11 Golden Girls References Explained for Younger Viewers

For those of you who were too young to watch the show when it first aired, many of the topical references might seem like ancient history. Hopefully, with this handy reference guide, those reruns will be twice as funny in the future.

1. DANNY THOMAS

“I’ve never known any personally, but isn’t Danny Thomas one?”“Not Lebanese, Blanche, Lesbian.” — Dorothy, to Blanche, "Isn't it Romantic?"

Danny Thomas was born Amos Muzyad Yakhoob Kairouz in Deerfield, Michigan, but grew up in Toledo, Ohio (also the hometown of fellow Lebanese-American actor Jamie Farr). When Thomas was struggling to make a name for himself in show business, he prayed to St. Jude, the Patron Saint of Hopeless Causes, and pledged to make a shrine in his honor if he found success. Not long afterward, Thomas landed several regular roles on network radio shows, which ultimately led to his own long-running TV sitcom, Make Room for Daddy. Thomas went on to produce several other successful TV series and also founded the St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital in Memphis, Tennessee.

2. ISHTAR

“Let me tell you girls the three most important things I learned about life: Number one, hold fast to your friends; number two, there's no such thing as security; and number three, don't go see

Ishtar. Woof.” —Sophia, "The Audit"

Ishtar is a 1987 comedy starring two box office powerhouses of that time, Warren Beatty and Dustin Hoffman, as two untalented songwriters who get a gig performing in Morocco and somehow end up involved in some Cold War shenanigans. Directed by Elaine May, the film received a lot of negative press before it was released due to its enormous budget and reports of fights between the stars and director. It went on to become synonymous with “expensive box office bomb” and ended up on many “Worst of” lists.

3. DOUG HENNING

“Well Rose, do I look like the Mayor of Palm Springs?”
“Doug Henning is the Mayor of Palm Springs?” —Rose, to Sophia, "An Illegitimate Concern"

Doug Henning was a Canadian-born magician/illusionist who gained fame in the 1970s with his World of Magic TV specials, and eventually a Tony-nominated Broadway show.

4. FESS PARKER

“Rose, you know how uncomfortable I am in front of a camera. Besides, I always come out looking like Fess Parker.”“Don't worry, Dorothy. This is a documentary; it's okay if you're not good looking.” —Rose, to Dorothy, "Whose Face Is This, Anyway?"


By NBC Television - eBay itemphoto frontphoto back, Public Domain, Wikimedia Commons

Actor Fess Parker was actually considered to be ruggedly handsome, but that’s probably not the ideal look for a woman. Parker played both Daniel Boone and Davy Crockett on two different TV series in the 1950s and '60s.

5. HEE-HAW

“Rose, I've never met anyone quite like you.” “Check the cornfield on

Hee-Haw.” —Sophia, to Rose's boyfriend Miles, "Triple Play"

Hee-Haw was a long-running (over 20 years in first-run syndication) comedy/variety show that was a rural version of Laugh-In. Each episode was filled with hayseed humor (a recurring skit featured cast members trading one-liners in a makeshift cornfield) and the top country music stars of the day.

6. SUSAN HAYWARD AND ANITA BRYANT

“This is more moving than Susan Hayward's climatic speech in

I Want To Live!
“You're ready to fly right out of here, aren't you?”
“Well excuse me for living, Anita Bryant!” —Caterer, to Blanche, "Sophia's Wedding: Part 1"

Susan Hayward won an Academy Award for her portrayal of Barbara “Bloody Babs” Graham, a former prostitute and small-time crook who gets involved with a gang of men that commit a murder. Badgered by the press and represented by poor legal counsel, Graham was ultimately sentenced to the gas chamber.

A former Miss America finalist, Anita Bryant became the spokeswoman for the Florida Citrus Commission in 1969 and appeared in a series of TV commercials singing the praises of orange juice. Then in 1977 she led a highly publicized campaign to repeal a Dade County, Florida, ordinance that prohibited discrimination based on sexual orientation. Her statements equating homosexuals with child molesters resulted in a national backlash that, for many years, made “Anita Bryant” a common insult directed at any person displaying an intolerance for homosexuality.

7. BURL IVES

"That child over there is trying to steal my daddy away. She ain't better but a tick on a slow moving hound dog.” “Why is everyone around here talking like Burl Ives?” —Dorothy, to Blanche, "Big Daddy's Little Lady"

Burl Ives wasn’t born in the south, strictly speaking, but rather southern Illinois. However, early in his career, he gained fame as a folk singer with such homespun hits as “Bluetail Fly,” “The Foggy, Foggy Dew,” and “Big Rock Candy Mountain.” He later acted in films and on television, and is probably best remembered today for his holiday hit “Have a Holly Jolly Christmas” and his narration of the annual TV special Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer.

8. SHINOLA

"You know, back in Minnesota, I was known as the Sherlock Holmes of St. Olaf.” “Figured out which one was Shinola, did you, Rose?” “The hard way.” —Rose, to Dorothy, "The Case of the Libertine Belle"

Shinola was a brand of shoe polish. In the 1940s, a popular colloquialism to describe someone’s naiveté was, “He doesn’t know sh*t from Shinola.” Perhaps that’s why the brand eventually went out of business; the Shinola folks couldn’t come up with an advertising slogan that was more memorable than the insult. 

9. THE PLO

“Maybe you ought to join an organization that is a little less fanatical in its devotion, honey.” “Oh, like what, Blanche, the PLO?” —Dorothy, to Blanche, "Sophia's Wedding"

The Palestine Liberation Organization is a paramilitary organization founded in 1964 and was considered by the United States and Israel to be a terrorist group until the Madrid Conference in 1991.

10. YASSER ARAFAT

“You grow a beard, Dorothy! Believe me, I woke up one morning, I looked like Arafat!" —Sophia, to Dorothy, "End of the Curse"

Getty Images

When Sophia discussed the effects of menopause, she name-dropped Yasser Arafat, the longtime leader of the PLO, who was also known for his distinctive chin stubble. (Even younger viewers should probably understand this one.)

11. DAVID HOROWITZ

“I'm sorry, Dorothy, it's all my fault. I misunderstood the brochure.”“'Fun in the buff at a mountain retreat! Hike, swim, and play volleyball while the sun beats down on your fanny!’ Call David Horowitz; I mean, how can they get away with this misrepresentation!” —Dorothy, to Rose, "Valentine's Day"

Consumer advocate David Horowitz used to host a TV show called Fight Back. He specialized in exposing false advertisements, shady business practices, and outright rip-offs.

When “Weird Al” Yankovic Asked Kurt Cobain for Permission to Parody "Smells Like Teen Spirit"

Erik Voake/Stringer/Getty Images
Erik Voake/Stringer/Getty Images

"Weird Al" Yankovic has gotten plenty of rejections throughout his career. Prince, Jimmy Page, and Paul McCartney have all denied the musical comedian the right to turn one of their hit songs into an irreverent parody. Even so, Weird Al was hesitant to ask for Kurt Cobain's permission to skewer the Nirvana chart-topper "Smells Like Teen Spirit" in the early 1990s.

“I was very nervous, and I didn’t know how he would take my requesting the parody," Yankovic told Loudwire in 2014. The phone call would have been especially nerve-wracking because he wasn't planning to write a spoof that was divorced from the original artist, as was the case with previous hits like "Eat It" and "Like a Surgeon." His parody "Smells Like Nirvana" was going to make fun of the fact that no one could understand Cobain's incoherent singing.

But, as Yankovic recounted decades later, he had no reason to worry. "I explained it’s about how nobody could understand his lyrics. There was probably half a beat on the phone, and he said, ‘Yeah, yeah, sounds like a funny idea.’”

Cobain would have been sympathetic to Yankovic's sense of humor. The Nirvana frontman had a reputation for being a serial prankster, pulling stunts like taping an upside down cross onto the drive-through window of his favorite fried chicken place. Other stories tied to the band's antics involved lighting tour bus curtains on fire, giving out a friend's phone numbers in a live interview, and inviting the audience on stage to escape security.

"Smells Like Nirvana" debuted in 1992 and it was an instant success. It topped the Billboard charts and earned a platinum record, and Yankovic credited the track for revitalizing his career after a brief slump. You can watch Weird Al channeling Cobain in the music video below.

[h/t Loudwire]

He's Also a Client: The Saga of Sy Sperling's Hair Club

Upper Playground, YouTube
Upper Playground, YouTube

Divorced, depressed, and with his midsection growing, Sy Sperling stood in front of a mirror at his home in Long Island in the late 1960s and adjusted his hair. It wasn’t his hair, exactly, but a toupee purchased for the express purpose of obscuring his prematurely shiny crown.

Though he was only 26, Sperling had been losing his hair for years. Now that he was newly single, he felt self-conscious about his receding hairline, believing it would diminish his chances with the opposite sex. He tried combing tufts of hair from the side over to the front. He tried the toupee, which looked like a road-flattened beaver. He tried weaving, which knitted human locks to his existing strands; the first time he shampooed it, it collapsed into a ball of knotted hair.

Like many pioneering spirits before him, Sperling imagined that there had to be a better way—a solution to regaining his lost self-confidence and living the life he desired.

In the coming years, Sperling and his second wife, a hairstylist, would perfect an existing approach with irresistible marketing that provided a solution for millions of follicle-deprived individuals everywhere. And much of that success came from Sperling admitting that he was not just the president. He was also a client.

 

Baldness “cures” date back to the most ancient civilizations. Egyptians used hippopotamus and crocodile fat as hair growth stimulants. In Rome, burning donkey genitals and mixing the ashes with urine was believed to help grow luscious locks. Various concoctions involving poop were believed to work, too.

In more enlightened times, thinning hair could be addressed with transplantation surgery. In 1939, a Japanese dermatologist extracted hair-bearing skin and replanted it by punching a small hole on sites affected by burn injuries. This practice was mirrored by Norman Orentreich, a New York dermatologist who successfully planted hairs into a patient with male pattern baldness in the 1950s. Orentreich was the first person to observe that hairs on the sides of the head were largely resistant to shedding and would therefore remain in place when transplanted to the top or front of the head.

For decades, this was a crude surgical practice, giving rise to a number of patients who had hair sparsely transplanted and created a reputation for heads that appeared to be implanted with “plugs.” It wasn’t until the 1990s that transplants could be more densely packed, offering a convincing restoration of the hairline.

For Sperling, who was born in 1942 and in his 20s when his hair loss became apparent, invasive surgery that was still years away from being refined wasn’t an option. After his sister admonished him to “do something” about the thinning hair that was causing him such grief, he went to a hairstylist who recommended weaving. While somewhat effective, this only seemed practical if hair was remaining on top. Toupees were out, as Sperling had a particular concern over solutions that could fall off or become dislodged during more intimate moments.

"If you're dating and going to be having special moments, how do you explain, 'I got to take my hair off now?'" he asked.

Even with its drawbacks, weaving seemed like the best option. After learning the technique from his stylist, Sperling left his job in swimming pool sales and opened his own salon on New York City's Madison Avenue in 1968. Using $10,000 in capital from credit cards, he leased a vacant business that already had barber-style chairs. Soon, he and his new wife, Amy—who, it turned out, was indifferent to his hair shortage—perfected a technique in which they used a nylon mesh fitted to the scalp. The net-like fabric allowed the head to breathe and for hairs to grow out from under it. It also acted as a base for human hair strands to be woven on top and secured with a polymer adhesive. The entire “system” was secured to the client by weaving the mesh into the hair on the sides. The result was a relatively natural-looking addition that would remain in place through showering, exercising, and—key for Sperling—sexual activity.

The approach took off, enticing New Yorkers and celebrities alike. (Sperling later insisted Jimi Hendrix came in for a fitting in 1969.) Sperling’s business grew steadily throughout the 1970s, but by 1979, sales were leveling off. The problem was that even though he had happy customers, they were reticent to tell friends about their hair-replacement efforts, so word-of-mouth was not reliable. That’s when Sperling decided to advertise.

 

Sperling’s business, then known as the Hair Club for Men, debuted on national television in 1982. One early campaign featured testimonials from actual customers, but the response was minimal. Producers had shot a second spot featuring Sperling himself and considered it as a back-up plan in case the first approach failed. The infomercial aired late at night, when advertising time was cheapest.

Though Sperling was no trained actor or orator, he was genuine. “I’m not just the president,” he said. “I’m also a client.”

When it aired, the reaction was immediate. The Hair Club got 10,000 calls in a month. Interested parties received a brochure discussing various hair-system options and why Sperling’s approach worked. By 1991, there were 40 franchise locations, where clients paid between $2000 and $3500 for a custom mesh that used colored and textured hair to match their natural growth. A maintenance appointment every two months cost $65.

By 1993, the commercial was airing 400 times a day, costing Sperling $12 million annually in advertising expenses. But it was drawing up to $100 million annually in sales. In admitting what most men wouldn't, Sperling engendered trust—and profit.

 

Later, the Hair Club for Men would undergo several cosmetic alterations to its business model. Sperling moved away from strip-mall locations for his clinics and into commercial office spaces to help provide discretion. He even used initials—HCM—on signage to promote privacy.

The “For Men” was dropped as more women suffering from hair loss due to genetics or illness came looking for assistance. Sperling also provided assistance to kids with cancer diagnoses. Through it all, he sold something more than polymers and mesh: Hair Club trafficked in confidence and self-esteem. He allowed reporters to tug on his own hair as a demonstration of quality. It would barely move. "Not bad, eh?" he asked a Spy journalist in 1991. "It really is an amazing transformation."

The hair stayed in place, but Sperling didn’t. In 2000, he sold Hair Club for $45 million to a group of investors who turned around and sold it in 2005 to the Regis hair company for $210 million. Today, Hair Club still offers solutions similar to what Sperling marketed, as well as proven topical treatments like Rogaine (minoxidil), laser combs purported to stimulate growth, and transplantation surgery.

Sperling had an impressive 15-year non-compete clause for the initial sale and spent time in Vancouver and Florida until his death at age 78 in February 2020. Photographs of Sperling in his later years showed that the septuagenarian still had a full head of hair.

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