Thirty-five years ago, The Golden Girls burst into American living rooms. The show quickly charmed viewers with the heartwarming lives of four older friends navigating a modern world. After airing for only seven seasons, the sitcom has become iconic through syndication and its oddly relevant storylines. Part of the reason the show was so much fun for viewers was that the kinship among castmates Bea Arthur, Betty White, Rue McClanahan, and Estelle Getty seemed authentic.
But as time passed, fans gradually discovered all was not golden on the set of The Golden Girls.
After Bea Arthur died in 2009, Betty White — the last living member of the four stars before her January 2022 death — finally opened up about what started the feud between the two actors.
Why viewers love ‘The Golden Girls’
The Golden Girls aired from 1985 to 1992 on NBC. Filmed in front of a live studio audience, the sitcom followed four widows and divorcées dealing with current issues, concerns about aging, and relationships.
Starring Bea Arthur, Betty White, Rue McClanahan, and Estelle Getty, the show was an instant hit. It garnered consistently high ratings and 68 Emmy Award nominations. Fans loved the chemistry among the castmates and seeing older characters deal with real issues. It was a stark change from the usual formula of ’80s sitcoms.
Viewers welcomed the Emmy-winning actors into their homes every week. But in the ensuing years, fans found that a rift between two co-stars hinted they didn’t enjoy each other’s company.
Things were not easy between ‘The Golden Girls’ co-stars Betty White and Bea Arthur
Though their time in front of the audience appeared harmonious, Bea Arthur was not fond of Betty White. When Rue McClanahan released My First Five Husbands and the Ones Who Got Away: A Memoir in 2007, her book’s behind-the-scenes anecdotes shined a light on White and Arthur’s tumultuous relationship.
One account even mentions that when McClanahan introduced her husband to Arthur, the latter remarked, “Rue I like, Betty’s a c***.”
Although Arthur had done more risqué work later in her career, the jab wasn’t something fans saw coming from the dignified actor.
And in an interview with The Village Voice in 2011, White said of Arthur: “She found me a pain in the neck sometimes. It was my positive attitude — and that made Bea angry sometimes. Sometimes if I was happy, she’d be furious.”
White’s positive attitude is legendary, but was the whole reason for the divide between the two stars only sour grapes?
Arthur’s son confirmed the tension
Bea Arthur died of lung cancer in 2009. Still, the feud remains a topic of conversation. Arthur’s son, Matthew Saks, told Closer Weekly in 2017: “My mom unknowingly carried the attitude that it was fun to have somebody to be angry at. It was almost like Betty became her nemesis, someone she could always roll her eyes about at work.”
Because many viewers have experienced workplace rivalries, Saks’ comments shed light on the relationship between the two stars. The Golden Girls fans can wish Arthur and White’s rapport was as great as their characters’ chemistry, but sometimes people just don’t mesh with each other.
Because Arthur’s unhappiness with the show reportedly contributed to the series’ abrupt cancellation, who knows if The Golden Girls would’ve given us more treasured moments if only the stars had gotten along.