These Two Golden Girls Didn’t Always Get Along

The Big Picture

  • Betty White and Bea Arthur had a backstage feud on
    The Golden Girls
    due to personality conflicts and acting differences.
  • Despite the feud, Betty White and Rue McClanahan were close friends off-camera, playing word games between takes.
  • The incredible chemistry between the women on
    The Golden Girls
    remains unrivaled on screen, despite any off-screen conflicts.


It’s no secret that The Golden Girls is one of the most rewatched television shows out there. The sitcom has everything audiences could want: best friends living together with cheesecake, wild antics, sarcastic comments, and undying support, all the while trying to figure out life post-menopause. On-screen, they would easily play off each other by roasting or building up each other, but it wasn’t always sunshine behind the scenes. Years after the show ended, audiences found out about a backstage feud between Betty White andBea Arthur. From clashing personalities and different acting styles to Emmy wins, this now-famous feud was revealed years after the series ended.


The series centers around three single women and one divorcée, all of whom are living their golden years together under one roof in Miami, Florida. They prove the vitality of older women in every episode while also balancing it out with serious topics that all generations have to deal with. Over the course of The Golden Girls‘ run, this included many subjects that were not yet widely talked about, including mental illness, addiction, sexual desire, and the fact that age is just a number. Although the characters had their tiffs on the series, they always seemed to be able to resolve their issues by the end of each episode — but off-screen, things were slightly different for two cast members.


The Golden Girls

Four previously married women live together in Miami, sharing their various experiences together and enjoying themselves despite hard times.

Release Date
September 14, 1985

Cast
Bea Arthur , Betty White , Rue McClanahan , Estelle Getty

Main Genre
Comedy

Seasons
7


What Happened Between Betty White and Bea Arthur?

Years after the show finished and most of the other Golden Girls cast had passed away, White gave an interview in which she spoke about how Arthur didn’t like her very much and found her to be a pain in the neck. According to White, however, her attitude was the problem: she was always sunny and optimistic, which seemed to conflict with the quieter and more reserved Arthur. White loved interacting with the audience in between takes and would often end up making new friends as a result. According to Arthur’s son, Matthew Saks, Arthur found this to be unprofessional, and that it was better to conserve energy and remain focused on the scene, instead. White could do both seamlessly, and it apparently rubbed Arthur the wrong way.


The two actresses also came from different professional backgrounds. White had worked in television for her entire career and was used to the subtle jokes of The Mary Tyler Moore Show, while Arthur was used to working in a Norman Lear-type comedic setting, like Maude, which was filmed like a theater production with close-up reactions. She also hailed from Broadway and shows like Mame, where people came to see a show with complex moving parts. White had gotten her start on game shows like Password, and as a result of that, Arthur allegedly thought that White was the lesser actress. White also learned her script immediately (sometimes even at the show’s table reads) and would be able to incorporate new lines and jokes, while Arthur had her script in her hands until the very last minute before taping. According to Saks, Arthur unknowingly carried an attitude that it was fun to have someone to be mad at, and since Arthur and White had such different personalities, she was the one to draw the short straw. Ultimately, this led to Betty White becoming Bea Arthur’s nemesis during the show’s seven-year run.


Related

‘The Golden Girls’ Most Controversial Episode Was Banned From Streaming

Hulu went on to reverse the decision.

The Real Roots of Betty White and Bea Arthur’s Feud

By that seventh season of The Golden Girls, Bea Arthur was ready to call it quits. Some say that Arthur simply wanted the show to go out on top, but another theory is that Arthur was offended by what she called the show’s “Dorothy bashing.” The other actresses could brush off any digs that were made at their character’s expense because they weren’t necessarily true of the actors themselves — like Sophia (Estelle Getty) being old, Blanche (Rue McClanahan) being a little looser, or Rose (White) being dumb. However, for Arthur, her character was constantly being made fun of for her physical traits, like having masculine tendencies or zero sex appeal. This took a toll on Arthur, and seemed to have chipped away at her desire to continue the show.


However, it hadn’t always been like this during filming. Before their so-called feud began, White and Arthur lived close to each other and would often carpool together throughout the show’s beginning seasons. In an interview with Parade, Rue McClanahan even said that Arthur wouldn’t go to lunch with her unless White was there. This is ironic, to say the least, as McClanahan was the one who convinced Arthur to take the role in the first place, telling her long-time friend that she’d be a fool to pass up such a great opportunity. The two had first worked together on Maude many years before and became good friends as a result, and McClanahan knew that Arthur would be perfect for the part.


Other rumors argue that the feud started because White won an Emmy before Arthur. All the Golden Girls were nominated during the first season, but Betty White was the only one who won the category of Outstanding Lead Actress in a Comedy Series. Eventually, each member of the main cast would win an Emmy for their performances on the show: McClanahan in 1987, Getty in 1988, and Arthur in 1988. As McClanahan wrote in her memoir, My First Five Husbands…And the Ones Who Got Away, Arthur was distraught and downright furious when White won. Sadly, their collective Emmys apparently weren’t enough to squash the beef between the two of them, and their relationship was never the same.

The Hidden Harmony Behind the Scenes of ‘The Golden Girls’

Bea Arthur as Dorothy, Rue McClanahan as Blanche, and Betty White as Rose talking in The Golden Girls.
Image via NBC

These seasoned TV legends are prime examples of professionalism, considering that they continued to work together without any public knowledge of a feud. If they had said or done something more about it, it would have branded them as difficult or unbecoming. Plus, if viewers had known about the feud, the magic of The Golden Girls might not have had the same impact, so perhaps it was concealed for the show’s long-term success.


Even though some members of the cast didn’t always get along off-screen, the Golden Girls’ chemistry is unrivaled, demonstrating their exemplary acting abilities. These professionals knew their craft and played off each other so well that it’s almost impossible to think they wouldn’t have gotten along in real life. Luckily, we can re-watch The Golden Girls episodes and see the magic these women created together, regardless of any behind-the-scenes feud.

The Golden Girls is available to watch on Hulu in the U.S.

Watch on Hulu


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