“As a writer, you learn not to be precious,” says Stan Zimmerman, whose new book, ‘The Girls: From Golden to Gilmore,’ is now available
Screenwriter Stan Zimmerman has written for some of TV’s best known shows, including The Golden Girls, Gilmore Girls and Roseanne. Even with their laugh-out-loud moments, some jokes just didn't make the cut, he says — including one about Betty White.
“The Golden Girls joke that I pitched was making fun of Betty White's hair because it kind of looks like George Washington's,” Zimmerman, who wrote for the sitcom’s first season, tells PEOPLE. “I thought that was funny. It didn't last very long. I don't think it ever made it down into an actual script.”
“You go through so many jokes and everything gets rewritten a lot,” he says. “As a writer, you learn not to be precious and hold onto things. The good ones stay and the other ones go on and live somewhere else in the world.”
Zimmerman chronicles his Hollywood writing career in his new book, The Girls: From Golden to Gilmore, out now from Indigo River Publishing. After graduating from New York University, Zimmerman and his writing partner, James Berg, moved west in 1982, where they went on to write for one beloved series after another.
“You're lucky in a career if you're involved in one popular show, but I was lucky enough to be involved in three popular shows, and not just popular at the time,” Zimmerman says, adding that “something in those shows still speaks to this new generation.”
Zimmerman and Berg helped bring many well-known television moments to light, including the famous same-sex kiss in the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” episode of Roseanne, and the memorable “Norman Mailer, I’m Pregnant!” episode on Gilmore Girls.
As for The Golden Girls, Zimmerman shares his standout behind-the-scenes moments in his memoir, including Bea Arthur's hesitances about how young the show’s writers were.
“I have a feeling she was referring to [Berg and I] since we looked like high school students,” Zimmerman writes. “But we heard she changed her tune when she saw the quality of the scripts week after week.” The writing team even coined the phrase “Dorothy shoots her a look,’ which became a mainstay in many of the show’s episodes.
“All she had to do [was] look at Betty White and you knew what she was thinking," Zimmerman says. "It saved us a lot of time because we didn't have to think of words.”
Zimmerman, who has kept a journal throughout his life, says that looking at old entries to write The Girls brought back many feelings.
“The intensity of the feelings was surprising and the fact that we had to live so much of our careers [hiding] who we were,” he says. Zimmerman recalls that he had to hide his sexuality on The Golden Girls set, but found support from Estelle Getty. She was an ally to LGBTQ people on the show and said “she would have our back and keep our secret.”
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All in all, Zimmerman agrees that The Golden Girls remains beloved through the decades for good reason.
“Those four women were the best of the best and there was just something special about them,” he says. “I’m so glad the producers saw that's where the heart of the show was.”
The Girls: From Golden to Gilmore is now available.
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