Kate Stone

Kate Stone

Why Dorothy Zbornak is a Comedy Icon

When it comes to girls and young women characters there appears to be an odd belief that there are few examples of them in comedy, specifically examples who could be held up as comedic role models. I seem to have some extra time on my hands right now and rather than rearrange my wardrobe I have decided to dedicate an essay each to the fictional girls and young women who deserve more recognition for their comedy.

We’re going sort of off-topic today. Usually, I write about young women who I think are comedy icons because they often get left off people’s comedy lists. However, today I am going to the other end of the scale with Dorothy Zbornak because I am aware that older women can suffer the same fate, plus in the words of Aaliyah: “age ain’t nothing but a number.” So, golden girl Dorothy it is, onward.

Somehow everyone I know seems to have a Golden Girls memory, whether this is because they watched it with their grandma, encountered reruns as a student or developed a tenuous nostalgia for it when Betty White hosted SNL, there is a fondness for the TV show that spans all ages, does it hold up to today’s wokeness? Jury’s out, but it does better than Friends. Considering it addresses themes such as low self-esteem, date-rape, unwanted pregnancy, late-in-life career changes and the sex lives of women over 50 I’d say The Golden Girls was pretty ahead of its time.

I first saw The Golden Girls when I lived in a bedsit in Rotorua with a man only known to me as ‘Aussie Tony.’ He stayed one night before scarpering with a Dutch woman, leaving no number or forwarding address. Just me and the cockroaches.

I switched on the TV and was introduced to Miami residents Rose Nyland, Sophia Petrillo, Blanche Devereaux and Dorothy Zbornak nee Petrillo. It’s rare you see one older woman on TV, to see four sharing the screen was a revelation. And they were being funny. I was transfixed.

All the characters have something to commend them for comedy idol, but Dorothy Zbornak – played by Bea Arthur – was my favourite. It’s a real testament to the strong writing of The Golden Girls and Bea Arthur’s demeanour that often the punchline was augmented, or sometimes, simply, a Paddington Bear stare. Dorothy was the smart, sharp, lefty divorcee (escandalo!) we all wanted to be our wise aunt.

No one could deliver a jibe like Dorothy, who frequently lost patience with her housemates, though never her temper. She was the queen of the golden girls whose snappy comebacks often had me thinking ‘same.’ Occasionally self-deprecating, mostly self-assured and surrounded by idiots by circumstance not design to make her feel superior, Dorothy serves as a role model for women young and old in my opinion.

It’s hard to balance dry humour with warmth but in The Golden Girls Bea Arthur did it to perfection.

If you have a character you’d like to suggest for this, then tweet me @funnywomened

Read why Anne Shirley is a comedy icon here!

Read why Wednesday Addams is a comedy icon here! 

Read why Marmalade Atkins is a comedy icon here! 

Read why Tracy Beaker is a comedy icon here! 

Read why Daria Morgendorffer is a comedy icon here! 

Read why Anastasia Krupnik is a comedy icon here! 

Read why Helga Pataki is a comedy icon here! 

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