January 5, 2014

Golden Girls Still Golden, 3 Decades Later

Television's "The Golden Girls" sitcom, was first introduced to the world on September 14, 1985 and ran on NBC from 1985-1992.  Although Cynthia Fee's rendition of the theme song became better known, it was licensed from Andrew Gold's song which was released a few years earlier (see https://youtu.be/voNEgCKzves for the original artist's release which got some radio airplay back in 1978).  The show was set in a (fictitious) ranch house owned by the character Blanche Devereaux, at least until Season 7, Episode 4 ("That's For Me to Know").  In that episode (S7/E4), Blanche supposedly shared ownership of the house with her two longtime roommates (Dorothy Zbornak and Rose Nylund).  The decision to share ownership was prompted by Blanche's plans to install a hot tub, but she gets more than she bargained for when a city inspector (whom Rose notified) tells her that she either has to lose a renter or make modifications to her home which would cost more than $10,000, which she said she couldn't afford  without raising the rent.  Dorothy suggests selling her and Rose a share of the house as a way of getting around the burdensome zoning restriction.  Blanche finally agrees to make Dorothy and Rose co-owners of her house in order to skirt the law, although nothing more was made of the change of ownership beyond that.

The address for that home was supposedly 6151 Richmond Street, Miami, FL (although no such Miami address exists in the real world, hence no real-life zip code exists).  Viewers must therefore speculate on the actual Miami neighborhood where the home was supposedly located.  We know it was not in Miami Beach, because the girls decide to stay in a Miami Beach hotel as their regular home was fumigated for termites in Season 2, Episode 2 (S2/E2) in the episode entitled "Ladies of the Evening" (in which the girls are mistaken for prostitutes and arrested).

Several different episodes mention various Miami locations, including Biscayne Boulevard, arguably a major north-south avenue transversing the entire city, while another episode mentions Pompano Drive, and in yet another, Rose asks Dorothy and Blanche if they’d like to go to Coconut Grove for lunch (her treat) to celebrate their friendship.  These clues suggest a house located somewhere between Coconut Grove and the affluent suburb of Coral Gables.  However, the reality is there was never a stated area of town they live in, and the homes in the area are neither particularly grandiose, historic, nor is the neighborhood particularly ethnic (ruling out neighborhoods such as Little Havana or Little Haiti).

In real life (at least in the first season), the exterior scenes of the home were filmed at a real house located at 245 North Saltair Avenue, (West) Los Angeles, CA 90049, in the hills of Brentwood (see photo above), although the landscaping of the house is known to look a bit different today. (Its located just west of the 405 highway and just north of Sunset Blvd.)  From the second season onward, exterior shots were actually filmed at the Walt Disney World Hollywood Studios theme-park in Orlando, FL (see photo below) where they built an exact replica of the house, which also became part of the studio tour there, at least until it (the replica) was torn down in 2003 and replaced with a new attraction.

Source: Flickr Partyhare, from Disney Hollywood Studios

Tearing down theme park attractions is a fairly routine matter; Universal Studios Orlando once featured a full-scale reproduction of the "I Love Lucy" apartment set at the park.  Although the retail store still existed for my last visit, it had been downsized considerably and I believe could be removed to make room for future attractions (if it hasn't been done already).

6151 Richmond Street House Layout Subject to Some Dispute

"The Golden Girls" home layout is also the subject of some dispute, since the actual set routinely only focused on just 2 rooms: the living room and the kitchen.  Occasionally, some episodes featured a bedroom, a bathroom or even a garage, yet those rooms were never part of the show's primary set.  One thing is clear: until "The Golden Girls", the Hawaiian term "lanai" (defined as a veranda, particularly a furnished one) had never become mainstream in the American English language.  At best, people knew of "Aloha" and maybe "Mele Kalikimaka" (Merry Christmas, which was made famous by singer Bing Crosby), but thanks to "The Golden Girls", a new Hawaiian term entered the American lexicon.  Scenes from the actual lanai were relatively few but occasional appearances emerged during the show, including the first season.  But the location of the lanai is, shall we say, open to debate?

Indeed, much like the actual Miami neighborhood, the precise layout of the house was never made clear.  Now, before I get too far, I should note that the actual house layout has been the subject to considerable debate due (in part) to discrepancies observed throughout the series.  The best discussion of these inconsistencies is observed in The Golden Girls' Wiki, which can be found at http://goldengirls.wikia.com/wiki/6151_Richmond_Street.

Different people have come up with varying ideas of the floor plan based on descriptions of the house from the series itself.  Even that can be subject to debate, although people can generally agree on how the rooms looked inside.  Occasional discontinuities are more likely to happen when a show runs for so many seasons.  I've placed several layouts below, or at http://bit.ly/1appwkQ.

For example, in the opening scene (Season 2, Episode 1 [S2/E1], "End of the Curse") shows the outside of the house, and the garage and driveway are on the left side of the house, whereas in the show's intro, the garage is on the right side.  In that episode, the girls raise minks in the garage, which is accessed from the back corner of the kitchen, hence the garage is actually on the opposite side of the house.  Furthermore, the lanai seems to be surrounded on 3 sides by the house, but the hallway leading to the lanai (and the way the girls enter from the left) would put it on the very front corner, surrounded by nothing.  There were also references in the show from Blanche that she could sunbathe in the nude on the lanai without any neighbors noticing.  Among the other inconsistencies include the following:
  • The door in the kitchen that supposedly lead to the "garage" was really a passageway to the back hall (where the Girls' rooms were located) to get backstage
  • Blanche's room, if you look back at the end of the hall in some episodes, was actually a door to backstage
  • In the Pilot episode, the Lanai is located right in back of the living room and Blanche's room is back off to the left beside the lanai
  • In other episodes, the Lanai is back off to the left of the living room, and Blanche's bedroom is at the end of the hall
Inconsistencies aside, the fictitious house feels like a second home (much as Lucy & Ricky's apartment did) for an entire generation of viewers.  We know for a fact it was a Hollywood set, as the photo below shows:

Photo of the studio set for "The Golden Girls"

Now, 30 years later, the show's decor seems dated (although a search through Flickr shows that some have found similar furniture for sale, see http://www.flickr.com/photos/skinnytie/4643140232/sizes/z/ for details); it was supposed to be themed like Miami during the 1980s, although wicker was popular nationwide at that time.  In Season 1, Episode 2 (S1/E2, "Guess Who's Coming to the Wedding?"), we see our first glimpse of the lanai when Dorothy confronts her ex-husband Stanley and tears off his toupee while out on the lanai, with occasional scenes in different episodes also out on the back veranda.

2012-2013 Era: Artisians on Etsy.com Bring "The Golden Girls" Home

During the summer of 2013, a scale model (scaled at 1:72) of the main set was made available for the primary set on Etsy (see http://www.etsy.com/listing/108583630/golden-girls-house-scale-model-6151).  The producer got a lot of positive reviews, and came back with several more, which were available for sale about a month later.  The producer sold out quickly on both the original and the subsequent items, suggesting he could find it lucrative making reproductions of the house, although it also suggests that the market for commercial producers could potentially mine for gold with old TV set miniatures, although its unclear whether Disney or any toy companies have much appetite for it.  He has since started selling reproductions of Lucy & Ricky Ricardo's apartment.

Shortly thereafter, another budding craftsman created a set of Lego people (see http://bit.ly/16Ey8Ij for the news) with the four main castmembers of "The Golden Girls" and sold in on Etsy.com complete with a wicker purse for Sophia, a coffee mug for another, and a Lego cheesecake for all of them to share.  Although the Lego Golden Girls were cute, the price was  higher than the scaled version of their ranch house in Miami, though the scale model of the house sells for more now than it did originally.

Both are selling briskly, suggesting that the market is still healthy for these items.  The point is that these are evidence the show has touched several generations and is therefore likely to remain around for a while longer.

This show, perhaps more than others of the same era ("Family Ties" comes to mind, catch my post on that show at http://goo.gl/DRmhw) seems as timely today as it did nearly 30 years ago when it premiered.  Some of the reason can be attributed to the fact that it has never left the TV airwaves.  Few shows aside from "I Love Lucy" can make such a claim.  The show's origin is attributed to former NBC executive Brandon Tartikoff, who Parade magazine said (see http://ow.ly/scb2r) got the idea for the series while visiting an elderly aunt. His aunt's neighbor was also her best friend, and he was amused at how they constantly bickered with one another, yet they always remained pals.

Origins for "The Golden Girls"

However, it was really "Soap" creator (not to mention "Benson" and a few others) Susan Harris who actually brought the idea of "The Golden Girls" to life for NBC television.  Harris was already an experienced sitcom writer who had previously written scripts for "Love, American Style", "All in the Family", and "The Partridge Family" to name a few.  She also wrote the groundbreaking abortion episode for the Bea Arthur-starring (and Rue McClanahan) series "Maude" in the 1970s which won Harris the Humanitas Prize.  She and her then-husband started a company in Los Angeles to create television programming on behalf of networks.

Ms. Harris had a reputation for being difficult to work with (and for), although her involvement was somewhat limited once the show was turned over to the network.  Susan Harris also had a reputation of creating shows and then leaving them, and she admitted to a reporter:

"It's true. I'm the first to admit that.  My [then] husband has referred to me as a creator-deserter."

However, she added some of the reasons for that.

After "Soap," for which she was constantly writing, she said "I vowed I would never do that to myself again. But it doesn't mean I just write the pilot and take off", adding "I write notes, read scripts. I'm around."

But the show's success can really be attributed to the writers and the cast.

Core Audiences for "The Golden Girls": Beyond Middle-Aged Women

Regardless of the show's origins, it drew audiences from well beyond the core, middle-aged women it was originally intended to target.  For example, a 2005 study by Simmons Market Research determined that more gays and lesbians watched "The Golden Girls" than the general population in any given week.  The show touched on homosexuality more than once: Blanche's brother came out as gay in one episode (and later came back with his soon-to-be husband in another episode), In another episode, Dorothy's college friend was a lesbian who fell for Rose.

Actresses Rue McClanahan (Blanche) and Betty White (Rose) and one of "Golden Girls" writers Marc Cherry revealed what they thought made the show so appealing to the gay community in a meeting at the Paley Center in Los Angeles several years ago (Rue McClanahan passed away on June 3, 2010).  You can catch that short video clip below, or by visiting http://youtu.be/EeW-G1vBKkY:

Taking "The Golden Girls" Off Broadway

"Thank You for Being a Friend: The Musical" was an UNauthorized musical parody inspired by the beloved TV sitcom "The Golden Girls" which premiered in New York back in 2009 and starred a cast of drag queens, but and ended up being pretty successful for an off, off, off Broadway production. (see http://goo.gl/GJmhLo for more background on the show itself).  In fact, there is news that "Thank You For Being A Friend", the unauthorized musical based on "The Golden Girls", will return to the New York stage for several weeks starting on January 8, 2014 until February 12, 2014 (see the news at http://ow.ly/sbP8I).

The parody show is/was unapologetic about the fact that it was borrowing from the original, although it took creative license which also makes it immune to most legal challenges.  For example, the characters' names were Blanchette (described as the varicose-veined vixen) instead of Blanche, Dorthea (described as the brainy ball-buster) instead of Dorothy, Roz (described as the lovable airhead) instead of Rose, and Sophie (described as the wisecracking spitfire) instead of Sophia.  They’re spending their golden years together in a Miami bungalow, and Sophie recently left a nursing home known as "Shady Oaks" (instead of Shady Pines).

The storyline goes as follows: When a closeted, gay (former) pop superstar (originally, it was Lance Bass, although the more recent version supposedly features Ricky Martin; both of whom have since come out publicly) moves next door, and his loud, outdoor sex parties keeps the quartet of cheesecake-loving retirees awake at night. The solution pits the gays against the girls at the Shady Oaks annual talent show: if the women win, then no more sex parties; if the gays garner top prize, the sassy seniors must serve as the party's clean-up crew.

The website for the show (http://www.goldengirlsthemusical.com/) has several YouTube clips, including the opening song number, which can be viewed at http://youtu.be/dTO7HkndFLk or below:

To be sure, the New York parody featuring drag queens as the Golden Girls is not the only one.  Similar shows have been produced in San Francisco, Los Angeles, New Orleans, Boston, Ft. Lauderdale and elsewhere.  Clearly, this is an audience that appreciated the show, but never got to see the reunion they were hoping for.

There have been periodic talks of rebooting the show (including a funny cartoon version featuring the Superfriends, catch my post on that at http://goo.gl/aZkMS for details), but none have yet come to fruition!  While variations of shows featuring four primary castmembers have already been very successful on TV (for example, "Sex and the City" followed the same pattern back in the 1990s), there are now talks that ABC television is looking into developing a new comedy about a few (three) older guys (e.g. retirement age) rather than girls.

Golden Puppets Headed to Off Broadway in Autumn 2016

Laughter, spectacular put-downs and familiar friends as Miami's four favorite Golden Girls - Dorothy, Sophia, Rose and Blanche - all reunited as puppets for a lovingly hilarious live tribute/parody show!

In July 2016, there was news that the show was running in Toronto (Ontario, Canada), and Canada's radio network CBC had a nice interview with Australian writer and director Jonathan Rockefeller, who created the show.  Visit http://bit.ly/2bT36Cv for the CBC interview.  The show originated in Australia (it has a website at http://www.thankyouforbeingafriend.com.au/ which might be worth looking at for more).

But Americans won't have to wait too much longer to catch the Avenue Q-like show in New York, as there is news (see http://bit.ly/2aXFeuZ and http://logo.to/2bDNuky for more) that it will appear at the Daryl Roth's DR2 Theatre (located on East 15th Street) in New York, and will run from September 19, 2016 to December 11, 2016 (though the show was subsequently extended), with opening night scheduled for October 3, 2016.

The show's U.S. website can be found at http://www.thatgoldengirlsshow.com/.  For the record, Playbill reports that the set and lighting was designed by David Goldstein whose work is found at http://www.davidgoldsteindesigns.com/ in case you're interested.

Author P.S., October 20, 2016:  A playwright named Thomas Duncan-Watt of Australia accused Jonathan Rockefeller of fraud, claiming his North American puppet-production "That Golden Girls Show! A Puppet Parody!" was a blatant rip-off of his work (see the news at http://nyp.st/2exN9ko for more details).  "We strongly deny these claims and we look forward to vindication in court," Mr. Rockefeller said in a statement.  The lawsuit had not yet been heard by the courts as of this update.

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