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September 1985 saw the birth of some of America’s most treasured pop-cultural heroes (Super Mario Bros., MacGyver), but arguably no one was more beloved than the four irrepressible stars of The Golden Girls.
The sitcom, created by Susan Harris and starring Bea Arthur, then 63, Rue McClanahan, then 51, Betty White, then 63, and Estelle Getty, then 62, followed the antics of four older women living together in Miami. Critically acclaimed right out of the gate (THR called it “the funniest new show of the year”), The Golden Girls sparked a ratings revival for NBC upon airing, stealing almost all network viewership in its time slot on Saturday night and garnering instant awards recognition.
The show earned a Golden Globe nomination for best comedy series every season it ran, totaling seven noms and three wins. All four actresses received multiple individual nominations during the course of the series, though Getty was the only one to score a trophy, winning for her portrayal of the household’s wisecracking Sophia Petrillo in 1986.
After seven seasons, the sisterhood of the Golden Girls met its end in 1992 when Arthur announced her exit from the show. The Golden Palace, a spinoff series that saw the three remaining characters move out of their Miami home and into a self-operated hotel, was canceled after one season.
But The Golden Girls lived on in syndication, in localized international editions (including in Greece and Holland) and in the zeitgeist: In 2013, a nude painting of Arthur by John Currin — which she had not posed for — sold for $1.9 million at a Christie’s auction. Twenty-two years after the show’s end, White, 92 and now the only surviving Golden Girl, admits to getting a bit nostalgic when she catches a rerun on television. “It’s such a blessing to have it still running,” the star of the now-ending Hot in Cleveland tells THR. “Whenever I get a chance, I’ll make a point of flipping it on, and it’s like going back in time — it’s like you’re right back in there.”
This story first appeared in a special Awards Watch issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine.
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