‘Golden Girls’: Bea Arthur Gave Passionate Response When Asked if She Was Like Dorothy

by Suzanne Halliburton
Photo by Desiree Navarro/FilmMagic

On the Golden Girls, was Bea Arthur interchangeable with her character Dorothy. In real life, was she similar to the divorced substitute school teacher with such a dry sense of humor she could blister a desert?

Arthur got the question back in 1985, the first year of the Golden Girls, when she appeared on The Merv Griffin Show. Betty White, who portrayed daffy, naive Rose, was beside Arthur on the couch, answering the questions from the TV host. White even occasionally helped out her TV roommate with some of the answers.

Arthur said she must be like Dorothy for obvious reasons.

“I don’t know what to say,” Arthur said of her Golden Girls character. “This gets to be so boring. I don’t mean your question. But I keep saying, I can’t kid myself. I’m 5-9 1/2 in my stocking feet. I have a very deep voice (and) I have a certain way with a comedy line or with any line. So there has to be some similarities.”

So OK, both Bea Arthur and Dorothy are alike in their Golden Girls souls because they’re tall and have deep voices.

Bea Arthur Admitted She Wasn’t In Control, Like on the Golden Girls

Griffin then asked Arthur about the perception she’s always in control. That’s how Dorothy was in the Golden Girls. She was the pragmatic voice of the household. Blanche would throw caution to the wind if a handsome man was involved. Rose could be manipulated. And Dorothy’s mom, Sophia, was the spitfire who said anything to anybody.

So, was Bea Arthur always in control?

“Except when I’m not on stage when I’m always, absolutely, out of control,” Arthur said. “On stage, I can be omnipotent, I can do anything I want, you know that feeling, I can tell by looking at your eyes. “

Griffin asked if Arthur’s real life was a mess.

“No, it’s heaven,” Arthur said. “But I’m not sure of myself. I tend to be very shy and very retiring and actually about 5 feet tall.” This last line drew a big, collective laugh from the audience. So yes, Arthur was like her Golden Girls character. Then Betty White imitated Arthur’s giggle. More giggles.

In reality, Bea Arthur was Dorothy and Dorothy was Bea Arthur. You see, the creators of the Golden Girls wrote the part with Bea Arthur in mind. They didn’t necessarily know if Arthur would join the cast, but producers loved her strong vibe in the sitcom, Maude. In Maude, Arthur was an opinionated, middle-aged woman on her fourth husband. So she was a younger version of Dorothy, minus three husbands.

Rue McClanahan, who played flirty Blanche, called Bea Arthur to lobby for the Golden Girls. She played Maude’s best friend and would be the same for Dorothy.

This is certain. The Golden Girls wouldn’t have been as funny if the cast didn’t have the Bea Arthur version of Dorothy. Sadly, Arthur died in 2009. Betty White is the last surviving Golden Girl.