The truth about The Golden Girls feud

Remember the lyrics from the theme song of the television hit The Golden Girls? "Thank you for being a friend, traveled down a road and back again, your heart is true, you're a pal and a confident"... turns out the sentiment behind those words, written by Andrew Gold, was much different. Actresses Betty White and Bea Arthur might have played close friends on the Saturday night staple from 1985 to 1992, but in real life they often were at odds.

Arthur, who played substitute teacher and divorcee Dorothy Zbornak, and White as the loopy and naïve Rose Nylund, created a warm camaraderie onscreen for seven years — one that resonated for viewers and makes the sitcom still popular in reruns and pop culture. The Golden Girls landed in the Top 10 for six of its seasons, according to IMDB. It also received 11 Emmy Awards. Rue McClanahan, who played the promiscuous Blanche Deveraux, and Estelle Getty, as spitfire Sophia Petrillo, rounded out the cast.

Michael Musto wrote in a 2017 Village Voice article that White admitted that Arthur "was not fond of me." it was White's positive attitude that caused Arthur to become angry at her. "Sometimes if I was happy, she'd be furious," White said about her costar, a woman she often found reserved.

Betty White and Bea Arthur came from different Backgrounds

It could also just be they had different acting philosophies. Arthur, according to an article in Country Living, had played the title character in Maude, a sitcom that ran from 1972-1978 about a strong, middle-aged liberal woman. On that show she worked for writer/producers such as Norman Lear, "where sitcoms were filmed like stage plays and done with up-close reactions," said Jim Colucci, the author of Golden Girls Forever: An Unauthorized Biography. White, on the other hand, "was from the Mary Tyler Moore school where everything is a very subtle character moment. The jokes are more gentle." White had joined that popular situation comedy  in 1970, midway through its run, playing the perky and sexually forward homemaker Sue Ann Nivens.

Additionally, Arthur displayed "eccentric" characteristics, according to McClanahan, like walking on the set barefoot — something she demanded to have included in her contract, according to Country Living. Arthur preferred standing still or remaining backstage between takes so she could stay in character, while White enjoyed approaching the audience and chatting with them. In a 2017 interview with Closer Weekly, Bea's son Matthew Saks said, "It would make my mom unhappy that in-between takes Betty would go and talk to the audience. It wasn't jealousy. It was a focus thing," he said.

Emmy envy

Despite this, White and Arthur, who lived near each other in Los Angeles, sometimes commuted together. According to Rue McClanahan's 2007 memoir, My First Five Husbands ... And the Ones Who Got Away, she believed that some of the "feud" resulted from the Emmy competition, where the four actresses would vie against each other for the award. McClanahan thought that Arthur resented that White was the first of the group to win the Emmy for Outstanding Lead Actress in a comedy series, though eventually, all four cast mates would nab the golden statue. 

Ultimately, Arthur did respect White. In a Fox interview, Saks said, "You know, I'm always being asked the question if my mom hated Betty White. It's not the way it is. I think my mom had some problems with her, but she liked her."

At this writing, all of the "Golden Girls" have died except White, who continues to act. Arthur died on April 25, 2009 of lung cancer; Getty on July 22, 2008 after a battle against dementia; and McClanahan on June 3, 2010 after suffering a stroke.