On the 25th anniversary of its launch, Pat Poland revisits the show and reveals the link between Middleton, Co. Cork and Blanche, the ‘man eater’ of the series.
On the evening of 14 September 1985, the American television network NBC aired a new half-hour sitcom called The Golden Girls. The storyline revolved around the relationship between four mature women – three widows and a divorcée – who share a house in Miami, Florida.
From the moment the show opened with its catchy theme, ‘Thank You For Being a Friend’, for the next thirty-odd minutes the viewers were hooked. It was an instant ratings hit. The series would eventually run to 180 episodes over seven seasons, and win many awards.
The owner of the house is a rich widow called Blanche Deveraux, played by Rue McClanahan, who initially lets out a room to Rose Nylund (Betty White). They are soon joined by divorcée Dorothy Zbornak (Bea Arthur). When Dorothy’s mother’s retirement home is burned down she joins them, too.
Sixty-two-year old Estelle Getty, who played the part of the (supposed) eighty-something feisty Sophie Petrillo, has often been described as the star of the show with her one-line hilarious wisecracks.
She frequently began her improbable stories with the line: ‘Picture it! Sicily, 1922!’ An outrageous yarn about a torrid love affair with a young Winston Churchill or Charles de Gaulle was sure to follow. Getty’s height of 4ft 8in was seen as the perfect foil to Arthur’s 5ft 9in.
But who were the memorable women who made the show such a success?
Rue McClanahan (‘Blanche’)
In a role that the producers originally considered for Betty White, the femme fatale of the quartet was played by Rue McClanahan.
McClanahan was born in Healdton, Oklahoma on 21 February 1934. She was the daughter of Rheua-Nell, a beautician, and Bill McClanahan, a builder. A Methodist, she was of Irish and Native American extraction, her Choctaw great-grandfather being Chief Running Hawk.
In 1847, the Choctaw people, themselves poor, sent $170 to starving Irish families during the Great Famine. A beautiful sculpture in Midleton, Co. Cork, commemorates the event. (Recently, nearly $2 million was donated by the Irish to help Native Americans suffering during the COVID pandemic).