Frontiers Magazine published an oral history of The Golden Girls this week, and let me tell you something, it’s an absolute goldmine for any fan of the show. During the lengthy conversation, former writers and producers chat about their first impressions of the show’s concept (they thought it was impossible to do successfully), the cast’s thinking they were too young to write old women well (Bea Arthur called them “children”), as well as the show’s immediate gay following.
But the best story in here, the one I will remember long after I’ve checked into Shady Pines, is this gem from Mort Nathan and Winifred Hervey, who co-wrote and co-produced the show’s first few seasons. Behold:
Nathan: TV Guide had done a piece on the show: “The Golden Girls—Is it still as good as it was the first year?” And they asked random people what they thought of the show, and this one housewife said she didn’t think the show was as good and that Bea Arthur’s character wasn’t as interesting. They mentioned her by name—Mrs. Betty Johnson, Sioux Falls, Iowa. So Bea reads this at lunch and then gets on the phone and asks information for this Betty Johnson’s number. And she calls her. And she picks up, this TV Guide woman, and Bea says, “This is Bea Arthur, and I want to talk to you about what you said in TV Guide.” The woman was horrified. She said she was misquoted. “I didn’t mean it. Is it really you? I love the show. I take it back.” And Bea goes, “That’s what I thought. OK, that’s better.”
Hervey: And then Bea said “That person’s going to go tell everyone that I called her, and no one’s going to believe her.”
Picture it. Sioux Falls. 2003. A frail but mentally sharp woman named Betty Johnson tells that story to her children at the breakfast table. Her tall daughter scoffs and, in her deep voice, says, “Ma, I have a feeling you’re lying.”
The daughter’s friend interrupts. “Be positive, Helen!”
“OK, I’m positive you’re lying!”
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Image via NBC.