BY: Rob Merrill
NEW YORK – It was Sept. 14, 1985, when NBC introduced Bea Arthur, Betty White, Rue McClanahan and Estelle Getty as ‘The Golden Girls.’
A quarter century later, the show is still No. 1 among women who watch the Hallmark Channel, which begins and ends its broadcast day with an episode.
Betty White still sounds giddy when she talks about the show. More popular than ever following her ‘Saturday Night Live‘ hosting gig in May, hit show ‘Hot in Cleveland‘ on TV Land and a scene-stealing turn in the upcoming movie ‘You Again,’ the 88-year-old White spoke to The Associated Press about her never-ending career.
AP: Is retirement a dirty word for you?
White: Isn’t that ridiculous? It is not a dirty word, I am just enjoying what I am doing. If they want me to retire, then stop asking me. Ask and I will say yes unless it is something I really don’t like.
AP: Looking back, did you know when you read the pilot that ‘The Golden Girls’ was going to be something special?
White: We all kind of did. You get a lot of scripts mailed to you and not too many of them are good, but when this one came along it just hit the spot and they sent it to each of us. They sent it to me with the idea of me doing Blanche. Jay Sandrich, who was our director for most of the “Mary Tyler Moore” shows, said if Betty plays another nymphomaniac they are going to think it is Sue Ann Nivens all over again. He said, why don’t we switch them?
AP: Rue auditioned for Rose, right?
White: Rue on ‘Mama’s Family’ had done the mousey sister so it was a good switch. I wasn’t sure who Rose was at first and again it was Jay Sandrich, he said, “She is a total innocent.” There is never a sarcastic word. She takes every word for its obvious meaning. There is no subtlety about her. If someone says, I could eat a horse, she would call the ASPCA because she would think they were going to eat a horse.
AP: Once the four of you started working together, did you know right away that you had great chemistry?
White: The first table read was an experience. I had worked with Bea, I had done a couple of guest shots on ‘Maude.’ I had worked with Rue on ‘Mama’s Family.’ Estelle was a new one to all of us. She came from New York after her hit. We all sat down for the first table read and somebody read a line and then somebody else read a line. You better be ready when you hit it over the net because you are going to get it right back over the net. It was the most exciting … We all began to look at each other because there wasn’t any first reading feeling about it. It was like we had been working together forever. I still get goose bumps thinking about it.
‘Golden Girls’ Flashback: The Cast Shares Their Favorite Moments:
AP: Looking back, what are you most proud of about the show?
White: I send up a prayer of thanks for the writing. We can’t do it without the writing. It has to be on the paper. No matter how much credit they try to take, actors can’t do it unless it is on that page and boy was it on that page. To get that kind of writing is such a privilege.
AP: ‘Golden Girls’ really showed older women in a sexual light. Do you think current day older women are still allowed to be sexy in popular culture?
White: I think we were just trying to tell it like it is. I think older women still have a full life. Maybe the writers don’t address it these days, but it doesn’t change the fact.