Picture it: Lake Forest, Illinois, 2001.
A skinny young man sits in the basement of a multi-million dollar home using a big device that costs more than his car to iron bed linens, the price of which could’ve covered student loan payment for more than eight months. This is a new world for this young man. He was raised in a blue collar household where sheets were laundered at the coin-op and nothing was ever ironed.
He had started this new job just weeks before. He had seen an advertisement in the free weekly city newspaper and couldn’t believe his eyes. After spending his high school years in food service and college career in retail and then desk monkey jobs, hopping from one unfulfilling situation to slightly less unfulfilling situation, this job seemed like a dream come true. The advertisement listed the job title as household manager but the young man preferred to think of himself as a butler. As a professed homebody and Martha Stewart wannabe, the job description read like a list of the man’s favorite activities. Cooking, shopping, laundry, organizing and other household tasks for a couple in the suburbs.
The young man was also excited about the opportunity because he knew that this job – a live-in position with a healthy salary – would help him dig out of the debt that he accrued through college borrowing and sporadic employment. But the young man was also bored by his new surroundings. He had moved out of the city and to this tony suburb where he was considered “the help.” If not for the televisions in every room – including the basement, where he spent many hours toiling with an iron – he may have gone mad.
There was one television show in particular that kept the young man company during the darkest hours of that winter in the suburbs. A show set in sunny Miami, Florida, about four ride-or-die friends who had created a family for themselves. That TV show was The Golden Girls. And that skinny young man was me.
In the early 2000s, Lifetime Television relied on The Golden Girls to fill hours and hours of airtime. There were four-hour blocks of the day when the network aired back to back episodes of the show. Suddenly, just when I needed them most, Blanche, Dorothy, Rose and Sophia were there to be my friends. The ladies kept me company over the winter months, when my employers, the owners of the house, traveled and I was left to keep a watch over the big, empty and eerily quiet home. The ladies cracked wise while I sat at the ironing machine in the basement for hours on end. They helped me hone my one liners and witty replies while I prepared dinners and canned vegetables from the garden that the landscaper tended.
I probably watched all seven seasons of the show many times over during the year that I was in exile in the suburbs. Back in the early 2000s, The Golden Girls was just a sitcom that filled Lifetime’s airtime. Fast forward a decade-and-a-half and The Golden Girls has become a cultural touchstone and shorthand for “yes, I am indeed a gay man of a certain age.” Lifetime has since become the network of sensational movies and reality shows, but The Golden Girls has survived its domination of reruns on different networks and, just recently, on Hulu. The girls still bring me comfort – it’s my go-to show when I’m sick or depressed or just need a mental checkout – and my ears can pick up the theme song from miles away. We were visiting The Mister’s aunt in a nursing home recently, I heard the familiar opening notes of the theme song echo its way from another patient’s room and down the hallway. Remarkably, I resisted the temptation to ditch The Mister’s aunt and go hunker down with the girls in whichever room the were airing that night.
Given my undying love for The Golden Girls, it seems only fitting that I should visit them, right? On a recent trip to Los Angeles, I did just that. You read that right – on a recent trip to Los Angeles, NOT Miami!
While the fictional house that Blanche and George built is located at 6151 Richmond Street in Miami, the actual house that was used for the exterior shots is in California – 245 North Saltair Avenue in Brentwood, to be exact. (Note that this house was only used for exterior shots for the first few seasons of the show. A replica of the house in Brentwood was built at the MGM theme park at Disney World in Orlando. In later seasons the MGM theme park house was used for exterior shots for the show. The replica house was demolished in 2003 – but the original home in Brentwood is obviously still standing.)
It was raining the day that we drove to the Brentwood location of the house that was used for exterior shots of The Golden Girls. If it had been an episode of the show, Dorothy would have walked into the house wearing an oversized, yellow raincoat and slouchy boots. She’d shake the drops off an umbrella before she collapsed it and dropped it into the big vase by the door.
“Dorothy,” Rose would say from her seat on the sofa, “is it raining?”
“No, Rose,” Dorothy would reply, “I was just auditioning for a role as a geriatric Morton Salt girl.”
Cue laughter from studio audience.
As we stood outside the house, I actually found myself feeling a sense of disappointment. This doesn’t look anything like the Girls house, I thought. Perhaps it was missing a late-80’s sedan in the driveway. Or maybe I just needed to hear that familiar melody that opened every episode as the establishing shot of the house filled the screen.
Of course, I knew that this wasn’t the actual home of Blanche Devereaux and that the interior, if I had access, would look nothing like the sets used in the show. And yet it was still difficult to overcome the temptation to run up the driveway, ring the doorbell and wait for one of the girls to answer.
I don’t know who I would expect to answer the door. Maybe after Blanche, Rose and Sophia sold The Golden Palace they decided to move back to the house. And since they were getting on in years they might have had a need for a new household manager. Coco the houseboy hadn’t lasted past the pilot episode, but since Dorothy had married Lucas Hollingsworth and moved to Atlanta, the girls would have needed some help around the house. (Hey, I have experience as a household manager. That should’ve been my job!)
All but one of the Girls has now gone off to the big lanai in the sky. Even if The Golden Girls lived in this house, the only remaining resident would be Rose and whatever houseboy they picked up in later years. And maybe that’s why the house seemed disappointing in real life. I recognized that not only was this a fake house but most of the women who inhabited it and the characters I loved are no longer with us.
After we snapped photos of the house, we drove to nearby coffee shop. As we waited in line for the coffee, I flipped through the photos on my phone.
“Oh,” I said to The Mister, “there it is!”
Whereas standing in front of the physical structure had made it seem too real, seeing the photo of the house through the lens of my phone screen allowed me to picture it as the home of The Golden Girls. The disappointment dissipated and I was happy to have made the journey after all.