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‘Golden’ Shades of White

TIMES STAFF WRITER

“The Golden Palace” is a series that almost wasn’t.

When Bea Arthur announced that she was leaving “The Golden Girls” at the conclusion of last season, Betty White felt that the series was doomed.

White and co-star Estelle Getty met with executive producers Paul Junger Witt and Tony Thomas earlier this year.

“Susan Harris (the series’ creator and another executive producer) had come up with an idea to keep it going,” White said. “We went into the meeting thinking, no matter what they come up with, we’re going to say, ‘No.’ All our agents said now is the time to break away and don’t commit to anything.

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“We got so excited about it. We weren’t committing to anything, but we were enthusiastically hearing more and more.”

The result is a show that is neither old nor new, but mixes freshness with familiarity.

“To our great surprise, we are having a ball,” White said. “It’s coming together much better than we had thought.”

“The Golden Palace” will begin with Rose (White), Sophia (Getty) and Blanche (Rue McClanahan) selling their home and purchasing and operating an Art Deco Miami Beach hotel, a setting which has expanded the show’s possibilities.

“We were in the same house for seven years and rarely got out,” White said. “Now we’re in a hotel where there are people and activity all over.”

The new setting will also provide new challenges for the series’ stars.

“We have to be be a little bit deeper,” White said. “Rose can’t be as dizzy and Blanche can’t be as much of a hustler.”

“Golden Palace” also features three new cast members. White is especially impressed by Don Cheadle, who portrays the hotel’s manager.

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“He is a delightful surprise,” she said of Cheadle. “He is such a good actor with a great sense of humor and comedy. He took some actor’s choices (with the role) and began to befriend Rose.”

The other additions are Cheech Marin, of Cheech and Chong fame, as the hotel’s chef and Billy L. Sullivan as a 12-year-old boy abandoned at the hotel by his mother.

Arthur may be gone, but her character isn’t. Dorothy will be the subject of discussions and Arthur will make at least one guest appearance.

White believes the show also benefits by being on a different network. “The Golden Girls” ran for seven seasons on NBC, which declined to give “The Golden Palace” a full-season commitment.

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“I’m not trying to be critical of NBC, but what more could they to do promote us?” White asked. “But to CBS, we’re the new kids on the block.”

White is far from a new kid on the block, to television, CBS or Southern California. She was born in Oak Park, Ill., just outside Chicago, but moved here as a child. For a time, she lived at the northwest corner of Cahuenga Boulevard and Fountain Avenue, just four blocks north of the Ren-Mar Studios where “Golden Palace” is taped.

When White was in the fifth grade, her family moved to Beverly Hills, where she went to grade school and high school.

Eschewing college for a career in radio, White went to television in the early 1950s, co-hosting a program on KLAC (now KCOP) with Al Jarvis.

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“It ran 5 1/2 hours a day, six days a week,” she said. “When you went in the morning, you never knew what the day would hold.”

White and Jarvis would fill the time with singing, interviews, live commercials (the record for a day was 58) and comedy sketches, “which we would make up as we went along.”

One sketch that attracted a following was “‘Alvin and Elizabeth,” a look at a young married couple. It was transformed into a nationally syndicated situation comedy, “Life With Elizabeth” (1953-55).

Another situation comedy, “Date With the Angels” ran on ABC in 1957 and 1958, and now airs on cable’s Nostalgia Television. A short-lived comedy variety show, “The Betty White Show,” followed later in 1958 on the same network.

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White’s next stop was on NBC’s “The Jack Paar Show,” 1959-62. During the 1960s, she was a frequently seen series guest, a parade host and a game-show panelist, notably on “Password,” which was hosted by her husband of 18 years, the late Allen Ludden.

In 1973, White returned to series television as Sue Ann Nivens, “The Happy Homemaker,” on “The Mary Tyler Moore Show.”

She was able to transform a one-shot role described as an “icky-sweet Betty White-type” (a dozen actresses auditioned for the role before White was finally called in) into one for which she twice won Emmy Awards as best supporting actress in a comedy.

Although “The Mary Tyler Moore Show” producers thought there was a Betty White-type, White credits her longevity to the variety of roles she has played, which also has helped her from being stereotyped.

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“I’ve been so lucky,” she said. “Let’s face it. It’s been a thrill. To be on a hit when you should be in a rocking chair is just marvelous.

“The old saying about one door closes and another opens is true. There have been times when a show has ended, and I’ve thought that’s the end of the world. But after that, something else comes along.”

“The Golden Palace” premieres Friday at 8 p.m. on CBS. “Date With the Angels” airs Sundays at midnight on Nostalgia Television.


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