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Characters: The Golden Girls

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Dorothy Zbornak, née Petrillo (Bea Arthur)

A substitute teacher from Brooklyn, New York who is very well-read with a rapier wit, but prone to arrogance and being a Deadpan Snarker; even so, Dorothy tends to be the most grounded of the four titular girls.

  • Bookworm: A frequenter at the local library who always turns her books in on time... who are you to judge her?
  • Butt Monkey: Tends to have the worst luck when it comes to her personal life.
  • Brainy Brunette: As seen in flashbacks.
  • Break the Haughty: Whenever she begins to think too highly of herself, Blanche, Sophia, or just life step in to take her down.
  • Calling the Old Woman Out: In The Monkey Show, Dorothy finds out that Sophia set up Stan with Dorothy's sister Gloria, and she's more than miffed that, after all the years Sophia spent complaining about Dorothy being with Stan, she suddenly thinks he's a good catch for Gloria. Dorothy decides that she's tired of Sophia trivializing her feelings and walks out on her.
  • Catch Phrase: "Shady Pines, Ma!"
  • The Chew Toy: Frequently will ask an innocent question, only for it to turn into a series of insults. One time, after she found a strange rock under her bed. Marguerite, their housekeeper whom they suspected of practicing voodoo, put it there.
    Marguerite: I learned it from my grandmother. You put a specially-painted rock under a person's bed to guarantee a restful sleep. I figured with those bags under your eyes, you needed the rest.
    Rose: Dorothy always looks like that.
    Blanche: Besides, it'll take more than sleep to knock out those babies.
    Dorothy: Listen, why don't I just lay down and you all take turns hitting me with a two-by-four.
  • Compressed Vice: Dorothy has grappled with both cigarette smoking and a gambling addiction.
  • Deadpan Snarker: It's Bea fricking Arthur - what the hell did you expect?.
  • Earn Your Happy Ending: The final two episodes of the series were about Dorothy finally finding true love with Blanche's uncle, Lucas Hollingsworth, and marrying him.
  • Embarrassing Nickname: "Moose", according to her mother.
  • Four-Temperament Ensemble: The Choleric.
  • Hollywood Dateless
  • Incredibly Lame Fun: Doesn't understand why her students don't share her enthusiasm for diagramming sentences.
  • Insufferable Genius: At her worst.
  • Lady Looks Like a Dude: Is sometimes mistaken for a man due to her voice. Many of Blanche and Sophia's insults are in this vein.
    • Granted, Dorothy would use this to her own benefit as well. Once, when the girls were in jail and a woman tried to pick a fight with Blanche, Dorothy jumped in and said that the woman would have to go through her first, and she warned her that she'd done time in Attica. When the other woman mentioned that Attica is a men's prison, Dorothy said, "I know. I was there a year before they found out." The other woman backed off.
  • Only Sane Man: Around 90% of the time, but Depending on the Writer she's had moments when the others (usually Sophia) have to bring her back down to Earth.
  • OOC Is Serious Business: When even Dorothy doesn't have a snarky comeback, you know that something is, most definitely, wrong.
  • Reaction Shot: Bea Arthur could sell these like nobody else.
  • Shotgun Wedding: The only reason for her failed first marriage.
  • Tall, Dark and Snarky
  • Tsundere: She and an undercover cop who lives with them in one episode have a Slap-Slap-Kiss dynamic.
  • Theme Naming: Well, nicknaming. Dorothy was usually called "Pussycat" by Sophia, and when her sister Gloria showed up, Sophia called her "Kitten."
  • The Unfavorite: Felt like Sophia favored her younger sister, Gloria, over her. Turns out Gloria often felt like The Unfavorite compared to Dorothy because she felt like Sophia respected Dorothy more.
  • Unstoppable Rage: Alluded at. She apparently once made a policeman cry, and in Rose's words, "uprooted a mighty sequoia" after Rose lost her keys.

Blanche Devereaux, née Hollingsworth (Rue McClanahan)

A native of Georgia who owns the house the girls all live in. note  A distinctly Southern vamp who scoffs at the idea that a woman can't have a sex life after 50 (or 40, or however old she says she is that day).

  • A-Cup Angst: Despite being catnip on legs for most of the men of Miami, Blanche had a few episodes devoted to feeling a little inadequate in this regard. She considers implants in one episode, and in another, when Rose tries to psych her out at a bowling tournament by wearing the exact same outfit, Rose says not to worry because it looks different on a woman with a full bosom.
  • Alpha Bitch: Seems to have been one when she was a child if her stories are accurate.
    • Of course, she grew up in a family of them. During Christmas one year, one of Blanche's sisters electrocuted her with the star of the Christmas tree, and then blamed her for the whole thing, which led their father to send her to her room and tell her that Baby Jesus was mad at her for ruining his birthday (and the electricity straightened her hair.) And let's not forget Vixen, Story of a Woman.
  • Attention Whore: If it is not about her, she will do her best to make it about her.
  • Big Screwed-Up Family: Blanche's family growing up and the one she had with George seems to be this. Blanche often regales that her father Big Daddy wasn't such a paragon of virtue as he appeared (he supported book burning, carried around a hollowed-out bible with liquor inside, slept with one of Blanche's ex-friends when she was older, and was in a relationship with Blanche's nanny Viola Watkins where it's implied he wasn't faithful, and is also implied to have been a Klan leader or member, or a bigot at least). And Blanche's hands-off parenting has had a negative effect on her children. One of her sons almost burned down their entire town when he was a kid, and her grandson has been badly neglected by his parents. Only now does it all seem to be catching up to Blanche.
    Blanche: You know, my family had a few dollars, and I loved them dearly, but, when you get right down to it, basically they were trash.
  • Brainless Beauty: She was probably second to Rose in these terms. Although, rather than being outright stupid, it seemed at times more like her cultured Southern Belle upbringing left her a little naive to the ways of the real world.
  • Daddy's Girl: Without a doubt, Blanche loved both her parents, but especially "Big Daddy".
  • Dirty Old Woman: To the point that even Maxim felt obliged to acknowledge her as # 1 of "TV's Best Nymphos."
  • Disproportionate Retribution: When Blanche was young she didn't win a beauty pageant and got awarded Miss Congeniality. What did she do? Had a riverboat captain she was dating help her fake her death.
    • She was also pretty quick to suggest that someone should be hanged or horsewhipped for fairly minor things.
  • Distracted by the Sexy: Blanche occasionally distracts herself by describing an erotic scene.
  • Ethical Slut: She loves sex, but she refuses to be a mistress and after an AIDS scare she always knows her partner's history and takes all the necessary precautions. She also was fiercely loyal to her husband during their marriage and was deeply hurt when it was revealed he fathered a child with another woman, saying the vows were sacred to her.
    • There were 2 episodes from the 1st season where she was a victim of sexual harassment. The 1st one was by a man Dorothy was dating who Blanche was attracted to begin with which nearly caused the end of Dorothy and Blanche's friendship. The 2nd one was by a college professor after Blanche asked for help because she was trying to pass a course so she could get a job at a museum.
  • Femme Fatale/The Vamp: No man over 45 (and some men under, too!) can resist the allure of Blanche Devereaux.
  • Four-Temperament Ensemble: The Sanguine.
  • Good Old Ways: She's occasionally mentioned how she misses the Old South, and laments the loss of chivalry. Frequently, Dorothy will usually step in to remind her that things weren't quite as rosy as she remembers.
  • Grandma, What Massive Hotness You Have: Blanche has no problem finding a man in spite of being a grandmother... although she sometimes makes her grandkids call her "Mom" or "Sis".
  • Hypocrite: Blanche could get very defensive over hers and other woman's right to sleep with as many men as they wanted to, but the minute Rose or Dorothy managed to grab a guy she had her eye on, she would immediately call them sluts.
  • It's All About Me: By way of Flanderization, Blanche became more self-absorbed as the series went on.
  • Large Ham: Blanche is prone to overdramatizing everything in a way that would make Ms. O'Hara herself sigh, "Bitch, please".
  • Lovable Sex Maniac: Dear god.
  • Meaningful Name: If Blanche Devereaux, the vain, man-hungry, aging Southern Belle isn't a reference to Blanche DuBois, the vain, man-hungry, aging Southern Belle from A Streetcar Named Desire, I'll eat their wicker couch.
    • She also has Meaningful Initials. Blanche Elisabeth Devereaux. Think about it.
  • Noble Bigot: Had a rough time accepting that her brother was gay, and an even rougher time accepting that he was getting married to a man.
    • She was also very resistant to her daughter Rebecca getting artificially inseminated and having a baby without a man in her life.
  • Noodle Incident: So many regarding her sex life, it's the stuff of legend. The most often involves her entering the room, Large Ham hyperbole at full throttle, saying she's never been more embarrassed in her life, only to be shut down by (usually) Dorothy. Examples:
    • The 1964 Tokyo Olympics. (Blanche: So what, 80,000 people had to wait 20 minutes, the torch eventually got there, didn't it?)
    • A time she lost her handcuff keys and had to go with a guy on his entire mail route.
    • The time she spent dating a coach for the Miami Dolphins. ("Oh yeah, that was fun. The locker room, the whirlpool, the adhesive tape.)
    • Her and Buzz Aldrin in the Lunar Module.
    • The Greyhound Terminal Incident. Aside from it being brought up when she asked what could go wrong in a public place, they make no attempt to explain it. Although Dorothy was uncomfortable even mentioning it as opposed to her amusement in the other incidents. Of course, that episode was All Just a Dream.
    • The time Blanche cost her date his party's nomination (although the pictures turned out nice.)
    • The fact that even the Secret Service has a file on her (might even be linked to the above mentioned affair with a political candidate)
    • When Blanche is in trouble with the IRS and plans to seduce the agent sent to audit her... only for said agent to be a woman. Many fans speculated that even the IRS had gotten wind of Blanche's reputation and deliberately sent a female agent in order to undermine her scheme.
    • That one time Blanche was the other woman in an extramarital affair, which she claims was not her fault because the man's wife was declared dead and then immediately revived by paramedics.
    • A related example happened when she filed a sexual harassment suit against a professor at college course. When an embarassed Blanche was trying to describe what the professor wanted her to do and still be discreet, the Dean hands her the form and asks "Do Number 5?" She looks and replies, "Actually, 5, 6, and 7b." This shocks the Dean, who said that he had never even heard of "7b." Blanche, annoyed with his reluctance to help, retorts, "Well, I've known about it for some time. And as far as I'm concerned, you can go do it to yourself."
  • Not So Different: She had this relationship with both of her sisters, Charmaine a little more than Virginia. They all seemed to dislike each other, and when they both showed up, it seemed like they never got along simply because they were so much alike. This was outright stated after Charmaigne wrote Vixen, Story of a Woman. They have a big blowup because Blanche assume Charmaine based the character on her, when Charmaine says she based her on herself.
  • Obnoxious In-Laws: Is implied to be one to her unseen son-in-law, who she derisively refers to as "the yankee".
    • She apparently did not get along with her former mother-in-law. She rejoiced when she found out the woman was dead. It might have had something to do with Mother Devereaux always referring to her as George's first wife...
      Blanche: I just hope the old witch went slowly.
  • Parental Neglect: Blanche was a very "hands-off" mother, which factors into any episode that features her children and grandchildren. She tries to reverse this tendency with one of her granddaughters, but ends up forcing her into a beauty contest she clearly doesn't want to be in. A very rare example of Parents as People from the perspective of the "bad" parent.
  • Perverse Sexual Lust: She has states she's had fantasies about both Santa Claus and the Seven Dwarves ("Seven lonely men... all alone, needing a woman... all with Napoleon Complexes, something to prove" and they all had jobs in a diamond mine.)
  • Really Gets Around
  • Retcon: "Hollingsworth" is her last name in the pilot, afterwards said to be her maiden name.
    • Possible Fridge Brilliance: After losing George, she went back to her maiden name because the name Devereaux carried some painful memories. However, after the events of the pilot (where she nearly marries a con artist,) she was reminded just how much she loved her husband, and went back to Devereaux again.
  • Southern Belle
  • Spoiled Brat: When she was a child.
  • Stage Mom: Stage Grandma, actually. When her granddaughter Melissa was visiting, Blanche entered her in a local beauty pageant and this bothered Melissa so much she ran off stage the night of the actual pageant. In a moment of hypocrisy, Blanche seemed disgusted by an actual Stage Mom whose child was whispering "Help me," wondering what could be worse than having a mom like that. Rose responded "Having a grandmother like that."
  • Vague Age: Invoked—Blanche likes to claim she is in her early forties, and even younger if she thinks she can get away with it. Her real age is a secret—when Dorothy and Rose get a copy of her birth certificate, they find that her date of birth has been withheld by order of the governor. However, Blanche goes through menopause in the second season premiere, which means she could be anywhere from her late forties to early fifties at the start of the show.
    • Interestingly enough, because Blanche was so neurotic about her age, that means there were less conflicting ages given for her compared to the others, and therefore her age is the most consistent, albeit by accident. (In a flashback in one episode, her mother said she was 17 during Christmas in 1949, meaning she was born in 1932 and therefore 53 at the beginning, lining up pretty well with the menopause episode. Since she almost never gave other mentions of her age, there's very little to contradict this.)
    • Despite the above, certain instances imply she may be even older than they think. In one episode, Blanche recalls one of her father's escapades that took place after her younger brother was born, around the time prohibition was first passed... which was in 1920. She quickly corrected herself when someone brought that up.
  • Virgin in a White Dress: She wore red at her wedding, because "me wearing white? Even 'I' couldn't keep a straight face!".

Rose Nylund, née Lindstrum (Betty White)

A simple farmgirl from the fictional St. Olaf, Minnesota, Rose moved to Miami to start over after the death of her husband. She has a tendency to be slow on the uptake and has a more cheery disposition than the others, but that doesn't keep her from getting a good snark in.

  • Beware the Nice Ones: She can be a pretty big bitch if she wants.
  • Catchphrase: "Back in St. Olaf..."
  • Compressed Vice: Rose is revealed in one episode to have been addicted to pain killers for 15 years. Over the course of the episode, she goes through rehab and flat-out states that it will be a lifelong problem for her... only for it never to be mentioned again.
  • Cloud Cuckoo Lander
  • Country Mouse
  • Dark Secret: Rose has one about her late husband Charlie...
  • Dumb Blonde: Although many characters comment on how her hair is obviously dyed, she insists it's natural.
    • It's entirely possible that she is/was a natural blonde, but she has since gone gray, and they're both right (she does color her hair, but she colors it to the color she had before, thereby still being her "natural" color.)
  • Dumb Is Good: Is consistently the kindest and most innocent of the four. Sophia said it best note :
    "Your heart's in the right place, Rose, but I don't know where the hell your brain is."
  • The Ditz: On her good days. However...
  • Ethical Slut: She admitted that she had 56 boyfriends when she was a teenager, and she would've had more if she was allowed to date before she became a senior, and she did not go all the way with any of them. She was also very upset upon discovering that she had been the mistress of her recently deceased boyfriend.
  • Floral Theme Naming: Meet her two sisters, Holly and Lily.
  • Four-Temperament Ensemble: The Phlegmatic.
  • Genius Ditz: She is very knowledgeable in psychology.
  • Genki Girl
  • Friend to All Living Things: It goes with the territory when one spends their entire childhood on a farm.
  • Happily Adopted: She does not even mention she was adopted until more than halfway into the series. Rose provides a rare glimpse at adoption from the viewpoint of an older character.
  • The Ingenue
  • Literal-Minded: Oftentimes she takes a turn of phrase literally. Also she sometimes Does Not Understand Sarcasm.
  • Minnesota Nice
  • Nice Girl
  • Noodle Incident: Rose is chock full of these pertaining to her hometown St. Olaf.
  • Post Robbery Trauma: Rose especially deals with this after the girls' house is robbed.
  • Precision F-Strike: Whenever she swears. Ironically, this is invoked to the point that she probably swears more than anyone else on the show.
  • Sarcasm-Blind: At times, like when Sophia was telling the girls her friend died.
    Rose: How did she die?
    Rose: Well, at least she was able to work right up until the end.
  • Spirited Competitor: Any kind of competition is Serious Business to her and serves as her Berserk Button.
  • Womanchild: She plays shadow puppets in her room, still likes to play hide-and-seek, and some episodes show her having a strong attachment to teddy bears. In one episode, she and the girl scout troop she leads (as the den mother) write letters to then-Soviet Union leader Mikhail Gorbachev, and her writing is so childish that they assume that Rose is one of the scouts! Of course, the line about the threat of nuclear war "scaring the other girls in her cadet troupe" didn't help...

Sophia Petrillo (Estelle Getty)

Dorothy's acerbic mother, who immigrated from Sicily to Brooklyn as a young woman. She suffered a debilitating stroke a few years before the series started. Dorothy (happily) placed her in the Shady Pines nursing home for a few years, but it burned down in the first episode, leading to Sophia moving in with the girls.

  • Arranged Marriage: Had two (or three; sometimes she speaks of her marriage to Dorthy's father as one).
  • Ascended Extra: Was conceived as a recurring Drop-In Character, but audiences responded very positively to her, causing her to be added to the main cast.
  • Been There, Shaped History: Take them with a grain of salt, since Sophia's "Picture it" stories vary widely in credibility. She claims to have had romantic trysts with Pablo Picasso, Sigmund Freud, and Winston Churchill, opened a pizzeria with the woman who would later become Mama Celeste, and she and Sal had a flat tire at the same building as the St. Valentine's Day Massacre (although in a later episode she claimed "I was at the movies that day. All day.")
  • Berserk Button: In "Sisters", the one insult that really got to Sophia is when her sister Angela says "may your marinara sauce never cling to your pasta!" Even Dorothy, Rose, and Blanche were shocked by this.
    • Sophia's cooking is generally this for her. In another episode when Rose comments that something smells delicious and asks if it's Chef Boyardee, Sophia grabs a kitchen knife and shouts, "Stick it in my heart, it'll hurt less!"
  • Brutal Honesty
  • Butt Monkey: The whole world is her Butt Monkey.
  • Catch Phrase: She always begins her stories with "Picture it: [place], [year]". It apparently runs in the family, since Sophia's siblings, Angelo and Angela, use the same phrase to begin their stories. Their mother also said it in a flashback.
    • Also: "Aw, yeeah..." whenever someone (usually Dorothy) points out something Sophia conveniently forgot, which would have been REALLY helpful for her to have remembered at the time.
  • Characterization Marches On: Her acerbic nature is attributed to her stroke (said to have altered the part of her brain that helps her censor her thoughts), but later on, flashbacks and personal anecdotes establish that she has always been a spitfire, even before her stroke.
  • Cloud Cuckoo Lander: Occasionally, by way of old-lady nuttiness. When Dorothy questions a story about pepperoni swimming upstream, her response is "I know! Pepperoni is a land meat, but there it was."
  • Cool Old Lady: Sophia definitely keeps up with the times, even owning a Game Boy.
  • Deadpan Snarker: This is who Dorothy gets it from.
  • Four-Temperament Ensemble: The Melancholic.
  • Good Is Not Nice
  • I Was Quite a Looker: Sophia describes herself as having been "a voluptuous blonde with a butt like granite".
  • Jerk with a Heart of Gold: Sophia has an insult for everyone she meets, but she is also loving to her roommates—she explicitly states on several occasions that she loves Blanche and Rose as if they were own children—cooks for them whenever they ask, takes care of them and cleans up after them, as well as works for charity. Specifically, one episode shows her volunteering in a hospital, bringing cheer to the patients.
    • That whole episode was an example of this. The episode was supposed to parallel Rose, Dorothy, and Blanche being lazy (they vow to do something constructive, but spend the whole day in their pajamas eating pizza) and worrying that Sophia might be leading an empty life. This was played for Hypocritical Humor, cause while they're worried about Sophia and lounging around, Sophia: 1) Helped a friend who had been cheated at a supermarket get a refund, 2) lead a bunch of her friends who had formed a band through a fundraising concert (which was done every week,) and 3) volunteer at a hospital and cheering up an ill little boy with some unspecified illness (though the mention of the botched blood transfusion and her telling him to hang in there until a cure is found heavily implies that it's AIDS)
  • Mama Bear: Age be damned, you'd better not threaten her kids.
  • My Beloved Smother: A few episodes involved Dorothy growing frustrated with how much Sophia would comment on and interfere with her life, specifically trying to set her up with various men of dubious quality when Dorothy made it abundantly clear she was very happy and content with her life as it was.
  • My God, What Have I Done?: In The Monkey Show, after Dorothy calls out Sophia's blatant insensitivity and walks out on her, Sophia seems pissed, but then heads to her brother Angelo for advice on what to do because she feels horrible. Sophia tried to set up Dorothy's sister with Stan, with no regards to Dorothy's feelings after all the years Sophia complained about her marriage to Stan. Angelo says this isn't like when the girls were kids and that Stan's not a toy. Even though she meant well for Gloria, she did wrong by Dorothy and had to make it right.
  • Never Mess with Granny
  • Obnoxious In-Laws: Is one to her son Phil's wife Angela—even after his death, she struggles to treat her with even a modicum of respect. She gets better by the end of the episode when she stops blaming herself and Angela for Phil's crossdressing.
    • It's also implied that she was no less obnoxious to Dorothy's ex-husband Stan before the divorce than she is after. Yet again, it was revealed in a therapy session with Stan she had trouble coming to respect him since he forced her daughter into a shotgun wedding at 17, cheated on her repeatedly, and then dumped her after 38 years for a blond stewardess.
  • Only One Name: A variation—we know her married names, but her maiden name is a mystery, especially considering those of the other three were revealed. Sometimes it's listed as either Angelo or Grisanti, but both are rooted in Fanon.
  • Parental Favoritism: Played with. Oftentimes it seems that she favored her youngest daughter, Gloria, over both Dorothy and Phil. Gloria, however, was just as convinced that Dorothy was the favorite. Phil was doubtlessly the unfavorite though. Sophia also did this more clearly with her children's spouses. The only one she wasn't an Obnoxious In-Law to was Gloria's very rich husband.
  • Playing Gertrude: She's actually younger than her on-screen daughter.
  • Screw Politeness Im A Senior: One of the most iconic examples.
  • Team Mom
  • Unreliable Narrator: An in-universe example. The show is notorious for being inconsistent in its backstory, but Sophia's "Picture it..." stories tend to range from "probably embellished anecdote" to "probably-senile nonsense". Even her appearance tends to change from story to story: she usually describes herself as either redheaded or blonde, and occasionally references being much taller and having a more olive complexion.
  • What the Hell, Hero?: Gets this a few times from Dorothy, but especially so when she almost destroyed Rose and Miles' relationship for the sake of twenty dollars and a bad joke.