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Actors You Forgot Guest Starred On The Golden Girls

On December 31, 2021, Betty White, the last surviving member of the main cast of "The Golden Girls," passed away. As a tribute to her status as a cultural icon, her death was mourned in public statements by President Joe Biden, former First Lady Michelle Obama, and countless figures from her generations-long Hollywood career.

One of the most beloved and enduring sitcoms of all time, "The Golden Girls" ran for seven successful seasons on NBC. The show is still noteworthy for being one of the few sitcoms whose main characters were all played by women in their 50s or older, and it continues to bring new generations of fans into the fold as they discover the comedic adventures of the titular group of friends, played by White, Rue McClanahan, Estelle Getty, and Bea Arthur.

Across seven seasons and 180 episodes of "The Golden Girls," many guest stars appeared on the show. Both Hollywood legends and rising stars mingled with Blanche, Dorothy, Rose, and Sophia, with some playing themselves, and others serving as romantic interests. Here are some of our favorite actors you forgot guest starred on "The Golden Girls."

Burt Reynolds

One of the biggest movie stars of all time, Burt Reynolds spent decades entertaining audiences with big hits like "Deliverance," "Smokey and the Bandit," and "Semi-Tough," among many others. With his barrel-chested physique, tough-guy mustache, and copious amounts of chest hair, Reynolds became a sex symbol for all time ... and the Golden Girls wanted a piece of him. In Season 2's "Ladies of the Evening," the ladies go on a wild adventure on their way to a movie premiere party attended by their favorite movie star, Burt Reynolds. Their excitement is palpable, with even the otherwise cool-headed Dorothy literally jumping for joy at the prospect of meeting Burt.

Along the way, they're mistaken for prostitutes and arrested in a police raid, so only Sophia gets to go to the party; it's a karmic victory for her, since she wasn't invited in the first place. At the end of the episode, the defeated girls are visited by none other than Mr. Reynolds himself. The episode ends with Burt taking Sophia out to lunch before returning to Hollywood to resume his career as a paragon of righteous machismo.

Martin Mull

 Audiences of a certain generation are probably familiar with Martin Mull for his performances in shows like "Sabrina the Teenage Witch" and "Arrested Development," but the musician-turned-actor first came to prominence on the subversive Norman Lear comedies "Mary Hartman, Mary Hartman" and its spinoff, "Fernwood 2 Night."

In Season 6's "Snap Out of It," Dorothy volunteers at Meals on Wheels and meets a man named Jimmy, a reclusive shut-in who hasn't left his apartment in years, presumably due to residual effects from drug use during the 1960s. Dorothy takes it upon herself to drag him out of his apartment and into the 1980s, though his predicament is played more for laughs than anything more dramatic. In the wake of Coronavirus and the normalization of stay-at-home orders for the sake of public safety, maybe Jimmy was right to stay inside and avoid all human contact for years?

Debbie Reynolds

The Hollywood legend goes that Bea Arthur nearly left "The Golden Girls" after its sixth season due to concerns about the quality of the show, feeling it had run its course. In the end, she agreed to return for a seventh and final year, but if she hadn't, the plan was for the show to continue with a new roommate. Thus, late in Season 6, Debbie Reynolds appeared as Truby, a friend of Blanche who moves in with the girls when they believe Dorothy will move away and get married to her on-again-off-again beau, Stanley.

However, Dorothy's betrothed asks her to agree to a prenuptial agreement, she calls the whole thing off, justifiably enraged that the father of her children won't allow her to share in his recently acquired wealth. While the episode ends with the promise that Truby can stick around for a few more days since Dorothy is taking her mother on a trip to Aruba, the next episode returned to the typical status quo, with Truby nowhere to be found.

In any case, it's too bad Reynolds didn't join the show when it was retooled into the spinoff "The Golden Palace," which was produced once Bea Arthur officially left after Season 7. Maybe it would have lasted more than one season with Reynolds in the mix.

Mario Lopez

Before he was a famous actor and television host, one of Mario Lopez's earliest roles was in "Dorothy's Prized Pupil," a Season 2 episode of "The Golden Girls." He played a character named Mario, a young student of Dorothy's and a gifted writer. After he writes an essay about the spirit of America, Dorothy enters him into a local writing contest, which he wins. However, this unexpected praise draws the attention of immigration agents, who arrange for Mario to be deported back to his home country.

Despite Dorothy's best efforts, she's unable to deter the judge who orders Mario to be deported. She vows to help Mario return to Florida, though Lopez never returned to the show, so his fate was ultimately left uncertain. After Bea Arthur's passing in 2009, Lopez reflected on his role in "The Golden Girls" and described his character as "the original Elián González," referring to the Cuban boy whose story became national news in 1999. The ongoing debate about whether González should be allowed to stay in the United States or returned to his father in Cuba became one of the most important news stories in the lead-up to the 2000 presidential election.

Alex Trebek

In Season 7's "Questions and Answers," Dorothy auditions to be on the hugely popular game show "Jeopardy!" She's so excited about the audition, she even has an extended dream sequence about it, allowing the show to include a trio of special guest stars, all playing themselves. 

The dream sequence begins like all episodes of "Jeopardy!" from the era. First, Johnny Gilbert introduces the contestants: Dorothy, Rose, and Charlie (played by David Leisure, reprising his role from the "Golden Girls" spinoff "Empty Nest"). Dorothy is surprised by the inclusion of Rose, whom she calls "an idiot." But Gilbert retorts by saying, "Oh really? She didn't get knocked up in high school." Then Alex Trebek himself takes the stage, performing his usual hosting duties while adding punchlines that address the fact Dorothy is having a dream sequence.

The dream ends with Dorothy challenging the results of Final Jeopardy, which Rose wins by identifying "Cary Grant" as the person buried in Grant's Tomb (and not Ulysses S. Grant, Dorothy's answer). Trebek calls upon Merv Griffin, the creator of "Jeopardy!," who confirms, much to Dorothy's chagrin, that "Cary Grant" is, in fact, the correct answer. A dumbfounded Dorothy protests, to no avail.

Jenny Lewis

Today, Jenny Lewis is best known for her music as the lead singer of Rilo Kiley. She's also had a prosperous solo career and remains a popular figure in the indie rock scene. Before she became a famous musician, though, she had a career as an actor, appearing in lots of youth-oriented movies, including "The Wizard," "Foxfire," and "Pleasantville." One of her earliest roles was in the third season premiere of "The Golden Girls," entitled "Old Friends."

While the main storyline involves Sophia's friendship with an Alzheimer's-stricken man, the other half of the episode isn't quite as heartbreaking. Lewis plays a girl scout who takes Rose's beloved teddy bear hostage, even threatening to "execute" dear Fernando with a water pistol loaded with red paint. In the end, Rose takes justice into her own hands, lulling the scout into a state of complacency before snatching back her beloved Fernando and shoving the spoiled brat out of the house. Rose may be the dim-witted one of the bunch, but when it comes to protecting what she cares about, she doesn't play around.

Dick Van Dyke

Star of stage and screen Dick Van Dyke is best known for his legendary sitcom "The Dick Van Dyke Show." A master of physical comedy, his pratfalls on that series have become the stuff of legend. These days, he doesn't somersault over the ottoman anymore, but he's still acting, even making an appearance in 2018's "Mary Poppins Returns," the sequel to the 1964 original in which he also starred.

In "The Golden Girls," Dick Van Dyke appears in Season 5's "Love Under the Big Top," in which his character, Ken the lawyer, decides to abandon the grind and pursue his dream of being a circus clown. This upsets his girlfriend, Dorothy, who is much more excited at the prospect of marrying a lawyer than a circus clown. Ultimately, she realizes that she doesn't love him, because if she did, she would follow him no matter what career path he chose for himself.

The highlight of the episode features Ken trying a case in front of a judge while dressed in full clown makeup and costume. The sequence demonstrates Van Dyke's incredible ability to deliver a dramatic monologue while performing delightful physical comedy. 

George Clooney

Season 2's "To Catch a Neighbor" features a pair of cops investigating the girls' neighbors. The older cop is played by noted character actor Joseph Campanella, while his younger partner is played by a young upstart actor named George Clooney. These days, Clooney is widely accepted as one of the greatest actors of our time and one of the most popular movie stars ever, but back then, he was just a young cutie with an obvious attraction to Blanche. Seriously, near the end of the episode, the two of them share a tender scene where they discuss the danger of his job, and the sexual tension is palpable. It's no wonder Clooney grew up to become such a sex symbol. Try not to fall in love when he utters the phrase, "Yes, ma'am."

As it turns out, Blanche's worries are justified, since the episode ends with Detective George Clooney getting shot. Fortunately, it's not a fatal wound. Unfortunately, the sight of Clooney's character injured in a hospital bed is enough to deter Dorothy from pursuing a relationship with the elder detective, since his job would just be too much for her to handle.

Anne Francis

The 1956 film "Forbidden Planet" is noted for its incredible visual effects and groundbreaking storytelling that continues to inspire imitators to this day. Still, few of its accomplishments can match the sight of the beautiful Anne Francis in her outer space miniskirt, an image that was controversial enough for the country of Spain to ban the film for a full decade. Over 30 years later, Francis made a guest appearance on "The Golden Girls," just as gorgeous as ever.

Season 4's "Till Death Do We Volley" features Francis as Trudy, an old high school friend of Dorothy. Well, "frenemy" might be a better word for their relationship. As soon as they reunite, they begin a verbal sparring session that escalates into a full-on physical competition that only ends when Trudy has a heart attack and dies on the court, utterly destroying Dorothy with guilt. However, the whole death scenario turns out to be an elaborate prank from Trudy. When she goes to tell Dorothy the truth, she finds her frenemy in bed with her husband, which is itself a prank from Dorothy, who figured out what Trudy was planning. While this kind of prank war would destroy most relationships, it actually reminds Trudy and Dorothy of the depth of their friendship.

Don Ameche

Born in 1908, Don Ameche got his start as a vaudeville entertainer; his life and resume plays out like a history of Hollywood, with dozens of film appearances across the decades all the way until his final film, 1994's "Corrina, Corrina," which was released posthumously after Ameche died in 1993. In 1990, Ameche also played a mysterious monk in the Season 6 "Golden Girls" episode "Once in St. Olaf."

By sheer chance, he meets with Rose at the hospital and off-handedly mentions St. Olaf, the Minnesota town where Rose was born and raised. As it turns out, he spent time there as a monk and met a woman with whom he fell in love. He ultimately decided to choose the church over his love, not knowing that she was pregnant ... with Rose.

After some initial difficulty with this sudden revelation, Rose forgives her father for leaving and the two strike up a friendship. Unfortunately, Ameche only ever appeared in this single episode, which is a shame, since any TV series would benefit from more appearances from Don Ameche, one of the greatest actors of all time. Plus, it would have been a delightful treat to see more of the natural chemistry between Ameche and White.

Cesar Romero

If there's a Hollywood mustache more iconic than that of Burt Reynolds, it rests on the upper lip of Cesar Romero. In addition to his status as an all-time sex symbol, Romero is best known by today's audiences as the first actor to play a live-action version of the Joker, Batman's most dangerous enemy. He played the character in the 1960s television series starring Adam West as the caped crusader.

Romero guest-starred in Season 6's "Girls Just Wanna Have Fun ... Before They Die," in which he dates Sophia. After they make love in his apartment, she tells him she loves him, but he is unable to say it back. Heartbroken, Sophia storms out. Later, he confesses that he hasn't been able to say those three words to anyone since his wife passed away, but that he's willing to do so for Sophia. He finally tells Sophia he loves her and then they enhance the mood by bonding over pictures of their dead spouses.

Rita Moreno

While "The Golden Palace" failed to last more than a single season, it wasn't the first spinoff of "The Golden Girls." That honor belongs to "Empty Nest." The Season 2 "Golden Girls" episode entitled "Empty Nests" was intended to be a backdoor pilot for the series, with most of its runtime dedicated to characters played by Rita Moreno and Paul Dooley, neighbors of Blanche and the girls.

Alas, the series was heavily retooled from the backdoor pilot. While David Leisure's character remained (with a different name), the rest of the cast was jettisoned and the show was reimagined as a vehicle for actor Richard Mulligan. Fortunately, this story has a happy ending, since "Empty Nest" ran for seven seasons and enjoyed just as much success as its parent show, making frequent crossovers. In fact, following the cancellation of "The Golden Palace," Estelle Getty joined the cast of "Empty Nest" on a regular basis.

Still, the prospect of a version of "Empty Nest" starring the great Rita Moreno is one of the more fascinating "what could have been?" scenarios in sitcom history. It would have been an entirely different show, but it's impossible to say if it would have had the same success as the series that ultimately made it to air.

Leslie Nielsen

Leslie Nielsen is beloved by generations of fans for his comedic roles in movies like "Airplane!," "The Naked Gun," and "Wrongfully Accused," among so many others. But in his younger days, Nielsen made his bones as a handsome Hollywood hunk in movies like "Tammy and the Bachelor" (alongside Debbie Reynolds) and "Forbidden Planet" (co-starring Anne Francis).

In the hourlong series finale of "The Golden Girls," Nielsen combines his romantic and his comedic talents as Blanche's uncle Lucas, who is practically forced to go on a date with Dorothy at his niece's behest. Initially, Lucas and Dorothy decide to play a prank on Blanche by pretending to be madly in love with each other, but their ruse quickly gives way to genuine emotions, and he eventually proposes marriage to her, "for real."

The series ends with the wedding between Lucas and Dorothy, after which she moves with him to Atlanta, leaving the rest of the girls behind as she embarks on a new chapter of her life with her new man ... but not before she bids farewell to her friends in a tearful goodbye sequence. Well, at least until she made a special guest appearance on a two-part episode of the spinoff "The Golden Palace."