Considering the massive imprint that The Golden Girls had on culture, it’s hard to imagine it as anything but calculated.
After all, the cast of Betty White, Rue McClanahan, Bea Arthur and Estelle Getty are forever known as their characters. However, it took numerous tweaking and a couple of big changes before it became the show loved worldwide.
Famously, some of the casting was switched up. For example, Betty White was initially set to play Blanche Devereaux, and McClanahan would play Rose. However, the creators of The Golden Girls wondered if that was actually the best decision.
For one, White had played a very similar character to Blanche on The Mary Tyler Moore Show. McClanahan was in the same boat, playing a similar role to Rose on Mama’s Family. Obviously, the two switched and the rest is history.
“They wrote the pilot with me as Blanche,” Betty White said in an interview with wildaboutmovies.com in 2004. “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 neighborhood 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.”
The Golden Girls Star Betty White Learns to be ‘Dumb’
White continued to go behind the golden curtain on The Golden Girls. While the original casting ideas had been known by that point, she gave more detail to the challenge the switch provided.
“It was a perfect switch, in hindsight, but I was a little scared,” White said. “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 Rose could eat a horse, she’d call the SPCA.’”
It’s safe to say that White took Sandrich’s advice to heart. In many ways, Betty White’s role of Rose influenced how people viewed her in real life and what type of personality she would play in roles coming after the show.
But it should come as no surprise that White knocked the role of Rose out of the park. A TV and comedy veteran, White had established herself years prior. This was, in part, thanks to being the sexpot Sue Ann Nivens on “MTM.”
And as White cheekily put it, living a lifestyle like Blanche or Sue’s would’ve been a killer.
“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.”