One of the The Golden Girls found out she earned her iconic role because of Hollywood chatter between agents.
Literally. Bea Arthur got a call from her agent one day, asking her about this new show called the Golden Girls. The agent thought Arthur was keeping secrets.
Arthur recalled the conversation when she was doing an interview in 2001 to promote her new one-woman show. Arthur told the reporter:
“My agent called me one day and said, “What’s this that I hear about you doing a new series on NBC?” I said, “I don’t know what you’re talking about.”
“Apparently the script said ‘a Bea Arthur type,'” Arthur recalled. “Eventually I got my hands on the script. It was so literate and so funny and so adult that I said to myself, I must do this. I had no idea at the time that it would become a cult classic. The really, hip gay guys – evidently they used to watch it wearing costumes at bars. What fun.”
Golden Girls Created ‘Bea Arthur’ Type For Dorothy, Then Cast the Original Bea
As we all know, Bea Arthur became Dorothy Zbornok, daughter of Sophia (Estelle Getty) and best friends of Rose (Betty White) and Blanche (Rue McClanahan).
And yes, there was a “Bea Arthur type.” Arthur was a striking, tall woman with a deep voice. And she didn’t fight the aging process. She embraced it.
In the 1970s, Arthur became a TV star via All In the Family and Maude. Arthur was Maude Findlay, Edith Bunker’s cousin. Norman Lear added Arthur to All in the Family after watching her superb work on Broadway. Maude often butted heads with Archie.
She was a liberal feminist to his conservative working man. And she definitely was a different sort of character. Maude was married to her fourth husband. On the show, she talked about everything a middle-aged woman would be going through.
Show Was Ground-Breaking As It Featured Four Aging, Vivacious Women
So you can understand why NBC wanted a Bea Arthur type for a new show like the Golden Girls. This innovative sit-com would feature three middle-aged women living together in a Miami home. Plus, they made room for her mother, Sophia. There were three widows and a divorcee (Dorothy). Men were like accessories. The women often changed them or pondered why they didn’t have enough of them. But they weren’t absolutely necessary.
As Arthur mentioned in the interview, the Golden Girls did have a gay following. For one, writers included gay characters. Blanche’s brother came out to her on the show and then married his boyfriend, a policeman. Dorothy’s friend from college was a lesbian, who was mourning the loss of her partner.
She fell in love with Rose. Plus, Estelle Getty, who played sassy Sophia, starred on Broadway in Torch Song Trilogy, a show about a Jewish drag queen. On the Golden Girls, Sophia’s son, and Dorothy’s brother, Phil, was a married crossdresser.
Arthur talked about how TV drastically changed between Maude and the Golden Girls.
“Oh my God, I was amazed,” Arthur said. “Talk about pushing the envelope! We would fight the censors all the time on Maude. By the time Golden Girls came along, anything goes! It was incredible some of the things that we got away with. I would read scripts and say, ‘We can’t do this,’ but we sure did.”