Monday, June 28, 2010

Golden Girls on the Silver Screen

First off, we neglected to mention the passing of Rue McClanahan a few weeks ago. The loss of a Golden Girl deserves recognition, and WWoB certainly dropped the ball on that one. And for that, we say "Sorry!" But we did have this post in the works for a while now so we shall salute Rue and all the Golden Girls with a brief look at their careers on the silver screen.

The Golden Girls debuted on NBC way back in 1985 and ran for seven seasons, almost always finishing in the top 20 shows of the year. Even though I was all of 12 years old when the show debuted I have always been a huge fan of the program. Even though it certainly wasn't aimed at my demographic, I always found the show to be hysterical and it's always made me laugh out loud. I had already been a fan of Betty White and Rue McClanahan from their work on Mama's Family (the original short lived NBC version, not the syndicated run that played on TBS for far too long) and I quickly became a fan of Estelle Getty and Bea Arthur for their perfect comic timing.

All four actresses mostly concentrated their careers on either television or the stage, but they have all made film appearances that I thought would be a unique subject to cover.

The only one of the four girls that tried to turn the success of The Golden Girls into a movie career was Estelle Getty, who in reality was not the eldest of the four on the show...but she played the oldest - Dorthy's mother Sophia Petrillo. During the run of The Golden Girls Getty had two high profile film roles. She played Andrew McCarthy's boss in Mannequin (1987) which also started future sitcom players Meshach Taylor and Kim Cattrall. Estelle Getty received second billing after Sylvester Stallone in the 1992 flop Stop! Or My Mom Will Shoot. Most people couldn't get over the title of the film, but I found it to be a pretty funny movie with Getty playing Stallone's mom who just wants to fight the bad guys along side her son. After The Golden Girls ended, Estelle Getty made an appearance in the talking mouse epic Stuart Little (1999) while taking bit parts on TV here and there. You can also see some pre-Sophia roles in the films: Tootsie (1982), Deadly Force (1983) and Mask (1985). It was her work in the Tony winning broadway play "Torch Song Trilogy" that first brought Getty fame and recognition, but when it came time to cast the film version she was passed over and her role was given to Anne Bancroft. Estelle Getty passed away at age 85 in July 2008.

Bea Arthur played Dorthy Zbornak, she was apparently the most familiar face of the cast to 1985 audiences. She has appeared in a very popular 70's sitcom called Maude. I had never heard of the show for years, and therefor I had no idea who Bea Arthur was when The Golden Girls came on - but I knew she was darn funny!
Bea Arthur's big break came with a role in the Broadway production "Mame" which stared Angela Lansbury as the title character and Arthur as her sidekick. When Mame got the big screen Hollywood treatment in 1974 it was Arthur who kept her role in the movie version and Lansbury was replaced with Lucille Ball. Bea Arthur was always more interested in theatre and television than film. Her only other big screen credit of note is a hilarious cameo in Mel Brooks' History of the World Part I (1981). One of her few post-Golden credits is in a 1995 film called For Better of For Worse, which ran in this country on TNT and it was pretty enjoyable from what I saw. Her very last role was of Larry David's mother on Curb Your Enthusiasm. Bea Arthur died from lung cancer in April of last year.

Man-hungry Blanche Devereaux was played to perfection by Rue McClanahan. Long before this TV gig, Rue started making appearances in forgotten small films starting in the early 60's. She co-stared with Bea Arthur in her series Maude, which brought McClanahan more into the public eye. One of her earliest post-Maude roles is in a film mentioned at WWoB before; a 1980 TV-movie called The Great American Traffic Jam. In the telefilm, Rue sits in a car for two hours with her husband, played by Ed McMahon. (Fun film, I wish it were out on DVD!) During the Golden Girls years, Rue McClanahan was a popular fixture in made-for-TV movies, including a popular trilogy Children of the Bride (1990), Baby of the Bride (1991) and Mother of the Bride (1993). You can turn in Lifetime, Hallmark, Oxygen or any of those other woman channels just about any day and find one of those movies on. Big Screen roles started coming Rue's way in 1995 in the very funny Dear God, which was the first staring role for Greg Kinnear but also featured a great appearance from Tim Conway! Another great movie featuring Blanche is Out To Sea (1997), this is a sit-com of a movie staring Jack Lemmon and Walter Matthau, good stuff! She also shows up in the 1997 big budget epic Starship Troopers. Rue McClanahan was still working up until her death just a few weeks ago. The last chapter of her career was filled with roles in many different TV shows as well as a number of made-for-TV movies. She was 76 when she passed away.

And then we come to Betty White! Dear sweet Betty White, who has literally been working in television since before there was Network television and is currently one of the hottest properties in all of Hollywood. Betty White has always considered herself a television personality and has only been making appearances on the silver screen in the last 15 years. I was excited years ago when she popped up in the Morgan Freeman/Christian Slater action flick Hard Rain (1998). She also did the horror movie Lake Placid in 1999. Betty turns up in a funny scene in the Bruce Willis/Michelle Pfeiffer comedy The Story of Us (1999). In the 2003 Steve Martin comedy Bringing Down the House, White played against her Golden Girls persona of ditzy Rose Nylund, and played Martin's obnoxious, rude and slightly racist neighbor across the street. Every scene Betty's in is hilarious! Her role in last year's The Proposal is getting alot of attention now that Betty White is a huge star, and they'll also be banking on her superfame to anchor the new chick flick You Again, slated for release later this year! Currently, Betty White is 88 years old and working as a series regular on the hit TV Land sit-com Hot In Cleavland.

Thank you for reading...and Thank you for being a friend.

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