Tuesday, June 18, 2024

The Golden Girls: Rose the Prude



Written by: Barry Fanaro and Mort Nathan

Directed by: Jim Drake

Airdate: September 28, 1985

While Dorothy Zbornak is a divorcee, the other three Golden Girls are all widows. Each loved her husband dearly and were never able to replace him. However, out of the four I think Rose Nylund (Betty White) was the one who idolized her husband the most and who struggled the most from grief. Ironically, while Rose was a grief counselor, she apparently never got enough grief counseling to fully work out her feelings about losing Charlie, the clear love of her life. Rose the Prude is the first time we have had frank talk about sex among the senior set. While I think the title is a wild misnomer, Rose the Prude dealt with a serious issue in a gentle way. 

Blanche Devereaux (Rue McClanahan) needs a second for a double date. Dorothy (Bea Arthur) turns her down, determined to beat her mother Sophia Petrillo (Estelle Getty) at gin rummy, something she has been unable to do in 30 years. Despite her misgivings, Rose agrees to go on the double date. She has not dated much after the death of her husband Charlie fifteen years ago. 

To Rose's delight, she and Arnie Peterson (Harold Gould) hit it off immediately. To Rose's consternation, Arnie invites her on a cruise. Rose has not slept with anyone other than Charlie, before or since. As such, she is terrified of intimacy, particularly after revealing to Arnie that Charlie died when they were making love. Does she give in to the pleasures of the flesh? 

For her part, Dorothy has reached her limit with Sophia's winning streak and quits playing cards. Sophia tells her that cards actually bore her. She informs Dorothy that what she actually enjoys is "the talking", noting that playing cards let them open up to each other. With that, Dorothy and Sophia start a new game, where Sophia tells her daughter about Aunt Jean, who once swam nude with Charles Boyer.

We learn the ages of two characters. Rose comments that she lived in Minnesota for 51 years. As there is no suggestion that she has lived anywhere else, we put her age as 51. That will make her birthyear 1934 if we go by the year of airdate (1985). Betty White was born in 1922. Sophia comments that she is 80. That would make Sophia's birthyear 1905. Estelle Getty was in 1923, making her a year younger than White.

Expect birthyears to fluctuate wildly from season to season or even episode to episode. The Golden Girls never cared about consistency on such matters. To the show's credit, we still have Rose be a widow for fifteen years at the time of Rose the Prude. Now, again using 1934 as Rose's birthyear and with a fifteen-year widowhood, Rose would have been a shocking 36 years old when Charlie died. 

It is starting to get a bit tangled up. Rose, born in 1934, was widowed in 1970 and has been widowed for fifteen years by 1985. Exactly how old Charlie was or how old both were when they got married is not set yet. The same for how old Sophia was when Dorothy was born. 

To be fair, the show has not established if Rose has lived anywhere else other than Minnesota and Miami. Therefore, 1934 is currently only a working birthyear and can, in theory, change. 

Rose the Prude also has a couple of interesting tweaks among the character's names. Blanche calls Sophia "Sophie", which I do not think she ever did again. While Rose calls her late husband "Charlie", Dorothy calls him "Charles". Again, I think this was a one-off event, as I think they would not be called that again. In a curious bit, the subtitles read Rose's last name and "Nyland". Most spellings, however, have it as "Nylund". 

Harold Gould makes his debut as Arnie. He would go on to return on The Golden Girls again as Rose's boyfriend but as another character altogether: Miles Weber. That, however, is still a ways off.

Only one scene gets cut from reruns. It is when we see Rose and Arnie in their stateroom for the first time. In this scene, Rose is first hesitant being with Arnie until he puts Glen Miller on his portable radio. They soon start dancing and Rose happily remembers meeting Charlie for the first time at a Glen Miller dance. Actually, it was not a Glen Miller dance but the Dick Singleton and the Singletones dance, who claim to sound exactly like Glen Miller. As she continues, she tells Arnie that he reminds her of Charlie in many ways. Arnie points out that he is not Charlie, but Arnie Peterson from New Jersey. With a mix of horror and sadness, she rushes into the bathroom and locks herself in.

It is unfortunate that this scene is cut, because it is a lovely moment between Rose and Arnie. We see how much Rose loved Charlie and how much she still misses him. We also see how good Gould is, making it clear that while he likes Rose, he won't play a ghost for her. It also clarifies how Rose is still in the bathroom the next day, which one misses when seeing reruns that cut the scene.

As a side note, how Charlie and Rose met will change. 

Rose the Prude does something surprising in terms of character. For as sexually voracious as Blanche would become, it is Rose Nylund who ends being the first Golden Girl to have intercourse on the show. 

I think I will pause briefly to touch on the sexual promiscuity on The Golden Girls. It might be a strange thing to think that really all four women had more sexual partners than most people. If we counted every boyfriend that came their way, along with all the ones they claimed prior to the show's start, and assumed that they had sex with them, the number of lovers for even Rose the Prude would run into the hundreds! For this retrospective, I will separate boyfriends from sex partners. Unless we see them specifically in bed or either party says they had sex, I will assume that they did not go all the way and were just boyfriends.

As such, Blanche's story that the first man she slept with after her husband George's death was the minister who officiated the funeral and Dorothy's assertion that her first lover post-Stan was her divorce lawyer will not be counted. 

Each woman starts out at one man: their husbands. Rose now has two established lovers: Charlie Nylund and Arnie Peterson. 

I think Rose the Prude is a misnomer. Rose is not prudish in that she does not shirk from sexual intercourse or finds it shocking. Rather, it is more a great sense of disinterest, loss and fear that keeps her from venturing into another affair of the heart. She loved Charlie more than any other man. She also feels great guilt over how he died when they were intimate. As Arnie wryly observes, if she hasn't made love in 15 years, she may really kill him. Rose the Prude tackles surprisingly heavy topics: grief, guilt and moving on, but in an exceptionally humorous way.

The episode is filled with great lines both comedic and mournful. We get Sophia taunting Dorothy with a tagline that would have been well-known at the time: ABC's Wide World of Sports opening of "The thrill of victory...the agony of defeat". When Blanch expresses genuine shock that Rose has had only one lover and was a virgin on her wedding night, Dorothy has a great retort. "Back off, Blanche! Not all of us are classified by the Navy as a friendly port!". Sophia asks Rose upon her return, "So, did you and Arnie play find the cannoli?", as outlandish and funny a question as one has heard.

The best lines, however, are Dorothy's words of wisdom encouraging Rose to go on the cruise. "The bottom line is if you take a chance in life, sometimes good things happen, sometimes bad things happen. But honey, if you don't take a chance, nothing happens". That is such a true axiom that should be remembered.

Rose the Prude is the best Golden Girls episode so far. It balances humor and heart, with standout performances by the cast and a funny script. 

Finally, what would Coco do here?


Next Episode: Transplant

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