-made clothing. McClanahan had 13 closets filled with the designer wardrobe in her Sutton Place co-op in Manhattan.
The house's kitchen was recycled from the short-lived Susan Harris series It Takes Two (1982), 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.
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.
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 (1963) back in 1969 (season 6's 'The Cannonball Bookmobile').
Betty White had always been a fierce competitor when she had appeared on Password back in the day, and she found a kindred spirit in Rue McClanahan when it came to word games. The two ladies frequently played alphabet games in between takes (for example, if the topic was cars, they would take turns naming different brands - Audi, Buick, Cadillac-alphabetically) throughout the entire day of taping.
Bea Arthur did not have pierced ears, thus all those "crazy earrings" (her words) that Golden Girls stylist Judy Evans gave Dorothy were clip-ons. Arthur loved the dramatic effect of the jewelry, but hated that her ears were numb with pain by the end of the day.
Broadway legend Elaine Stritch was considered for the role of Dorothy. According to Stritch, many of the NBC executives in her audition liked her but Susan Harris didn't and felt she was too vulgar for the role. In her one-woman show, "Elaine Stritch at Liberty," Stritch recounted that she "blew" the audition by trying to break the ice by asking if she could improvise with the dialogue a little, and then, as a joke, changing the line "Ying, don't forget the hors d'oeuvres" into "Ying, don't forget the fucking hors d'oeuvres."
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.
Although there were four women living in the house, there were always only three chairs around that famous kitchen table. That was strictly due to the limits of filming-to avoid either squeezing all four shoulder-to-shoulder or having one actress with her back to the camera. Bea Arthur was always given the center chair, both because of her height and also in order to catch her priceless facial expressions in reaction to either Blanche's remembrance of sexual encounters past, Rose's St. Olaf story, or Sophia's "Picture it!" monologue.
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 (1984) fame, and actress Doris Roberts, then of Remington Steele (1982) 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.