Sunday, June 16, 2024

The Golden Girls: Guess Who's Coming to the Wedding



Written by: Winifred Hervey

Directed by: Paul Bogart

Airdate: September 15, 1985

Out of all the four Golden Girls, only one was divorced. Guess Who's Coming to the Wedding? is the first appearance of Dorothy Zbornak's (Bea Arthur) yutz of an ex-husband. Surprisingly angry but with a great dramatic turn, Guess Who's Coming to the Wedding? establishes a long and strange relationship that would be among the series' most enduring. 

Dorothy is thrilled when her daughter Kate (Lisa Jane Persky) comes to Miami to tell her that she is engaged to Dennis (Dennis Drake). Dorothy's enthusiasm is somewhat dampened when she learns that Dennis is actually a podiatrist versus a "real doctor" in the words of her mother, Sophia Petrillo (Estelle Getty). Still, her daughter's upcoming wedding is joyful news. That is until she learns Kate and Dennis are going to get married in the Bahamas.

Why the Bahamas? Kate wants her father, Stanley Zbornak (Herb Edelman) to give her away, but two years after their divorce, Dorothy cannot stand the thought of Stan, let alone be in the same room with him. Sophia points out correctly that Stan is Kate's father and has every right to be at his daughter's wedding. With that, Dorothy calls Stan, now living in Maui with his new wife, to come to the wedding.

Dorothy is openly hostile to Stan. Her roommates, Blanche Devereaux (Rue McClanahan) and Rose Nylund (Betty White) attempt to keep Dorothy's rage in check. It takes the wisdom of Sophia to get Dorothy to finally confront Stanley and tell him goodbye.  

Guess Who's Coming to the Wedding? is the first appearance of Stanley Zbornak, who would go on to be a recurring character and a thorn at Dorothy's side. While the episode does establish that he and Dorothy were married for 38 years before their divorce, the actual time frame of both the wedding and the divorce will appear to fluctuate. Like many things in The Golden Girls, continuity is something the show never appeared to care for or about. 

If we go by the airdate and add the two years after the divorce, Stan and Dorothy would have been married in 1945. In The Engagement, we have established that Stanley was born in 1920 (Dorothy remarks that Stan is 65 years old at the time). That would have made Stan 25 years old when he married Dorothy. 

If we go by the actress' age as that of the character, Kate would be 30 when she got married. Using that as a base, she would have been born in 1955, ten years after her parents married in a shotgun wedding. As such, Kate would not be the reason they had to get married. We do not know exactly how old Dorothy was when she married Stanley as we have not been given Dorothy's birth year or age as of yet. Therefore, while it is still possible that Dorothy was underage when she and Stan married, we are currently skating on thin ice when it comes to logic. 

A minor point of logic is when Stan shows up for the wedding itself. Guess Who's Coming to the Wedding? to my mind implies that this is the first time Stan has seen Kate since arriving in Miami. Surely, he saw his daughter before the actual ceremony, but as played by Edelman and Persky it appears that they had not seen each other until Stan comes to take her to the church. 

There are two sections from Guess Who's Coming to the Wedding? that are usually cut from reruns. The first is the telephone call that Dorothy makes to Stan inviting him to the wedding. The second is when, at the small wedding reception, Dorothy comes into the living room with a butcher knife. Rose, terrified that Dorothy will literally stab Stanley, rushes her out into the kitchen before Dorothy makes clear she only intends to cut the wedding cake. 

As insane as the idea of Dorothy murdering Stanley in front of everyone is, on this one I have to side with Rose. Dorothy's anger is understandable and even relatable. It is her behavior that is beyond irrational, especially for the most level-headed of the quartet. She literally barks at Stan, which I understand is for comic effect, so it gets a bit of a pass.

What really makes Dorothy's behavior irrational is how she stubbornly refuses to accept or acknowledge Stan's role in Kate's life. For all his faults and all the hurt he caused Dorothy, Stan is Kate's father. Sophia is absolutely right when she says that Stan has every right to be at his daughter's wedding. Moreover, Kate obviously loves her father and has a positive relationship with him. For Dorothy to insist that he be excluded from Kate's wedding is clearly vindictive and short-sighted, not to mention utterly selfish.

This is not to diminish the genuine hurt, anger and hatred that Dorothy has. Arthur has a beautiful scene where she recounts their life together and expresses how she deserved better from the man she was forced to marry who ended up abandoning her for a younger model. It's a beautiful piece of acting from Arthur. It also was good for Edelman, who says very little but shows how Stan is confronted with his own selfishness and cowardice. 

Still, looking back at it, I think Dorothy's overall behavior slipped into tunnel vision. She loves her daughter, but in this case, she also here put herself first. This is terrible for her character, revealing a surprisingly vindictive manner. Dorothy also shows terrible disappointment that her future son-in-law is a podiatrist. It is not as if he is a mud maker or an irresponsible jazz musician. Podiatrist is a respectable position. I never got the joke about how Dennis being a podiatrist was a terrible thing. Rose's sincere question about whether Dennis has ever met Dr. Scholl was amusing.

As a side note, it is a strange coincidence that the character of Dennis is played by an actor named Dennis. 

Edelman does a good job in Stan's debut. His welcoming line, "Dorothy, it's Stan" would later evolve into the more familiar and comic, "Hi, it's me, Stan". The latter became a running gag and amusing entry into a more comic figure. Here, he was slightly more realistic as a character.

There is a nice bit of physical comedy when Dorothy all but crushes Blanche's hand out of suppressed anger. The gag about Rose forever guarding the meatballs from Sophia did not work, however. Why Rose thought Sophia grazing Rose's meatballs was such a crisis is unexplained, not to mention bizarre.

As Guess Who's Coming to the Wedding? is Dorothy-centered, both McClanahan and White were there merely for support. White was excellent when playing naive, less so when playing meatball police. McClanahan also did well when forcing Dorothy to pull herself together for Kate's sake. She also had a nice comic moment when she slips from talking about Dorothy to sweaty, muscular farmhands. Getty is snippier when mocking Stan and his toupee, sarcastically asking who invited Donny Osmond. She did however managed comedy and drama when comparing anger to a piece of shredded wheat. 

Guess Who's Coming to the Wedding? is better at playing the drama than the comedy, but it does have good funny moments. Stanley Zbornak may appear to be out of Dorothy's life, but don't could out the bad penny that is the first Mr. Dorothy. 

One last point: what would Coco do here?


Next Episode: Rose the Prude

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