It’s hard to imagine now, but from the mid-’80s to the early ’90s, the hottest comedy on television revolved around four aging women sharing a house in Miami. Yes, NBC sitcom The Golden Girls dominated the ratings and awards shows during its seven seasons. But as you’re about to discover, things didn’t always run so smoothly behind the scenes.
20. Bea Arthur wasn’t the first choice to play Dorothy
Bea Arthur has become so synonymous with divorced grandmother Dorothy Zbornak that it’s difficult to think of anyone else inhabiting the role. But creator Susan Harris initially had Lee Grant in mind, as she’d worked with her on the brief comedy series Fay. Grant, however, turned down the part because of the character’s age – and the rest is history.
19. NBC were reluctant to cast Arthur
She might not have been first choice to play Dorothy, then, but Arthur was actually the inspiration for the character. Indeed, Harris and the actress had collaborated already on a number of episodes of ’70s sitcom Maude. But Arthur wasn’t considered to have been overly endearing to audiences, and so NBC head Brandon Tartikoff had major reservations about casting her in such a key role.
18. Estelle Getty suffered from severe stage fright
Years after the show finished, Estelle Getty admitted that she had been intimidated by her three more experienced co-stars. And that perhaps explains why she suffered from a severe case of stage fright with each episode’s recording. In fact, according to co-star Rue McClanahan, the star would dread each Friday taping from the moment they started dress rehearsals and would sometimes clam up completely on camera.
17. Getty was also scared of death
But stage fright wasn’t the only phobia that Getty had. The actress was reportedly also scared of anything to do with death – a subject, unfortunately, she had to deal with regularly on the hit show. Getty was also the first main cast member to die, passing away in 2008 just before she turned 85.
16. The show originally had a different title
The Golden Girls is such an obvious name for the show that it’s hard to believe it wasn’t the first on the drawing board. However, the sitcom arrived just a year after Don Johnson’s flashy cop show Miami Vice debuted on our screens, and so producers initially toyed with the idea of naming it “Miami Nice.”
15. There was a reason for the seating arrangement
Ever wondered why the kitchen table only ever had room for three of the Golden Girls at any one time? Well, producers were making sure none of the actresses were facing away from the camera, which is why you’ll always see one either standing up or sitting on a high stool. Arthur’s height, however, ensured she was always guaranteed the center seat.
14. Arthur wasn’t fond of Leslie Nielsen
Leslie Nielsen became one of the show’s most famous guest stars in its very final episode when he played Lucas, an uncle of Blanche who whisks Dorothy away to Atlanta for a happy-ever-after ending. However, Arthur certainly wasn’t as enamored with Nielsen off screen as she was on it, even reportedly once calling the Naked Gun icon “idiotic.”
13. The cast didn’t always get along
And Nielsen wasn’t the only cast member to feel the wrath of Arthur’s sharp tongue. According to McClanahan, Arthur really didn’t like White either, even once calling her a c**t at an award ceremony. And McClanahan also admitted that her own relationship with Arthur was often strained, too.
12. McClanahan pushed Arthur to accept her part
The frostiness between McClanahan and Arthur is all the more surprising given that the former actually encouraged the latter to accept the part of Dorothy to begin with. Apparently, McClanahan managed to persuade her unconvinced co-star by asking her, “Why are you going to turn down the best script that’s ever going to come across your desk as long as you live?”
11. Producers considered replacing Arthur for the spin-off
Following the show’s swansong in 1992, three Golden Girls reunited for a spin-off, The Golden Palace. It proved to be short-lived, however, lasting just one season. And Arthur was the only cast member to say no, briefly tempting producers to replace her with another actress so as not to upset the show’s winning balance.
10. Arthur wanted to quit the show earlier
The Golden Palace wasn’t the first time that Arthur had backed away from the rest of the Golden Girls, either. The veteran actress actually wanted to leave her Dorothy character behind after the fifth season, but she was eventually persuaded by producers to continue her role for another two years.
9. Getty rejected several jokes
Arthur was renowned for her work as an activist, but it seems as if she wasn’t the only Golden Girl with principles. Getty once revealed that she made sure her character would never make fun of someone’s physical appearance or sexuality, and she also refused to take part in a joke that made light of domestic violence.
8. Rue McClanahan got to keep her wardrobe
Blanche Devereaux was widely regarded as the most stylish of the Golden Girls. And in a shrewd business move, actress Ruse McClanahan added a clause to her contract stipulating that she could take home her character’s custom-made garments – all 13 closets full of them!
7. There were numerous continuity errors
Eagle-eyed viewers may have spotted that the number of Blanche’s children differs during the course of its seven seasons, as does the age of Dorothy’s son Michael. The reason? Well, the show employed several writing teams throughout, none of whom appeared to be particularly concerned with continuity.
6. Betty White was cast as Blanche
And Dorothy wasn’t the only character who changed faces during the casting process. Betty White was originally touted to play good-time Golden Girl Blanche, as she’d played a similar role on The Mary Tyler Moore Show. Eventually, of course, she accepted the more demure part of Rose instead.
5. Arthur hated cheesecake
Prepare to have your illusions shattered. Yes, The Golden Girls were famous for cutting into a late-night cheesecake at the kitchen table while discussing the episode’s issues. But in reality, Arthur actually hated the taste of the dessert – even though she had to tuck into over 100 cheesecakes during the show’s run.
4. There was nearly another major character
Here’s another little known fact: there was very nearly a fifth honorary Golden Girl, but time constraints forced producers to cut his character. A gay butler called Coco – played by Charles Levin – was living with the girls in the pilot. But despite receiving a thumbs-up from the audience, he never appeared on the show again.
3. Getty was younger than her on-screen daughter
Getty certainly suffered for her art. In real life, Getty was actually younger than both her on-screen daughter Dorothy (Arthur) and Rose (White), but she was cast to play the elderly Sophia Petrillo after producers spotted her playing a mother figure in Broadway production Torch Song Trilogy. And so the actress had to spend three hours in the make-up chair each episode in order to look convincing.
2. Getty had a facelift
And Getty didn’t exactly make things easy for herself or the makeup team, either. Indeed, much to the ire of the show’s producers, during the show’s first summer hiatus she had a facelift to make herself look even younger in real life! Afterwards, then, the actress was forced to spend even more time in the makeup chair.
1. The “Sick and Tired” episode was autobiographical
In the season five opening two-parter, “Sick and Tired,” Dorothy’s persistent illness is dismissed by doctors who claim her symptoms are all in her head. Finally, she receives a diagnosis of chronic fatigue syndrome. This storyline, however, was actually inspired by creator Harris’ real-life struggle with the condition and her own battle to get a medical diagnosis.
As we’ve seen, then, even the most heartwarming and joyous TV shows have their fair share of fascinating behind-the-scenes secrets. And Roseanne is not excluded from this bunch, either. Indeed, even the most loyal fans of the beloved ABC sitcom may not be familiar with the strange on-set stories. So, from George Clooney getting violent with a cake, to Roseanne’s secret crush on John Goodman, here’s what happened when the cameras stopped rolling.
20. It was originally called Life and Stuff
Seems hard to believe now, but the show was not originally conceived as a vehicle for Roseanne Barr. The sitcom’s creator, Matt Williams, envisioned it as more of a collective piece called Life and Stuff. But once Barr was brought on board, her bold personality took over and the show became hers.
19. Michael Fishman was not the original DJ
It’s hard to picture anyone other than Michael Fishman in the role of little bro D.J., but believe it or not, the part originally went to a boy named Sal Barone. Alas, Barone grew too tall after the original pilot was shot, and the role was handed over to Fishman instead. Even funnier to imagine is that a certain Macaulay Culkin was also considered for the character!
18. There was a Roseanne cartoon
Yes, back in the day when TV execs gave stand-ups the Saturday morning cartoon treatment (like Life with Louie and Bobby’s World), they also made a cartoon version of Roseanne. In this animated version, Roseanne was aged eight, and together with her little sister and her buddy (a character modeled on Dan) they dealt with typical kids’ issues and growing pains. Ah, the ’90s…
17. A lot of now-famous writers worked on the show
Many well-known writers cut their teeth on the original Roseanne. Joss Whedon (Buffy the Vampire Slayer) Chuck Lorre (The Big Bang Theory) and Amy Sherman-Palladino (Gilmore Girls) all got their start working on Roseanne. Which may explain why it was such a brilliant and funny show!
16. The Conner House is real
Roseanne might be set in Lanford, Illinois, but of course it’s actually shot on a studio lot in Hollywood. That little yellow house at the beginning, though? Well, that actually exists. It can be found in Evansville, Indiana, where the show’s creator Matt Williams grew up.
15. Sara Gilbert was attending Yale while also on the show
We all know that Lecy Goranson (Becky) famously left the show to go to college, and that Sarah Chalke was brought in to replace her. But fans might not know that Sara Gilbert also continued with her education, too. And she didn’t just attend any old college, either. She went to Yale! However, Gilbert was able to stay on the show while going to classes. She filmed many solo scenes on a New York soundstage.
14. Roseanne once cut off Becky’s hair
Roseanne was often at odds with the show’s producers, and one dramatic stand-off actually involved Becky’s hairstyle. In the ’90s, when Lecy Goranson wanted to cut her hair in keeping with the style at the time, the producers told her she couldn’t. Roseanne, of course, soon heard about this and proceeded to chop away at Goranson’s hair herself!
13. The show was almost canceled in 1995
While Roseanne was wildly successful, it was known for being very tumultuous behind the scenes. And during the show’s eighth season, the whole production almost went belly-up when John Goodman threatened to leave. The network coaxed him into staying, but the show came very close to being canned.
12. It blazed a trail in giving prominence to gay characters
Roseanne Barr has a gay brother and sister in real life, so it was important to her to have gay people represented on the show. Despite pushback from the network, Roseanne wrote in a boss who was openly gay, and also had her TV mom come out of the closet. The show even featured a gay marriage which, for the time, was groundbreaking. In fact, the move was considered so controversial that the network chose to air it at a later time!
11. Roseanne had some wonky plastic surgery after season five
File this under one of the more bizarre Roseanne Barr stories: following season five, the star decided to get a total face overhaul. She had a nose job, a facelift, cheek implants, and also got her eyes done. And according to Barr, the surgeon actually left a scalpel inside her and had to open her face back up to get it out! Moreover, Roseanne still hadn’t healed completely by the time the show started shooting again, hence the heavy makeup she’s seen wearing in season six.
10. Roseanne made a lot of dough
While Roseanne Conner was scraping by and struggling to make ends meet, Roseanne Barr was living the high life. The actress received a whopping $650,000 per episode in the show’s final season before the reboot. That’s a large amount now – and was a huge amount back then!
9. Corn is referenced in every episode
Yup, though only diehard fans might notice this, corn is either mentioned or featured (often via corn flakes) in every episode of the original show. One can only assume this is a corny nod to the Midwest?
8. Roseanne had a huge crush on John Goodman
The show always painted a very affectionate relationship between Roseanne and Dan, and it appears Roseanne Barr had the hots for John Goodman in real life as well! It was apparently a well-kept secret on set, though the cat is out of the bag now. And when you think about it, it’s really not that surprising, considering the wonderful chemistry the pair have onscreen.
7. Roseanne and George Clooney once destroyed a cake with a baseball bat
Remember how megastar George Clooney used to play Jackie’s love interest? Well, one of the weirder behind-the-scenes stories from the original show involves Clooney and a cake. You see, when Roseanne broke records in the ratings, the network sent the cast a cake in the shape of a number one. However, Roseanne thought the network was poking fun at her weight. So naturally she and Clooney grabbed some baseball bats and smashed the cake to bits. Then the pair took a picture of the carnage and sent it to ABC.
6. Roseanne took a serious stand on lines that she found offensive
Barr is known for being, shall we say, headstrong. And she could be particularly stubborn when it came to her character’s dialogue. In fact, there was one episode where she outright refused to utter a line she found offensive. She was supposed to say to Dan, “You’re my equal in bed, but that’s it.” Roseanne wouldn’t do it, and ABC lawyers were brought in to mediate. And though she was eventually forced to say the line, it never made it on air. So, the star got her way in the end!
5. Roseanne suffered a nervous breakdown after season one
When Roseanne first started on the show, she had never worked in television before. Sure, she had time onstage as a stand-up, but she was in no way prepared for the on-set politics, pressure from producers, and sheer stress of starring in her own show. In fact, she was so overwhelmed that she actually suffered a nervous breakdown after the curtain dropped on season one.
4. Roseanne’s real-life children suffered as a result of her success
At the height of her fame, Roseanne was one of America’s favorite moms. But in real life, her own children weren’t faring so well. Roseanne’s kids say their mom’s success greatly impacted their family, as Roseanne was largely absent from home. At one point, Roseanne had to actually stop shooting an episode in order to look for her real-life daughter, who had run away from home.
3. Roseanne helped John Goodman get sober
John Goodman also felt the pressure of being on such a popular TV show. Goodman struggled with alcohol and addiction, and he even began to drink on the job. What’s more, he actually credits Barr with helping him to finally get clean.
2. They pay tribute to Glenn Quinn
In the original show, Irish actor Glenn Quinn played Mark Healy, Becky’s handsome loser of a husband. Sadly, Quinn died of a drug overdose in 2002, and he is the only main cast member who is absent from the new revival. But while he is gone, he is not forgotten: in the show’s reboot, Darlene’s son is named Mark as a tribute to the late actor.
1. Roseanne had three different husbands during the course of the show
It seems Roseanne Barr’s love life is as unpredictable as her political leanings. During the course of the initial seasons of Roseanne, which ran from 1988 to 1997, Roseanne had a total of three different husbands. The first was Bill Pentland, who was an executive consultant on the show. The second was Tom Arnold, who worked on the show as a writer, producer and actor. And the third was Ben Thomas, Barr’s former bodyguard who appeared in two episodes of the show.