Stan Zimmerman, a writer on ‘The Golden Girls,’ discusses this, and more, in his new book ‘The Girls: From Golden to Gilmore’
Not everything was golden for Bea Arthur and Betty White.
According to a new book from TV writer Stan Zimmerman, the two Golden Girls costars had some conflict throughout the filming of the NBC sitcom.
“During our time on set, I never felt tension between the two," Zimmerman writes in The Girls: From Golden to Gilmore. "I only heard stories and recently learned, from producer Marsha Posner Williams on a podcast, that Bea thought Betty was two-faced.”
“Bea liked real people,” he continues. “I had the sense that Betty was more like Sue Ann Nivens, the character she played on The Mary Tyler Moore Show, than she was like Rose. More conniving than the innocent airhead from St. Olaf.”
This was just one item that Zimmerman came across while working on The Girls, his new book about his long career in Hollywood, out today. Zimmerman was a writer on many fan favorite TV shows, including The Golden Girls, Gilmore Girls and Roseanne.
Zimmerman and his writing partner James Berg penned a list of memorable episodes for The Golden Girls, including “Blanche & the Younger Man” and “Adult Education.” In the latter episode, Blanche (Rue McClanahan) takes classes at the community college and experiences sexual harassment from her professor.
“The producers of the show told us very early on, ‘Don't write it like a Facts of Life ‘Very Special Episode,’” Zimmerman tells PEOPLE. “With [The Golden Girls], be honest, be real, be really funny, but just make it a part of their lives so that it wasn’t something that stood out, like we were standing on a soapbox and shaking our finger at people.”
The episode dealt with sexual harassment in a way that was “unheard of” on TV at the time, Zimmerman says.
“I learned early on from Golden Girls that people are much more open to taking in new ideas when they're laughing,” he adds.
Zimmerman also admits that he originally didn’t think he was "a very funny writer” while on the show. Over the course of The Golden Girls’ first season, however, he and Berg ended up writing some iconic show moments, including Dorothy’s famous glare.
“We wrote [the phrase] 'Dorothy shoots her a look. And that's become a thing in writing now, 'shooting a look,’” he says. “But that's something very few actors could do. Bea Arthur could nail a look, and you knew exactly what she meant."
“All she had to do [was] look at Betty White and you knew what she was thinking," he continues. "It saved us a lot of time because we didn't have to think of words.”
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The author also found a friend in Estelle Getty. Zimmerman, who is gay, recalls that he had to hide his sexuality on set, but Getty knew and was supportive.
“Only Estelle Getty figured it out rather quickly and said that she would have our back and keep our secret,” Zimmerman says of the actress, who was also “an early ally for the LGBTQ community.”
“I will always be a Sophia,” he adds.
The Girls: From Golden to Gilmore is now available.
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