“Golden Girls” star Bea Arthur was an artful dodger of questions. And she managed to put no less a Hollywood mogul than Merv Griffin on the defensive during a 1985 appearance on “The Merv Griffin Show.”
When Arthur appeared on Griffin’s show, Griffin wanted to know if Arthur ever went to singles bars and if she’d ever been picked up.
“Of course, of course,” Arthur said. “Toronto.”
“You got picked up in Toronto?” Griffin asked.
“Well, yes – I mean, in a way,” Arthur hedged. “Yes.”
“Are you bringing up an age thing, Merv?” Arthur then added. “Because if you are, I’m gonna hit you. I really am gonna hit you.”
“No no no,” Griffin protested. “I want to know what happened in Toronto.”
Arthur then deftly changed the topic to how Griffin had been questioning her “Golden Girls” co-star Betty White. She said she resented a question about “the age thing, and how it changes one” and insisted, “I frankly don’t see any difference at all.”
“If I were 30 years younger, you wouldn’t have bothered asking me that question,” Arthur said of the question about being picked up.
“Oh yes I would’ve!” Griffin piped up. “Why are you trying to get away from this story? Who picked you up in Toronto that you had a wild night with?”
“An Indian,” Arthur finally answered. “The fun ones, yeah.”
“Don’t look so shocked, Betty,” Griffin chided Arthur’s co-star.
“She didn’t tell me about this!” White exclaimed.
Watch the entire exchange here:
‘Golden Girls’ Stars Arthur and White Sometimes Clashed
Arthur and White started out as friends. They lived close to each other and commuted to work together for a time. But eventually, tensions rose on the set, especially after White won an Emmy Award for her portrayal of Rose on the show. Each “Golden Girls” actress would have her turn at an Emmy, but the fact that White won before the rest of them really seemed to rankle Arthur.
“My mom was the real deal,” Arthur’s son Matthew Saks told The Hollywood Reporter. “I think she felt she was more of an actress than Betty. Mom came from Broadway. Betty starred on a game show at one point.”
Saks added that White’s habit of chatting up the audience in between takes also bothered Arthur. She came from a different school of acting than White, and would stay backstage, remaining focused on her part, until they started up again. White would “literally go and make friends with the audience,” Saks said.
Moreover, White’s relentlessly cheerful attitude seemed to grate on Arthur at times. And like her characters, White could be extremely chipper.
Still, the two never fought on set. And the shows that their collaboration produced went on to become classic television.