Jim Colucci is the author of Golden Girls Forever: An Unauthorized Look Behind the Lanai and a certified Golden Girls expert. Well, ok, I don’t know if he’s “certified,” but his book is the must-have encyclopedia for The Golden Girls‘ intelligentsia. Jim’s been on my bucket list of people to interview since I started this blog so I was thrilled when he said yes! He was incredibly generous with his answers to my questions, and I hope you enjoy reading this fun interview.
Please fill us in on all your adventures sailing on the Golden Girls at Sea Cruise. It looked like such a fab, fun time for fans of the show!
I knew as I boarded that the Golden Fans at Sea cruise would be an unforgettable experience – and still, I was blown away at how perfect it was. The organizers, Flip Phone Events out of Minneapolis, did such an amazing job putting it together, down to every last detail, and there were so many fascinating guests on-board. I got to meet Rue McClanahan’s sister, son, and entire family, and share my love of Blanche with them!
It was amazing to be surrounded by people who have shared my love of The Golden Girls for decades, who are such deep and ardent fans. From moment one, this was a ship full of love, with all of us cheering each other’s costumes, cracking each other up, busting out our best dance moves and making instant friendships – it was beyond my already high expectations. And much like the way the Girls created a surrogate family, we’ve all become close, and have maintained those new relationships even now that we’re back on dry land, which is amazing. I can’t wait to do it again in April of 2021. It will mean even more next year, because when we do get to gather on a ship again, that will mean we’ll have put all this pandemic tragedy behind us and are ready to celebrate and appreciate our time together even more.
You’ve always been ahead of the curve with recognizing the impact of the show, and your book, Golden Girls Forever, is pretty much an encyclopedia for the show. What was it like pulling it all together?
I had always wanted to write a book about The Golden Girls, and after first writing an authorized companion book to Will & Grace and making a name for myself in that field, I knew the time was right to tackle the project. This was in 2006, when all the Girls were still with us, although Estelle Getty wasn’t well enough to sit for an interview. I lived in New York, but I by chance had a few months where my husband was appearing as a panelist on a game show in LA, so I knew this was the universe telling me to make the best use of that time and do interviews for the book. I was so lucky during those months to get time with Betty White, the show’s creator Susan Harris, Bea Arthur – although I had to keep calling her to ultimately convince her – and so many other amazing writers, guest stars and crew members I’d always wanted to meet. (I got my interview with Rue McClanahan in May of that year after returning home, because she was based in New York.) With Betty, Bea, Rue, Susan and so many others, here I was, sitting in their living rooms – in Betty’s case, with her loveable golden retriever, Pontiac, lying on my feet – and secretly pinching myself that this was really happening as I threw out some questions.
I was also lucky that so many people who worked on various departments on the show – directors, production designers, wardrobe designers, prop masters – gave me so much amazing, never-before-seen materials to reproduce in the book. It was generosity, combined with the fact that they’d even known to save all these materials for decades in their garages, hoping that someday the world would want to see them. I think everyone knew they’d been involved in making a classic, and they knew not to let any of those precious artifacts become lost to the ages.
It turned out that getting people who worked on The Golden Girls to help out was easy, again because they loved the experience and were proud to have been a part of such a landmark in comedy. What wasn’t easy was selling the book to the publishing industry – and that only underlined the theme I’d gleaned from the show all those years ago. There’s such a built-in ageism and misogyny in our society that people don’t even realize is there. So many times, my agent would approach a hip, young editor at a publishing company – often a young woman or gay man, although there certainly were people of all demographics who loved the show – who wanted to jump at the chance to publish a book about The Golden Girls. After all, people who love the show realize how huge it was in its day, and how, defying logic, its fan base seems only to be growing bigger with time. But most of those same young editors would hit a brick wall when they’d run the proposal up their chain of command. We’d often hear that some guy in marketing came back with the comment, “Why would we want to publish a book about a [then] 20-year old sitcom, about four old ladies?!”
Luckily, I met a wonderful editor at a small LGBT publishing company that no longer exits, Alyson Books, who was looking to inaugurate a new series of guidebooks to pop culture, and he agreed to make The Golden Girls his test case. In that book, The Q Guide to The Golden Girls, I was able to focus on specific episodes that had LGBT-related content or evoked specific interest from that community. The book became I think the top-selling book they ever published, so it would help later on strengthen my case when I was trying to sell the larger, fully-illustrated book Golden Girls Forever, which HarperCollins published in 2016 – and I should say, they were fabulous to work with, and were super-excited about it right from the start.
I don’t think I was any more ahead of the curve recognizing the show’s popularity and impact than so many other of the show’s fans. But I do think there were many people out there in glass offices – I found that many in publishing are dying to let you know that they wouldn’t deign to watch television, by the way – who didn’t “get it.” And I don’t think that the ageism or misogyny out there has gone away – but I do think that with every successful book like mine, or top-selling bit of Golden Girls merchandise, the money people of the establishment finally see the dollar signs, and that supersedes their snobbery about “old ladies.”
The Geeki Tikis are fabulous – I just have to decide if I’m going to take them out and use them, or leave them mint-in-box! I might need a second set – although that might be tough, because the first time they were advertised online, they sold out within hours. I love the creativity in turning the Girls into tiki idols – but then again, they’ve already now been turned into action figures, shot glasses, pillows, window visors, a Monopoly game, and the list goes on and on. At the time I was finishing Golden Girls Forever in 2015, though, none of this stuff existed. You could find tee shirts occasionally in a store, but I’m not sure they were authorized. And if you went online, the only Girls merchandise you could find would be homemade stuff on sites like Etsy. Most of that stuff was pretty fabulous, by the way, and super special in that they were made in such small quantities and felt like rare treasures.
I wanted in the book to present a roundup of Golden Girls merchandise, but that little section, under the subheading “Golden Goods,” ended up being awfully short. Disney owns the rights to the show, and is the final word in creating any official merchandise. I was so fortunate that the company cooperated and was generous with me as I published the book. So in that chapter, I tried very subtly and politely to suggest that there was money being left on the table by not merchandising the show. And I’m glad to say that in the years since the book came out, Disney has picked up those reins and licensed some truly wonderful Golden merch and tchotchkes, to the delight of the fans!
- Click HERE to buy The Golden Girls Geeki Tiki mugs!
What makes Dorothy your favorite Golden Girl?
The beauty of those four characters is that we all find ourselves sometimes being a bit of a Rose, or a bit of a Blanche – but I’m really very, very Dorothy. Bea used to say that she was like Dorothy in that she was sarcastic, couldn’t stand bullshit, and was 5’9 ½” in her stocking feet. So I guess I can say that I, too, am tall, sarcastic, impatient, and even Italian-American like Dorothy Petrillo Zbornak. I loved Dorothy’s wit, her skill at amazing comebacks, her ideals, her integrity, her empathy for others, her withering stares and her perfect comedic timing. And she could sing one helluva showtune on the drop of a hat in a trashy dockside bar. I just wouldn’t be caught dead in most of her outfits.
What are some of your favorite fashion moments from the show?
It’s odd that as a Virgo and a stickler for detail, accuracy and continuity that I would be as in love with The Golden Girls as I am. After all, the show has basically no continuity; don’t even try to figure out how old each character is, when exactly Sophia left Sicily for Brooklyn, how many children Blanche has, or even how the layout of the house makes sense. Just go with it.
So it’s strange that one of the things I love about the Girls is their fashion – even when I hate it, it’s noteworthy and is making a statement. Sure, one could logically argue that people living in tropical Miami wouldn’t wear so many layers, or even so many outfits with long sleeves. Older women who are struggling financially wouldn’t own so many formal gowns. And when they get up for an impromptu, 2 AM snack of cheesecake in the kitchen, they wouldn’t be in full makeup and sport coiffures that are salon-perfect. As I said, just go with it.
As the show’s costume designer, Judy Evans Steele, explained to me, these things were all done on purpose. Older women look better in layers, with longer sleeves, in formal wear – so who cares if it’s accurate? What’s more important – to present older women, the only ones represented on television, as stylish and vital, or to acknowledge that yes, in real life it would be humid outside?
For Rose and Sophia’s everyday clothes, outside of specific costumes, Judy would tend to shop off-the-rack, and then might alter pieces to better fit them. What I found so interesting is that for Dorothy and Blanche, Judy designed almost everything from scratch. Fans would often write to her, asking where to get something Dorothy or Blanche wore, and Judy would have to break their hearts by telling them it’s a one-of-a-kind – although sometimes she’d take pity on them and include a sketch of the design and even a swatch of fabric, in case they were ambitious and wanted to try to reproduce it.
I have to say I hated Dorothy’s taste in clothes both then and now, but they certainly were distinctive in creating a character. Those long tunics and cowl necks were so specific, that you can look at a sketch of them out of context and know they’re for Dorothy Zbornak. They were styles that Bea happened to like as well, to accentuate certain things and deaccentuate other things, like her height, which she was self-conscious about.
And Judy’s brilliant designs for Blanche certainly helped make the character, too. All those flowing negligees! Would a widow living with three other women really look that sexy when she woke up in the middle of the night for a snack? No – but who cares?! It certainly helped us know who Blanche was!
I think my favorite fashion moments would come when they were all dressed up in formal gowns for spiffy charity functions — which seemed to happen constantly. Dorothy looked so beautiful in her long, navy blue sequined gown. Another time, she wore a really flattering mint green, crushed velvet tuxedo dress – totally unique, and totally Dorothy. And that low-cut, red, fringed dress Blanche wears to the Rusty Anchor is one of the reasons her misbegotten version of “I Wanna Be Loved By You” is so hilarious!
Just don’t get me started on the awful wedding dress Dorothy wore in the finale, as she married Lucas. You know the one – with the weird loops of white ribbon in a V on the neckline that look like used rolls of toilet paper. Bea wasn’t one to criticize Judy’s work, because she usually loved Dorothy’s outfits, but even she said that was the one time she thought something Dorothy wore was ugly. The one silver lining is, it proved to be a fun, recognizable and somewhat easy to reproduce costume for the dress-up contest during the Golden Fans at Sea cruise!
Do you have plans for another book or any other Golden Girls projects?
Because I’m so in love with The Golden Girls, I’ve continued to collect interviews and materials, even as I research other shows to write about, like my current book project, about The Love Boat. I’ve amassed so much stuff about The Golden Girls, and had only so many pages that would fit into Golden Girls Forever, that who knows what I may come up with in the future. I just don’t want to go too crazy and turn Golden Girls Forever into my crazy Golden Girls Manifesto. Then you’ll know I’ve gone ‘round the bend and am ready for Shady Pines.
Thank you so much to Jim Colucci for doing this interview with me! It was a Golden Girls blogger’s dream come true!