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Whether you're of my generation, who watched The Golden Girls during their original run between 1985 and 1992, or have only recently discovered it from re-runs on freeview or satellite tv, it's a tv sitcom that will always be remembered. It's especially true now as the entire eight seasons are now available in DVD boxsets or for download. Recently OutUK correspondent Tim Nasson spoke to Golden Girl Betty White about the show and its gay appeal.
"They wrote the pilot with me as Blanche," exclaims White. "But Jay Sandrich, who directed me in many episodes on MTM and was directing the pilot for The Golden Girls piped in before we shot the pilot that if I was going to play another man-hungry neighbourhood you-know-what, the audience was going to equate it with Sue Ann and just a continuation of her role. So he had the bright idea to have Rue, who was intended to play Rose, play Blanche. Rue had just come off Mama's Family, where she played a quiet and rather mousey sister. So it was a perfect switch, in hindsight, but I was a little scared. I knew Blanche. That would have been easy. I didn't exactly know how to play dumb. The best advice I got was, again, from Jay Sandrich. He said, 'Rose takes every word for its literal meaning. She knows no sarcasm, no nothing. If somebody said to Rose that they could eat a horse, she'd call the SPCA (Society for Prevention of Cruelty to Animals).' And Rue, my god, she took Blanche out into orbit where I would have never dared to go. So I just think it worked out beautifully. If I had half the sex life Blanche had I would have been dead from exhaustion."

The fact that the show debuted and was successful, smack, dab in the middle of the Reagan era, with The Cosby Show, that (thought to be at the time) clean, wholesome, American family television show as No.1 in the ratings, was a feat unto itself.


As anyone who has ever seen an episode knows, The Golden Girls are known for their risque jokes, constant talk about sex and everything in between.

"I think the secret that allowed us to get away with everything we did get away with was the fact that we were four old ladies," says White. "Had we been four young women we wouldn't have gotten away with anything. Blanche, having the sex life that everyone would be shocked at, had she been twenty, got away with it because of her age. We were past that youth thing. The writers had an incredible concept."

While all four stars of The Golden Girls ended up winning Emmy Awards for Best Acting, some more than once, White was the first to win the coveted award. (Although, she was nominated for an Emmy a record seven times, all seven seasons during the show's run, for Best Actress in A Television Comedy. Estelle Getty also was nominated for seven consecutive Emmys on The Golden Girls, and won one, but in the Supporting Actress category.)

"I was unfortunate and deeply fortunate at the same time to get the first Emmy Award for The Golden Girls, explains White. "It was a little awkward on the set the next week when I had to go back to work. I tried to make it clear in my acceptance speech that it was a four-way award. There really was no way you could separate any of our performances. They were all tied into each other. But it was a little, shall we say, cool for about the first week back on the set, but then, when everybody started winning it was fine.


"You don't get writing like that very often," White continues. "The writers were so ahead of the game and they had our characters so beautifully sorted out. We were like four points on a compass, each one distinct from the other. But they all blended so well that we didn't have to stray from the script. We could just relax and enjoy that delicious writing.

"The writing is why people loved the show so much, I think. People still come up to me and tell me they have seen every episode a dozen times. And they each have their favourites. I even think the audience knows the lines now better than we ever did. Now you can give us all the credit you want. But we can't save a badly written show. We can screw up a good show, but we can't save a bad one. It's the writing that allows the show to hold up."

One of the characteristics, other than Rose's naivete, that made Rose, well so Rose, was her constant references to St. Olaf and those unpronounceable Scandinavian words. "That was something else," White recalls. "All of the girls would usually be sitting around a kitchen table whenever Rose talked about St. Olaf. And the other three girls were just looking at me, having made their bets, wondering how fast I was going to screw up the pronunciation."

Betty White died on Friday 31 December 2021 at her home in Los Angeles. She would have turned 100 years old just 3 weeks later on 17th January.



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