Wednesday, July 11, 2007

But ya are, Blanche, ya are a supporting character!

A few years ago I saw Bea Arthur’s one-woman show (in Nyack, NY, just 15 miles up the road from Tuckahoe), and she had a throwaway line about having a better time on the set of Maude than on the set of The Golden Girls. I surmised that she and Betty White didn’t get along, since she had already worked with Rue McClanahan on Maude. But after reading William Henderson and Mark Peikert’s interview with McClanahan in the July 11 In Newsweekly (doesn’t seem to be online anymore), I stand corrected. Here’s what “Blanche” had to say about “Dorothy”: "What I hear from the public is that [Blanche or Sophia] are their two favorites. The rare person prefers Rose. And even rarer, Dorothy! I don’t know anyone who would pick Dorothy! … Of course, Bea always thought she was the star of the show. Not a big enough star, because she wanted to be Maude again and have other people supporting her rather than be one of the group. She never did feel comfortable as one of the group." The Golden Girls has never been one of my favorite sitcoms, but it’s a pleasurable enough half-hour largely because of Arthur. Hers is the only character that isn’t reducible to a cliché — as opposed to Blanche’s Southern belle, Rose’s Midwestern twit, and Sophia’s feisty old lady — and all the other characters are defined largely by Dorothy’s reactions to their absurdities. There was a reason why she was always seated at the center of the kitchen table, with Blanche and Rose on either side to feed Dorothy inspiration for her looks of exasperation and incredulity. And it was no surprise that when Arthur left the show, the other three actresses failed in their attempt to carry on (in a spin-off called The Golden Palace). Sorry, Rue, but I guess you’re not the first Blanche to delude yourself.

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