|Bea Arthur, Estelle Getty, Betty White and Rue McClanahan|
in the Girls' kitchen -- which had been recycled from a failed
ABC sitcom a year earlier, Richard Crenna and Patty Duke's
It Takes Two. Problem is, as newly reconfigured, it had no
If you were like me, a teenager in the pre-Internet era who diligently followed all buzz about the new fall season as doled out in the entertainment press, you knew this new show was going to be something special. After all, it hailed from Susan Harris, the brilliant creator of Soap, and starred TV icons Bea Arthur, Betty White and Rue McClanahan. And yet, the buzz also said, this newcomer Estelle Getty just might steal the show.
As I've said many times in promoting my book Golden Girls Forever, The Golden Girls was just as unlikely a network product back then as it would be now -- in fact, maybe even more so. After all, advertisers were then, too, chasing a younger age demographic -- and why, conventional wisdom would say, would those young viewers want to watch four old ladies in Miami?
Before even Susan Harris' involvement, it had been the foresight of NBC head Brandon Tartikoff that had brought these Girls to life (even if the network honchos were afraid, deferring to political correctness, of calling these four ladies "Girls" until Susan Harris reassured them). Tartikoff had been gestating the idea for a while, having watched the movie How to Marry a Millionaire with his nieces, and having observed the interplay among his crotchety elder relatives in Florida. So when, at an otherwise boring NBC fall preview event, Night Court's Selma Diamond and Remington Steele's Doris Roberts enlivened the proceedings with their scripted shtik mistaking the title of network's big hope Miami Vice for "Miami Nice," Tartikoff realized the idea was worth pursuing.
It's only through the miracles of great writing and great casting that the fleshed-out concept made it not just to the national airwaves, but into the pop culture pantheon, celebrated as it is more than three decades later. At 63, Betty White was the eldest of the four women (older by only four months than Bea Arthur, though); today at 94 she's still a national treasure and inspiration.
And so I was honored to get the chance to sit with Betty, as well as Bea and Rue, in their living rooms, and hear their stories about their experiences on the show firsthand. In all, over 250 guest stars, writers, producers and crew members were happy to share their memories -- and in some cases, rare artifacts -- with me for the book, eager to ensure that such a rare show should enjoy the legacy it deserves. So to Susan Harris, to Betty, and to the three other Golden ladies we've lost but will never forget, I'd like to take the occasion of this 31st anniversary again to say thank you for the years and years of not just laughs but thought-provoking takes on issues that still concern us. And above all else, of course, Thank You For Being a Friend!