Almost any gay man knows someone who can quote practically every line of every “Golden Girls” episode verbatim.
But, few people are aware the inspiration for the iconic television series may have been a skit written by a local playwright and first performed in Miami Beach in 1984. That’s Ginger Reiter’s story and she’s sticking to it.
“My phone started ringing off the hook,” Reiter recalled, after NBC aired the first episodes of the sitcom about four senior citizens sharing a home in Miami. “My whole family went nuts. They wouldn’t stop calling. They wanted me to sue.”
Reiter first penned her play, “Oh, that Mitzi!” after meeting the mother of an actor she had brought in from Los Angeles to perform in her show, “The Jackie Mason Musical.” The mother and her two friends, who all lived in Miami, would spend their days playing cards and gossiping. They became the central characters, along with and elderly fourth woman who mostly communicated with the cast on a telephone.
“She was pretty much a voice on the wall in my play,” said Reiter, “but the characters were still recognizable as the Golden Girls: Dorothy, Blanche, Rose and Sophia.”
Reiter and her cast only presented the play over two weekends at the Barcelona Motel. It received favorable reviews in local newspapers, but was largely forgotten. Unbeknownst to her, Reiter’s actor friend shared the script with several Hollywood producers and they obviously liked what they read.
Knowing that a lawsuit would be costly and likely take years, Reiter let the matter go until she recently shared her play with Empire Stage producer David Gordon. In recognition of the sitcom’s devoted gay following, he suggested she “gay it up” by casting male actors in drag and rewriting a few scenes.
Reiter enlisted the help of playwright Ronnie Larsen (“Making Porn”), whose sexually-explicit plays are popular with gay men. Larsen reworked a card game scene that would become the centerpiece of his latest play, “3 Card Stud,” produced this fall at the Wilton Theater Factory.
“It’s almost like my story was stolen twice,” Reiter said jokingly of her friend Larsen.
The most consequential decision Reiter made for this production was to change the play’s name and use the characters’ TV names.
“The worst-case scenario is (the network) sues me and I finally get my day in court,” she defiantly declared.
Reiter doesn’t care about the money, she just enjoys creating entertaining theater.
“I get to do what I love most every day,” the former teacher said. “That’s what really matters.”
“The Golden Girls Prequel: The Play that Started it All” runs Jan. 10 – 27 at Empire Stage, 1140 N. Flagler Dr. in Fort Lauderdale. Tickets are $35 at EmpireStage.com.