Actor Allusion: In "Brotherly Love", Dorothy recounts how while on a double date with Stan and his brother at a soda shop, Stan "entertained" them by sticking straws up his nose and pretending to be a walrus. In the "Cousin Maude" episode of All in the Family, Arthur's character Maude recalls Archie Bunker doing the same thing on a double date with her cousin Edith and herself.
One of the songs that Dorothy sings at the Rusty Anchor in the final season episode "Journey to the Center of Attention" is "Hard Hearted Hannah (The Vamp of Savannah)" (from Tin Pan Alley), which Bea Arthur had previously sung in an episode of Maude.
The Cast Showoff: Bea Arthur got to sing in a few episodes. Not to mention Betty and Rue get to show off their dancing skills.
Subverted with Rose's occasionally playing the piano; Betty White was actually unable to do so, so the crew had to use trick camera angles to cover her hands.
In an early episode, the girls are suffering from a flu and argue over which soap opera they should watch; Blanche wants to see Another World. Rue McClanahan appeared on that particular soap for one season, from 1970-1971.
In "Ladies of the Evening," Rose lists off some of the celebrities that will be attending the premiere of Burt Reynolds's new movie. Charles Nelson Reilly is on the list; Betty White made several appearances on Match Game with Reilly during the 1970s and '80s. Also, the later episode "Grab That Dough" sees the girls going on the game show of the same name, and Rose compares the host, Guy Corbin, to several other famous game show hosts of the era; one such host is Gene Rayburn, who hosted the aforementioned Match Game.
Sylvester Stallone clearly exists in the Girls' universe, as Rose mentions Rocky IV in one episode. Stallone appeared with Estelle Getty, who played Sophia, in the infamous flop Stop! Or My Mom Will Shoot!
In two different episodes, Dorothy, played by Bea Arthur, sings a few bars of songs from Fiddler on the Roof. Guess who played Yente the Matchmaker in the original Broadway production?
Dawson Casting: Inverted with Sophia. Estelle Getty was actually the second youngest cast member.
Fake Nationality/Casting Gag: In keeping with the precedent set by the casting of Dorothy and Sophia, every prominent Italian on the series was played by a Jewish actor.
Mean Character Nice Actor: Bea Arthur said that Herb Edelman was nothing like Stan (the character he portrayed in the series).
Name's the Same: To the show itself- Galoob Toys had a very brief run in 1984 with a toy line called Golden Girl that was something of an attempt to knock off the He-Man franchise for girls. Needless to say, it's relatively obscure and this series is much more well known.
The Other Darrin: Lots. From Dorothy's sister Gloria, to Blanche's daughter Rebecca, to Rose's daughter Kirsten, and even the cast of the episode that was a pilot for the spin-off series Empty Nest.
The Empty Nest example might not count, since the entire plot changed between the Poorly Disguised Pilot and the actual series. In the pilot, the story was about a middle-aged married couple learning to reconnect and begin a new part of their life after their youngest daughter leaves for college (an actual "empty nest.") In the spin-off show, the main character was Harry, who had been established as a recurring character on The Golden Girls - a pediatrician who lived near the title characters. Harry was a recent widower whose self-supporting adult daughters move back in with him (creating something of an Artifact Title.) None of the characters from the pilot actually made it to the show with the exception of David Leisure as the Drop-In Character neighbor, and even he was changed from a pilot named Oliver to a cruise ship employee named Charlie. The house in which the pilot was filmed was the only other thing carried over to the actual series.
Interestingly enough, Herb Edelman, Monte Markham, Sheree North, Scott Jacoby, Lynnie Green, Sid Melton and Nancy Walker were (as Stanley Zbornak, Clayton Hollingsworth, Virginia Hollingsworth, David Zbornak, Young Dorothy Zbornak, Sal Petrillo, and Sophia's sister Angela) the only recurring family members to appear throughout the series without changing actors.
Phallic Object: The questionable penis-shaped tin in the kitchen is actually a lobster.
Rue McClanahan and Betty White were supposed to play Rose and Blanche, respectively. They suggested switching around. Betty White was well-known for playing "Happy Homemaker" Sue Ann Nivens on The Mary Tyler Moore Show. Outside of her TV persona, Sue Ann was cruel and man-hungry, the antithesis of Rose. Rue, meanwhile, had played sweet but scatterbrained Vivian Harmon on Maude, as well as prissy spinster Aunt Fran on Mamas Family.
Rue McClanahan had previously appeared in a famous episode of All in the Family as the exhibitionist wife in a swinger couple whom Edith invites to the house after misunderstanding their personal ad.
According to Rue, this was a major reason that Bea Arthur agreed to star; previously, she'd told Rue that she had no interest in doing "Maude and Vivian meet Sue Ann Nivens."
Reality Subtext: In the episode "Sick and Tired", Dorothy is diagnosed with Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, from which condition creator Susan Harris also suffers.
Throw It In: A particularly sweet version occurs in "Valentine's Day." Throughout the episode, Sophia claims that she has a date with famed Latin singer Julio Iglesias; when the girls leave for their own dates, Julio himself shows up at the back door. The producers of the show wanted Iglesias to sing a song, but when it came time to film, he felt he was not able to do so and refused, leaving them panicked. However, Estelle Getty, who played Sophia, suffered from stage fright of her own and promised to handle the situation...by singing to Iglesias herself. The plan worked, and the episode ends with Sophia and Julio singing "Begin the Beguine" together as they leave the house.
Getty provided another example from her final audition. She decided to wear age-appropriate clothing, and found various thrift store items—including a purse, which she felt was key to the character, as a woman of Sophia's age would carry all of her important medications and items in her bag (indeed, Sophia almost always had her purse with her during the show, including moments when she came into the kitchen in the middle of the night). The props department ended up using the purse Getty chose on the show, and even had a spare made.
In the first season, actor Harold Gould plays Arnie Peterson, a date of Rose's. Years later, he would return to play Miles Webber, Rose's primary love interest, who appears in 13 episodes. Funnily enough, one of the last episodes revealed Miles was in the Witness Protection Program. Maybe Arnie was one of his identities?
Sid Melton was largely seen as Salvatore Petrillo, Sophia's late husband and Dorothy's father, in flashbacks (and as the occasional ghost). The season six episode "What a Difference a Date Makes", however, also casts him in the role of a "fool" at the medieval-type restaurant where Dorothy goes on her date.
Chick Vennera plays Kid Pepe, a boxer Sophia invests in as part of a get-rich-quick scheme, and later becomes Rose's boss, TV personality Enrique Mas.