Picture this: Tunis, the mid-1990s. U.S. diplomat Dennis Ross arrives to meet Yasser Arafat and his PLO associates, part of a tense effort to forge peace between the Palestinians and Israel. He comes to Arafat’s office. In the waiting room outside, apparatchiks are watching TV — a rerun of “The Golden Girls.”
The scene is described in the new book “Killing a King: The Assassination of Yitzhak Rabin and the Remaking of Israel.” Author Dan Ephron notes, “Ross thought of the show’s humor as typically Jewish, not what he expected PLO men to find amusing.”
Actually, it’s not that surprising that the men of the PLO loved “The Golden Girls.” It was (and is) a fearless and funny comedy. Back in 1985, it was unheard of for a network TV show to star four women of a certain age. (It’s unheard of today, too.)
Sharing a Miami house, taking on issues like AIDS and abortion, and cracking wise were Southern sex addict Blanche Devereaux; dim but kindly Rose Nylund from St. Olaf, Minn.; Dorothy Zbornak, a Brooklyn-born teacher with a sharp tongue; and Dorothy’s mother Sophia, whom Dorothy lovingly calls “a withered old Sicilian monkey.”
And the jokes weren’t just Jewish. They were international! Nylund, who had roots in Norway, once declared: “I’m not one to blow my own vertubenflugen.”
The humor also had a philosophical bent: “The older you get, the better you get. Unless you’re a banana.”
The show keeps finding new fans. Reruns on Logo (usually on weekends) perform well. The Netherlands started a version in 2012, in the wake of British, Greek and Russian remakes.
I just wish the message of the show had rubbed off on the failed peace talkers. “The Golden Girls” is, if you think about it, a show about how unlikely companions can learn to get along. As Sophia might put it with the two words she’d use to set up stories she told: Picture this, a world where everybody thanks everybody else for being a friend.
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