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Friday, May 13, 2016

Golden Girls Forever: An Unauthorized Look Behind the Lanai

A Detailed Look Back at Four Friends and a Lifetime of Laughs

By Chris Sabga

When "The Golden Girls" first premiered on television in the September of 1985, it was instantly groundbreaking. Never before had women over 50 been portrayed so warmly and richly. Dorothy (Beatrice Arthur), Rose (Betty White), Blanche (Rue McClanahan), and Sophia (Estelle Getty) were complete and fully dimensional human beings. Nothing was off-limits for these Girls: they grappled with sex, aging, medical problems, gender inequality, political-social-economic issues, and – most hilariously – each other.

30 years later, there is finally a book dedicated to these dazzling dames. My first reaction: What took so long? But "Golden Girls Forever: An Unauthorized Look Behind the Lanai" by Jim Colucci was definitely worth the wait!

From the minute you hold it in your hands, you'll be impressed. So many books today cut corners that it's refreshing to see one that looks and feels like a high-quality publication. With its attractive cover, thick pages, and glossy photos, you'll be proud to display this on your proverbial coffee table.

"Behind the Lanai" doesn't cover every single episode, but it comes close. This is an exhaustive guide to "The Golden Girls" with recaps, interviews, and behind-the-scenes anecdotes from three of the four Girls – Bea Arthur, Betty White, and Rue McClanahan – and an endless array of guest stars and writers. However, If you're expecting nasty gossip or catty feuding, look elsewhere. This is a nice, heartfelt remembrance of one of television's all-time great sitcoms.

Speaking of nice...

The show was originally going to be called "Miami Nice."

If you didn't grow up in the 1980s, you might not get the reference. Back then, "Miami Vice" – a hip show about two stylish police officers (played by Don Johnson and Philip Michael Thomas) – was all the rage. "Miami Nice" was a cute play on that. Thankfully, though, the name was changed along the way. "The Golden Girls" has a much nicer ring to it, don't you think?

George Clooney and Quentin Tarantino (among many others) were guest stars.

Yes, that George Clooney. And yes, definitely that Quentin Tarantino. This was early in George's career, and he was already somewhat of a TV fixture – also appearing on shows like "The Facts of Life" and "Roseanne" around this time. There's an anecdote in the book which indicates just how little demand there was for him back in the '80s. Needless to say, fame and fortune would eventually smile in George's direction.

While Clooney already had some experience under his belt when he stepped onto the lanai, "The Golden Girls" was Quentin Tarantino's very first acting job. I wonder if both of them reminisced about their time on the show when they played unlikely brothers in "From Dusk Til Dawn" a decade later?

There was a gay housekeeper – "Coco" – played by Charles Levin.

It's no secret that the Girls had a gay housekeeper in the pilot – pretty progressive for the '80s. His name was Coco and he was played by Charles Levin. However, as these things go, the show was somewhat retooled after the first episode. Levin was dropped from the cast and more focus was placed on the Girls themselves – a wise decision, in retrospect, because Bea, Betty, Rue, and Estelle are still four of the most brilliant comediennes ever to grace the screen.

Fans of both pro wrestling and hilariously bad movies are familiar with Charles Levin too. He's one of the two spineless executives – along with future Oscar nominee David Paymer – in 1989's "No Holds Barred" who was berated by tobacco-slobbering pro wrestler (and WWE Hall of Famer) Stan Hansen for having "teeny wangers" Look up the clip on YouTube and lament how quickly things went downhill for poor Mr. Levin in only four short years!

Another Golden Girl from the Golden Era of TV almost made a guest appearance.

Lucille Ball, of "I Love Lucy" fame, seemed like a natural for a show like "The Golden Girls." While she obviously wasn't one of the four Girls, she was highly sought after for a guest role. Unfortunately, it never happened. As the book so eloquently points out, Lucy had her time in television history and so too did the Girls.

Estelle Getty could never remember her lines.

There's a hilarious anecdote about someone on the set gently asking Estelle for permission to move a prop that contained her dialogue. Her polite response was, "No, you may not." Estelle came from the stage, where months of preparation was the norm. Therefore, she was always a nervous wreck about remembering so many lines so quickly and relied on notes and other shortcuts. Marlon Brando famously did the same thing, so Estelle Getty is in great company. The iconic character of Sophia Petrillo is proof of that.

Recognize the kitchen?

The same kitchen set was actually used on "It Takes Two," a short-lived 1982-1983 sitcom starring another Golden Girl, Patty Duke, and Richard Crenna (of "Rambo" fame).

Bea Arthur almost left the show during the sixth season.

Remember the episode where Dorothy wanted to remarry Stan and the Girls interviewed Debbie Reynolds about becoming their new roommate? All of that was apparently in case Bea decided not to continue with the show. Thankfully, she stuck around for one more season. There were tabloid rumors about on-set squabbles, but the book offers a different – and much milder – explanation: she wanted to perform in the theater.

If you're concerned that I've spoiled all of the good parts, worry not – I've barely scratched the surface. "Golden Girls Forever: An Unauthorized Look Behind the Lanai" is the most detailed and comprehensive history of "The Golden Girls" you'll find anywhere

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