CHICAGO – Bird Milliken designs “Golden Girls” themed greeting cards under the label Lipstick on a turd. His advice? Find yourself a man who likes to watch “The Golden Girls”.
“It says something about them, that their antennas and receivers are open to something deeper,” said Milliken, who made headlines last year for protesting outside Bill Cosby’s Pennsylvania House. “‘The Golden Girls’ – I get chills saying this – it’s not just any show. It’s not ‘Who’s Boss?’
Milliken was not shaking alone: she was one of some 3,500 followers who gathered here late last month to Golden-Conthe first fan convention devoted to “The Golden Girls” (1985-92), the Emmy-winning sitcom about four affable, drunken, sex-loving older women who shared a bungalow in Miami decorated with cozy rattan and bold floral designs. Created by Susan Harristhe show ran for seven seasons on NBC; “The Golden Palace” a spin-off, ran for one (1992-93) on CBS.
In the three decades since he went off the air, it’s as if “The Golden Girls” have never left. A mainstay of syndication and streaming, the show has since grown its fan base and made the girls into LGBTQ icons, appealing to younger generations with its cutting gay sensibility, saucy comedy, and progressive perspectives on family and chosen friendships. . (The seven seasons are on Hulu.)
For three days at Golden-Con, these fans mingled and mingled with a sort of chosen family in their own right, many of whom were dressed as their favorite characters: burly teacher Dorothy Zbornak (Bea Arthur); the beautiful southern sexpot Blanche Devereaux (Rue McClanahan); the kind but silly Rose Nylund (Betty White); and Dorothy’s salty Sicilian immigrant mother, Sophia Petrillo (Estelle Getty).
Here, the show’s bawdy spirit — confined mostly to winks, purrs, and innuendos for network TV — flourished uncensored. The Golden-Coners, mostly gay men and straight women, jostled between chatty panel discussions, loud quizzes and respectful autograph signings. Drag queens, including troupe The golden gays, sporting stretchy ’80s cougar clothes with dropped shoulders and dolman sleeves. Vendors peddled tote bags, t-shirts and a shocking amount of coasters branded “Golden Girls”.
At Golden-Con, you didn’t say “goodbye”; you said “Thank you for being a friend” – the first line of the show earworm theme song. Like Jim Colucci, the author of “Golden Girls Forever: An Unauthorized Look Behind The Lanai”, described it in a pre-conference interview, the event “brings back the feeling of watching it with your mother or grandmother”.
And you didn’t hold back. Throughout the convention hall, the mood was one of festive cheers and hugs, alternating pleasantly between family friendliness and R-rated. The faces were mostly white. But no one turned heads like four black women, all sisters – Shalanda Turner, Catrina Parker, Sharon Turner-Wingba and Lashanda Bailey – dressed as Turkey Lurkey, Henny Penny, Goosey Loosey and Peter Pan, a reference to an episode of season 6.
Chantelle Edwards, 44, visiting from Indianapolis, stopped by to compliment the costumes. She remarked that it was “refreshing to see other black women here” because “there aren’t a lot of black people who are enthusiastic about ‘The Golden Girls’.”
“If they are, they are women,” she said. “They love it because it’s all about sisterhood and no matter how old you are, you need your girls.”
The girls themselves were visibly missing. White was the last surviving member of the main cast when she is dead in December, just under 100.
White’s death had given Golden-Con an added emotional resonance that it didn’t have in 2020, when Zack Hudson and two friends, brothers Brad and Brendan Balof, first considered the idea. Originally announcement as a smaller event to be held at an LGBTQ community center, it garnered such a “massive” response, Hudson said, that he decided to movement the convention at Navy Pier, with its cavernous ballroom and sweeping views of Lake Michigan.
“Based on the reaction, I think the time was right,” said Hudson, 44, who is by day a community health worker for the elderly. He estimated that the convention cost around $420,000 to produce, and he was confident it would come out in the dark.
The Golden-Con headliners weren’t brand names from the latest Hollywood blockbuster, as you find at ComicCon. They were mostly baby boomer actors and writers who rocked “The Golden Girls” with one-liners and double takes, and who didn’t shy away, however imperfectlyhot potato problems like AIDS and racism.
Stan Zimmerman, a writer on the first season, said the show’s blend of timeless comedy and timely storytelling is why it remains a pop culture heavyweight.
The sitcom landscape in the ’80s “wasn’t about four women talking about real-life situations,” Zimmerman said. “But that was everything we loved as writers.”
No one associated with the show was too underage for the Golden-Coners to fall for. There were lines to meet the Emmy winner Bonnie Bartlett92, who played fan-favorite villain Barbara Thorndyke in just one episode of the third season.
Then there was Cindy Fee. At 28, she was an in-demand singer in Los Angeles when in just a few takes, she managed to land the show’s theme song.
“I had never seen the song before, but it’s pretty typical in the industry – most of us are pretty good sight readers,” said Fee, whose vocals also helped sell. Wheaties and Vacuum vacuum cleaners. “They played the song and I just sang it. It’s easy to sing because it’s a beautiful melody.
The crowd roared like Fee was Lady Gaga when she performed the song on the opening night of Golden-Con. They also went wild when she brought in a surprise guest: Aaron Scottof which 2016 gospel-tinged version has over 6.3 million views on YouTube.
Even furniture attracted worship, like pilgrims to a relic. Richard Carrington, 38, and his partner, Bryan Brozek, drove in from Cañon City, Colorado with a couch and chairs from the show’s living room that they had purchased from a California prop house for about $9 $000. Carrington said the pieces never left their home.
He said fans “just wanted to come and touch it knowing the cast was sitting on it.”
“We had a guy who bowed out,” he added.
The closest fans who got to hang out with an original Golden Girl was an appearance by Dr. Melinda McClanahan, Rue McClanahan’s sister and a semi-retired biologist. Dr McClanahan said his famous brother “would have been amazed if anyone gave Blanche Deveraux so much attention and attention”.
If the event had a beautiful ideal, it was Chase Bristow. Born on the fifth anniversary of the show’s debut – he pulled out his driver’s license to prove it – Bristow is such a “Golden Girls” that he customized his Uber profile for drivers in Daytona Beach, Florida , must ask Blanche.
Bristow echoed many fans when he said watching “The Golden Girls” was a balm that soothed life’s scratches big and small.
“When my parents kicked me out because I’m gay, the first thing I did when I walked in the door was turn on ‘Golden Girls,'” said Bristow, who wore a “Dorothy in the Streets, Blanche in the Sheets” T-shirt and sported a “Golden Girls” tattoo on her arm. “It’s like that big grandma hug you always want.”
Reached after the event, Hudson, one of the organizers, said that in addition to providing entertainment, Golden-Con also created a welcoming space for fans who had “something in common with the people who feel like I’ve been left out.” He already plans to bring it back in 2023, possibly to Chicago, although many fans have told him that Miami would make more sense.
Like the Golden Girls themselves, what fans wanted — and deserved — “was friendship and connection,” he said.
“They found some at Golden-Con.”