‘Golden Girls’: Betty White Was First Intended to Play Blanche

by Clayton Edwards

“Golden Girls” was one of the best primetime sitcoms to come out of the eighties. The showrunners created strong women who were funny and, most importantly, felt real. They weren’t stock stereotypes or one-note characters. The actresses played their parts in such a way that it is impossible to think of anyone else playing the roles. The role of Rose helped to propel Betty White to fame. Many fans still see her sweet but scatter-brained character when they look at the actress today. However, the showrunners originally wanted her to play Blanche.

Most of America has adopted Betty White as their cute grandma. Much of that stems from her goodhearted “Golden Girls” character. Could you imagine White playing the role of the man-hungry Southern belle? It just doesn’t seem right. That’s how it almost happened, though. Rue McLanahan, the actress who played Blanche, spoke to The Television Academy Foundation about the casting of the classic show.

McLanahan said that her agent had the script for “Golden Girls,” sent to her and she loved it. She read the script and immediately identified with Blanche. She called her agent and told her so. Unfortunately, her agent said, that role was going to Betty White. They wanted Rue to play Rose. Her agent told her that was the way it was going to be. She either had to take the role or pass on the show. McLanahan knew that the show was going to be great, so she went in to read for Rose.

Reading for Golden Girls

Rue bit the bullet. She went in and read for the part of Rose. After she finished, director Jay Sandrich said, “I’m going to ask you to do something unorthodox. I know you haven’t prepared for the role of Blanche, but would you mind taking the script down the hall into an empty room and look at it and read for the part?” She played it cool. Rue told Sandrich, “If you insist,” and went down the hall. She came back and auditioned for the part she wanted in the first place. Bothe McLanahan and Sandrich loved it.

Days later, showrunners called both Betty White and Rue McLanahan in to read. When they arrived, Jay informed them that McLanahan would be reading for Blanche and White would read for Rose. This surprised Betty White. She hadn’t even looked at the part. However, she owned the role immediately.

Betty White and Rue McLanahan locked down their roles in “Golden Girls” that day.

McLanahan said Betty White was a perfect fit for the role. About White’s audition, she said, “Her eyes went blank just as Rose’s stayed blank for the next seven years…she did a beautiful, funny job.” Later she spoke about how each of the actresses was perfectly cast but none of them was like their on-screen persona. Betty White was least like her Golden Girls character, according to Rue.

When asked if she is anything like Blanche Devereaux her standard answer is, “Get serious. Just look at the facts. Blanche is a man-crazy, glamorous, extremely sexy, and successful with men, Southern belle from Atlanta, Georgia. I’m not from Atlanta.”