The Golden Girls Character Betty White Almost Played Instead Of Rose

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Variety’s Cynthia Littleton writes that although Betty White was  “originally slated for the role of the promiscuous southern Belle (Blanche)… she chose instead to play Rose.” Though White’s career had already been, by the series’ debut in 1985, punctuated by a series of career-defining decisions and roles, it’s difficult not to see her choice as one that had an immediate and lasting impact on both her legacy and that of her co-star Rue McClanahan.

The role of Blanche ultimately went to McClanahan, who pulled off the debutante’s southern drawl, unique style, and affinity for all things illicit and steamy with incomparable elan. For her part, White breathed a relatability and lovability into her often confused, small-town character from St. Olaf, Minnesota. In a lesser actor’s hands, Rose’s frequently-surprising emotional intelligence and empathy could have been lost entirely to her more obvious character traits. Perhaps the most stunning and memorable evidence of the importance of White’s decision can be found in Season 2, Episode 23, wherein Blanche attempts to introduce Rose to “I Love Lucy.”

“Who did Lucy play?” Rose asks. “Lucy,” Blanche answers (obviously). “I know,” Rose says, “but who did she play?” The scene unfolds in a similar fashion to Abbott and Costello’s famous “Who’s on First?” sketch, but it’s impossible to imagine anyone but Betty White pulling off Rose’s simultaneous dimwittedness and earnest charm. (Or, for that matter, anyone but Rue McClanahan trying desperately not to lose patience with her wide-eyed friend.)

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