Sunday, September 27, 2015

A belated 30th birthday tribute to The Golden Girls: It really WAS the new Maude

In one of the early episodes of The Golden Girls -- even possibly in the 1985 pilot -- Dorothy Zbornak said something that's stayed with me all these years. She and her BFFs Blanche Devereaux and Rose Nylund were sitting around the kitchen table (of course) talking about the trials of getting older. I don't think Dorothy's "ma" Sophia Petrillo was in the room for this particular declaration.

Dorothy acknowledged that she was at an age (55 when the series began, though Beatrice Arthur, the actress who played her, was closer to 63) when 40 actually seemed young. I never thought I'd reach an age where I'd understand exactly what she was saying.

In honor of The Golden Girls' 30th anniversary this month, I've done nothing...so far. I couldn't think of anything I could do that every gay blogger under the sun hadn't already done...until now. As I was thinking of Dorothy's take on 40 this morning, I remembered a blog post I started writing about two years ago when I began revisiting old episodes of Bea's pre-Golden Girls series, the groundbreaking '70s sitcom Maude.

As I started watching those old Maude episodes during a trip to Johannesburg in 2013, I noticed some interesting similarities between not only the shows but also the characters Bea played in them, Dorothy and Maude Findlay. Yes, there were major differences: Maude, unlike Dorothy until the Golden finale, was married...sometimes happily. She was also less restrained and less gullible than Dorothy. Remember that haughty author that Dorothy befriended and Blanche and Dorothy hated? Maude would have had her number from the first sentence.

But one look at Maude's kitchen, and I noticed that it looked almost exactly like the one in which Dorothy offered that memorable take on 40. That's when I started to realize that if you replaced Maude's husband Walter with Stanley Zbornak, The Golden Girls could have been a kinder, gentler Maude's life after divorce and a relocation from New York to Miami. Remember, Dorothy was from New York, too.

Were Maude Findlay and Dorothy Zbornak the same person in different decades and zip codes?

Among the similarities and overlaps between the shows and the top-billed characters...

1. The biggest one is the presence of Rue McClanahan, who played Maude's bestie Vivian, who often came across as Rose in Blanche's body.

2. Both Maude and Dorothy pronounced "despicable" DES-pic-able.

3. Maude performed "Hard-Hearted Hannah" is season 2 episode 10, as did Dorothy in the final Golden Girls season when Blanche was consumed by jealousy after Dorothy became the hit of her favorite watering hole.



4. Two episodes of Maude were dedicated to Maude getting a facelift. Dorothy once admitted to having had her eyes done.

5. The polygamist that Blanche almost married in The Golden  Girls' pilot was played by the same actor who played the older man that almost married Maude's daughter Carol. Incidentally, both Blanche and Carol got involved with younger men over the course of their respective series.

6. Season 2 episode 11 of Maude featured an appearance by the actor who played the man Sophia met in the personals whose dying wife wanted Sophia to replace her.

7. The actress who played wife of the guy who died of a heart attack in Rose's bed appeared in the third episode of Maude's fourth season, "Maude Gets a Job."

8. "What fools these mortals be." That's a Shakespearean line Dorothy once pretentiously quoted, as did Maude in the ninth episode of the second season.

9. Remember when Rose announced that she always sang the song "Over There" when she was scared and the gang broke into it as Blanche was being wheeled into the operating room to have a pacemaker installed? Well, Maude also sang it in season 2 episode 14.

10. In season 3 episode 1 of Maude, the one with a guest appearance by John Wayne, Maude uttered the line: "I for one, intend to question Mr. Wayne on the important issues of the day." Dorothy said the same thing about President George Bush when she learned he'd be coming to their house.

11. Both Maude and The Golden Girls devoted an entire episode to a supposed UFO sighting.

12. There was an episode of Maude in which one of Maude's friends was fighting with her daughter over an inheritance that the younger woman's deceased dad had left her. A similar scenario played out between Rose and her daughter over Rose's late husband Charlie's estate.

13. A character by the name of Miss Devereaux popped up in Maude's "Business Person of the Year" episode. Eerie, right?

14. Both shows had amazing theme songs. Maude's was sung by the late Donny Hathaway, who had Top 40 hits with Roberta Flack in the '70s. Meanwhile, The Golden Girls' "Thank You for Being a Friend" was written by the late Andrew Gold, who had a Top 40 hit with it in the '70s.



15. In addition to the aforementioned double-dipping guest stars, a number of others appeared in episodes of both sitcoms.

Edward Winter appeared in the Maude episode "The Ecologist" and later as the blind guy Blanche dated.

The actor who played with fire when the girls were held hostage by Santa on Christmas Eve in the help center where Rose worked also appeared in the Maude episode "The Gay Bar."

Herb Edelman, who had a recurring role as Dorothy's ex-husband Stanley, was in "Maude the Boss," season 3 episode 11 of the earlier series.

Conrad Janis who played the host of Beat the Devil in the Maude episode "The Game Show" (sounds a bit like The Golden Girls' game show Grab That Dough, no?) was also the dance-off emcee in "One for the Money" on The Golden Girls.


And the winner is...all of us! Maude and The Golden Girls were two of the best sitcoms of all-time, and Bea Arthur remains a national treasure. We're lucky to have had her as a regular in our homes...twice.
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