‘The Golden Girls’: Rue McClanahan Revealed Which Part She Preferred Over ‘Blanche Devereaux’ in 1991 Interview

by Suzanne Halliburton

Golden Girls fans, picture it, Blanche as Sophia. Doesn’t make sense, does it?

But during an interview in 1991 on the Today morning show with all the Golden Girls, Rue McClanahan mused about the part she wanted to play — Sophia.

“I still want to play Sophia when I grow up,” McClanahan quipped.

It’s hard to imagine the cast as anything but McClanahan as Blanche, Bea Arthur playing Dorothy, Betty White as Rose and Estelle Getty as Sophia. The on-screen chemistry with the cast was perfection. All four actresses won Emmy Awards, all coming in consecutive years.

The show was on from 1985 through 1992 and remains popular in syndicated reruns. We still can’t get enough of the Golden Girls, who showed us that women of a certain age can be far more fun than their younger counterparts.

But initially, show creators thought about different women for the roles. For one, the director wanted Rue McClanahan to read for Rose, the naive widow from St. Olaf, Minn. Rose could tell a long-winded story that would put anyone to sleep out of sheer boredom. The comedy came when her roommates chastised her and Rose reacted to them.

McClanahan played a similar character to Rose in the sit-com Maude, which starred Bea Arthur. McClanahan might have said she wanted to be Sophia, but she really wanted to play Blanche.

“Oh, my God, I wanted to play Blanche,” McClanahan told Today. “This was a part I was born to play.”

McClanahan wasn’t a true Southerner like Blanche, who was from Georgia. Rather, McClanahan grew up in Tulsa, Okla. But on the show, McClanahan wore her southern charm like a gaudy diamond ring.

Plus, McClanahan, as Blanche, wore custom-made clothes. She had it in her contract that she could keep all the clothes. When she died in 2010, McClanahan had 11 closets full of Blanche outfits.

Golden Girls Director Initially Wanted Another Actress to Play Dorothy

Meanwhile, Golden Girls director initially wanted other actresses to play Dorothy. The part actually was written with a “Bea Arthur” type in mind. First choice for the role was Lee Grant. But Grant didn’t want to play a character old enough to have grandchildren. NBC president Brandon Tartikoff didn’t want Arthur as Dorothy. She didn’t test as lovable enough with a potential audience.

Plus, show creator Susan Harris thought about casting Betty White as Blanche. White already had played a similar man-eater kind of role on the Mary Tyler Moore Show. She was Sue Ann Nivens, who White once described as the “neighborhood nymphomaniac.”

Estelle Getty as Sophia stole every scene. Her character had no filter. In her 80s, Sophia felt free to say any quip that popped into her head. But Getty was the same age as the rest of the actresses. So she had to sit in hair and makeup for far longer to turn into an 80-year-old woman, who like to start every story with “Picture it.”

So no, we can’t picture the Golden Girls any other way.