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.
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.
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.
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 (1970) Show. Arthur finally agreed when McClanahan told her that she and White decided to swap roles.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Rose was the only character whose husband (named Charlie) 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.
Though it is widely believed that Blanche's age is never actually revealed, in The Golden Girls: Mother's Day (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.
Allegedly Bea Arthur called Betty White a "c___". Betty White acknowledges Bea didn't like her, and has said it was due to her eternally optimistic personality, which she said rubbed Bea the wrong way.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Dorothy has two children: Kate and Michael. Blanche has six children: Matthew, Janet, Biff, Doug, Skippy and Rebecca. Rose has five children: Adam, Janella, Kirsten, Charlie, Jr., and Bridget. Sophia has three children: Dorothy, Phil, and Gloria.
Estelle Getty was the second youngest of the four main actresses, yet her character, Sophia, was the eldest of the four main characters. Ironically, Getty was also the first of three actresses to pass away. Betty White is the last surviving member of the cast.
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.
Bea Arthur reportedly did not get along with her co-stars very well. Betty White admits in interviews that they did not have a good relationship. Rue McLanahan has said she didn't have a relationship with Bea either calling her very eccentric.
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 jester 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.
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 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.
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.
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 an episode, Sophia (Estelle Getty) and Dorothy (Bea Arthur) dress up like Sonny and Cher. By mistake, Blanche (Rue McClanahan) mistakes them for Cheech and Chong. Ironically, Cheech Marin would star with Rue McClanahan, Estelle Getty, and Betty White in the spin-off series "The Golden Palace".
Both Estelle Getty and Bea Arthur were Jewish. (Neither one was Italian). Reportedly Getty used to ask the producers "couldn't we just make (Dorothy and Sophia) Jewish?". The producers wouldn't budge, however.
In the episode "Sophia's Choice", the story revolves around Sophia trying to get better retirement home care for her friend Lillian after breaking her out of a "bottom of the barrel" type. In the last scene, Rose suggests they make a pact that they will always stick together so they won't battle old age alone; Blanche adds that they all should go to a nursing home together. Rose then adds "but what happens when there is only one of us left?" which, after a reflective yet morbid pause, Sophia replies "Don't worry, I can take care of myself." The eerie coincidence of this scene is that, Betty White has outlived her costars, becoming "the only one left" as her line once questioned.
Lee Grant was asked to play Dorothy, but she refused to play a woman who was old enough to be a grandmother. Lee Grant's daughter, Dinah Manoff, went on to play Carol Weston in the Golden Girls spinoff, Empty Nest.
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.
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 women.
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 (2002)", 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."
In one episode, Rose meets longtime boyfriend Miles' daughter (Caroline) who tries to get Rose to stay away from her father because she feels it's too soon after her mother died. But in a later episode, it is revealed that Miles is actually a member of the witness relocation program--his real name is Nicholas Carbone, and he is hiding from a mob boss named The Cheeseman. So either this is a continuity error, or the FBI goes to extreme measures to create new identities, giving protected witnesses new family members.
During the seven seasons on the air at NBC, The Golden Girls was nominated for 68 Emmy Awards and won a total of 11 Emmys, including Outstanding Comedy Series twice for its first two seasons. For its first season (1985-86) it was nominated for 15 Emmys (winning 4); the second season (1986-87) it received 14 Emmy nominations (winning 3); the third season (1987-88) it received 12 nominations (winning 3); the fourth season (1988-89) it got 10 nominations; the fifth season (1989-90) it got 8 nominations; the sixth season (1990-91) it got 6 nominations; and the seven and final season (1991-92) it got 3 nominations (winning 1). In addition, The Golden Girls received a total of 21 Golden Globe nominations and won four Golden Globes. Three of the four Golden Globes it won were for Best Comedy/Musical Series for its first three seasons.
While filming a "Columbo - 'Ashes to Ashes' " (Movie of the Week in the Spring of 1998) at Universal-MCA Film City-Studios, Rue McClanahan performed in a guest role, as 'Verity Chandler' - a nasty devious miserably wicked evil tongued Hollywood gossip columnist - on Peter Falk's "Columbo" MOW prime-time-network special. The film was written by, directed, and featured actor Patrick McGoohan - as Eric Prince, seething with resentment of his ex-lover Verity, murderous and bloodthirsty for revenge. During breaks in filming, Rue McClanahan related to Falk's production designer Hub Braden's question when asked - "In 'The Golden Girls' series - how much did each of the featured performers contribute, ad-lib, improvise in their first Monday sit-down read of their dialogue for their character's role?" McClanahan's response was a matter-of-fact statement to his inquiry! "Not much! Bea Arthur arrived in the rehearsal hall, just sat at the conference table and read her lines. Ditto for Estelle Getty. Betty White and myself would interject comments, and usually, our ad-lib/improv dialogue ideas were noted, accepted by Susan Harris, with our spontaneous line idea interjected into our current script. Bea Arthur performed, reading exactly, what she had been given to say; the same, as well - with Estelle. Betty and myself were usually animated in our dialogue readings, bouncing off with an ad-lib or other flippant dialogue. We all delivered our lines exactly as scripted in our final live television performances. We never improvised in filming. Bea and Estelle were full-filling their acting-job during rehearsals and performances! We were all very professional!".
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.
In "Up (2009)", there is a "Shady Oaks Retirement Village". It's very likely to be an in-joke reference to the earlier Disney/Touchstone Television series "The Golden Girls (1985)" and Sophia's very dubious retirement home "Shady Pines".
NBC was doing a promotion for their fall line up, and one of the bits they did to promote these new shows was a skit between Doris Roberts and Selma Diamond who were talking about Miami Vice. Jokingly, they called it "Miami Nice", and they made other humorous references to the show, comparing it to life for women in their 50s. Warren Littlefield and some other NBC executives saw this and were so taken by the chemistry between these two 50+ women, Selma and Doris, that they decided to create a show about women in their 50s. This is how the Golden Girls was born.
In the seventh episode in season five 'Not Another Monday', Blanche, Rose, and Dorothy attempt to sing a baby to sleep. They harmonise the song 'Mr Sandman', reminiscent of Three Men and a Baby where the song 'Goodnight Sweetheart, Goodnight' is harmonised to put baby Mary to sleep.
The three actresses who passed away died in three consecutive calendar years. Estelle Getty died in 2008 at the age of 84, Bea Arthur died in 2009 at the age of 86, and Rue McClanahan, the youngest of the four, died in 2010 at the age of 76 giving her the shortest longevity. All of them were younger than Betty White, who celebrated turning 96 on January 17, 2018 and was only 4 months older than Bea Arthur.
Rue played Ruth Remply, one half of the wife-swapping duo in the " All in the Family" episode "The Bunkers and the Swingers". This crazy, promiscuous character is very similar to Blanche on The Golden Girls.
In the episode "Beauty and the Beast" Blanche's granddaughter is supposed to perform "Put on a Happy Face" from Bye, Bye Birdie at a beauty pageant. Dick Van Dyke originated the character of Albert Peterson in Bye, Bye Birdie and made that song a signature of sorts. Van Dyke would guest star as one of Dorothy's boyfriends in the season 5 episode "Love Under the Big Top".
When Dorothy is saying her goodbyes in the final scene, Estelle Getty, Rue McClanahan and Betty White were told Bea Arthur would run back in the door for a second goodbye. When Dorothy came round the side of their house, the surprised reactions were genuine. After Dorothy leaves for the second and final time, the actresses thought Bea would come for a third goodbye, them looking around for her was genuine.