The Golden Girls chronicles: “Rose the Prude”

In my Golden Girls chronicles posts, I didn’t talk about the fashion even though the clothes on the show are a topic of much discussion (and derision). Because the show was filmed mostly in the 80s and it was set in Miami, a lot of the fashion feels timestamped. It’s become sport to watch the show, adore it, and talk shit about the outfits. Aside from the era, the other reason the outfits looked funny was the body types and personalities of the characters. Though, really, thinking about it, it’s only Dorothy and Blanche who have nutty outfits (more Dorothy, though), as both Rose and Sophia didn’t often wear trendy or distinct clothes, so they were usually just dressed like old ladies.

I mention all this because in the third episode of the first season, “Rose the Prude” Dorothy (Bea Arthur) is dressed in one of the ugliest outfits I’ve ever seen.

Exhibit A

I mean look at that…What the hell, man? I’m from Chicago, and this thing looks like a modified jersey for the Chicago Cubs. I think we’re meant to understand that this is a house dress kind of thing, since Dorothy’s just chilling at home, but yikes. Dorothy’s outfits will veer wildly during the show’s run, given Bea Arthur’s physique. She was a strikingly handsome woman, but tall and rather column-like, which meant a lot of her clothes looked like draping or drop cloth.

The other thing about the show is given the ages of the lead actresses, recurring and guest spots were great opportunities for aging character actors to do good work. In “Rose the Prude” we get to see Harold Gould, Rhoda Morgenstern’s dad from The Mary Tyler Moore Show. For fans of The Golden Girls, Gould will be familiar as Rose’s long-time lover, Miles. Since, we’re still getting to know the show, the actor is cast as a one-off, Arnie, a man Rose meets who is her first man after her husband’s death.

The show has a rather intimate relationship with death because three of women are widows. The themes of death and grief find their way into many episodes, including this one. As a favor to Blanche (Rue McClanahan), Rose (Betty Whie) agrees to go on a double date, despite not feeling it. She hasn’t been with a man since her husband’s death, assuming that part of her life is over. Like most Golden Girls episodes, the A-plot is supported by a B-plot, usually splitting the quartet up into two pairs. In this case, while Blanche and Rose are going out on dates, Dorothy and Sophia (Estelle Getty) are staying in to play cards. On sitcoms, usually the B-plot is light and inconsequential, and in this case, the card game story is no different. But the writing: credited to Barry Fanaro and Mort Nathan is so strong and funny that’s a delight to watch Arthur and Getty trade quips.

l to r: Betty White, Harold Gould (Buena Vista Television)

In the main plot, Rose and Arnie go on a cruise and he expects the evening to be romantic and be consummated, but due to the anxiety, she shuts down. After some supportive words from Arnie, Rose agrees to move forward with trepidation.

One of the things about The Golden Girls is that the strength of the show isn’t in the plots (which are fine) but in the writing and acting. So even though the plot feels paper thin, it’s a good episode because it explores grief and moving on, as well as highlighting the friendship between the women.

There are some great moments in this episode, that will find their way into future episodes. Like when Blanche asks – somewhat dimly – if Rose is upset about Arnie, Dorothy shoots back, “No Blanche, she’s upset because they keep changing the taste of Coke” (the delivery is aces, the joke solid – but dated) I love Dorothy’s sarcastic retorts to dumb questions (usually Rose’s).

The other running joke that I enjoy, even though it’s not terribly gallant, is the cracks the others make about Dorothy’s looks. Even though Bea Arthur was perfectly attractive, her tall, forbidding bearing became a source of jokes. Normally, I wouldn’t like to hear jokes calling a woman ugly, but these one-liners are funny, especially because she claps back with her withering wit.

In “Rose the Prude” we have a couple great gags at Dorothy’s expense. When Blanche asks Dorothy to open a jar to avoid cracking a nail, Dorothy barks back, “What are these, claws?” And when Sophia mentions that Dorothy’s worst feature is her competitive streak, she quickly corrects herself and says Dorothy’s ears are her worst feature. And when appealing to Blanche for support with an aggrieved “Do you believe that?” Blanche breezily notes, “I always thought your bony feet were your worst feature.” These jokes are obviously mean and we shouldn’t encourage body-shaming quips, but honestly, some of the funniest moments on the show were when Dorothy had to withstand cutting remarks by her friends.

l to r: Estelle Getty, Bea Arthur, Rue McClanahan (Buena Vista Television)

There’s another exchange that entered Golden Girls lore as a minor classic, in which Dorothy, Sophia, and Blanche are kibitzing in the kitchen, and Dorothy advises Blanche to avoid looking at her reflection when looking down, but instead she should look at a mirror, lying on her back to get an instant face lift (the scene is so funny, the actresses recreated for the Royal Variety Performance at the London Palladium in front of Queen Elizabeth, The Queen Mother and Princess Margaret, Countess of Snowdon)

What was nice about this episode is the idea of a widow letting go of the grief and move on. And the b-plot with Dorothy and Sophia shows a lovely low-key, but funny dynamic.

Author: Peter Majda

I'm a MA graduate in English literature from DePaul University. I earned my BA in English literature from the University of Illinois. I completed my MA thesis on post-WWII black British literature, and am currently working on my MFA in creative writing. My favorite authors include Jane Austen, the Bronte sisters, Julia Child, David Sedaris, Amy Sedaris, Amy Tan, Harper Lee. I read about two-three books a week. I read mainly essay collections, nonfiction, humor. I am Chicago-raised, but based in the UK.

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