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The cast of the TV hit series “The Golden Girls” — Bea Arthur (clockwise from left), Rue McClanahan, Betty White and Estelle Getty.

The cast of the TV hit series “The Golden Girls” — Bea Arthur (clockwise from left), Rue McClanahan, Betty White and Estelle Getty.

‘Golden Girls’ secrets: Assistants recall the stars’ habits, quirks and dislike of cheesecake

For seven years, one TV sitcom was pure gold. Make that, pure “Golden.”

From 1985 to 1992, “The Golden Girls” was an Emmy-winning juggernaut for NBC, showcasing the comedic talents of Bea Arthur, Betty White, Rue McClanahan and Estelle Getty, or as they were more commonly known —Â Dorothy, Rose, Blanche and Sophia.

Thirty years later — thanks to syndicated reruns, DVD box sets, pandemic binge watching, and even a Chicago stage production — the Golden Girls are as beloved as ever. That affection will be on full display at this weekend’s “Golden-Con — Thank You For Being a Fan” convention at the Sheraton Grand Chicago Riverwalk.

The second such gathering (more than 3,500 persons attended last year’s event) invites fans to celebrate their favorite show and its characters through memorabilia exhibits, special guest appearances, a vendor market, autograph sessions, live performances, trivia contests, and even specially themed cocktails (anybody for a Blanche’s Berry White Wine Spritzer or a Rose’s Rose Margarita?). And plenty of cheesecake.

For the first time, convention goers can meet and greet personal assistants to all four of the series’ stars: Dan Watt (Bea Arthur), Richard Weaver (Estelle Getty), Kiersten Mikelas (Betty White) and Dr. Melinda McClanahan (Rue McClanahan’s sister), for an insider’s glimpse into the actors’ lives.

Watt, who attended last year’s convention, worked for Arthur for five years (until her passing in 2009 at the age of 86).

He met the actress when he contacted her about headlining a benefit gala in 2004 to kickstart his Art Attack Foundation, which provides scholarships to kids seeking to study the performing arts.

“I was trying to figure out who we could possibly get for the event, and ... I reached out to her out of the blue,” Watt said. “.... She said yes, the gala sold out, and Arthur actually ended up donating her [fee] to the scholarship fund.” Days later she hired Watt to be her assistant.

Watt said that unlike McClanahan, who made sure her show contract gave her ownership of all her costumes and shoes, Arthur kept nothing from the series, except for five scripts autographed by the cast (she gifted one to Watt).

“She never really looked back — not at ‘Golden Girls’ or ‘Maude,’ ” Watt said. “Bea was always looking ahead. She said there was no point in holding on to things past.”

Arthur and Getty were great pals off-screen, too, he said, much like Dorothy and Sophia in the series. “They’d chat every Friday by phone for three hours,” Watt said. “Bea would call her ‘ma’ just like on the show.”

Arthur was famously a homebody, he said, and that’s how she liked it. She was a voracious reader, devouring the New York Times and Los Angeles Times every morning “with her tea and British biscuits.”

And she loved fresh flowers, but skip the baby’s breath (“that other s- - -,” as she would call it), which Watt meticulously pulled from arrangements and bouquets sent to the actress. His other duties? Answering the 300 or so fan-mail letters each week, occasional cooking, organizing personal appearances. But for the most part, they were just great friends, who could converse on every topic under the sun, he said.

Watt said Arthur’s favorite episode of the series was the one where she and Getty dressed up and sang like Sonny and Cher. But her favorite scene from the series belonged to Getty.

“It was the episode where Dorothy’s brother died and it’s the very last minute of the show [which guest-starred Brenda Vaccaro as Sophia’s daughter-in-law]. ... Bea said she loved that last moment where Sophia finally just lets out all her emotions over her son’s death, ‘because America got to see Estelle Getty as an actress, not just as Sophia delivering one-liners.’ ”

Fans at this year’s convention will be treated to excerpts from a never-before-seen filmed interview of Arthur conducted by Watt at her home. “It’s the last interview she ever gave,” Watt said.

As Estelle Getty’s personal assistant for four years, Richard Weaver says his time with the actress was one of the best periods in his life.

“Estelle was Sophia in real life, too,” Weaver said, of the petite actress, who loved Twix candy bars and Raisinets, purchased at the local Costco in “those giant boxes” so she’d never run out.

Weaver was a live-in assistant, and as such he helped Getty with everything from her makeup and wigs, to her wardrobe and personal appearances (he was her escort on red carpets or to celebrity pals’ parties), to cooking and personal shopping (though Getty kept her wardrobe from “Golden Girls” and incorporated many of the pieces into her daily wear).

“Estelle lived in one of the most desirable neighborhoods in the Hollywood Hills,” Weaver said. “The backyard was like a ballpark.”

But there was nothing ostentatious about Getty’s lifestyle, Weaver said. Her biggest happiness came from making others laugh. “That was music to her ears,” he said, of his “amazing friend.”

Weaver was with Getty and her family members on the night she passed, and he would be one of the pallbearers at her funeral. His voice cracked a bit as he recounted the anecdote.

While nearly all of Getty’s “Sophia” memorabilia has been lost over the years (she died in 2009 at age 85), Weaver has an autographed script and her silk wedding dress (gifted to him by Getty) from the famous “Elvis” wedding episode. (Fun fact: an extra among the Elvises is a then-unknown Quentin Tarantino; that’s him in the gold blazer, back row). The dress will be on display during his sessions at the convention, along with other mementos.

Both Watt and Weaver said, ironically, that none of the actresses liked cheesecake as a rule. You’d never know it from the countless slices served up during the course of the series.

Chalk it up to great acting.

Golden-Con — Thank You For Being a Fan

When: March 31-April 2

Where: Sheraton Grand Chicago Riverwalk, 301 E. North Water St.

Tickets: $75+

Info:thankyouforbeingafan.com

NOTE: Golden-Con Sessions: 2 p.m. April 1, Richard Weaver — “Remembering Estelle”; 2:45 p.m. April 1, Dan Watt — “Bea, a Friend”; 11 a.m. April 2 — “The Assistant Show” with Dan Watt and Richard Weaver.

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