'Golden Girls' Initially Included a Gay Male Character. So What Happened?

by Kilian Melloy

EDGE Staff Reporter

Monday January 11, 2021

The four "Golden Girls" were originally supposed to be accompanied by a live-in gay housekeeper named Coco who would have been be in charge of the cooking, the cleaning, and his share of the sassy comebacks.

The addition of an LGBTQ core character to an ensemble comedy in 1985 - right in the midst of the AIDS epidemic - would have been essentially unprecedented, and powerful in terms of representation, notes Decider. Such a move would also have propelled the already-groundbreaking show - about a group of older women, played by TV comedy veterans that included Bea Arthur, Betty White, and Rue McClanahan - even further into daring new TV territory.

As The Atlantic put it in 2015, looking back at the show in its 30th anniversary year, "if you imagine Hank Azaria in 'The Birdcage,' only slightly less flamboyant and slightly more amenable to the bathrobe-with-shoulder pads look, then you have a pretty good idea about Coco."

So what happened?

Though Coco - who was played by Charles Levin, who had already portrayed a gay character on a few episodes of the cop drama "Hill Street Blues" - was part of the show from its first conception, and he was even seen in the pilot, his role bore the brunt of trims and revisions. First, the pilot needed to be shortened by five minutes; a lot of Coco's material disappeared right there. Then, reshoots were ordered, and Coco's presence evaporated even further.

Eventually, the character disappeared entirely - not just from subsequently-produced episodes, but from the pilot itself; he never made it back to the screen following a commercial break, Decider recalled.

Coco's vanishing act was odd, given that he was part of the reason TV writer Susan Harris agreed to develop the sitcom. Harris, the article recalled, "was on board with the idea" of including an openly gay male character in the ensemble, since "she'd already pushed primetime boundaries with 'Soap,' a show that featured one of the first recurring gay characters in Billy Crystal's Jodie Dallas."

In the end, however, the idea of a housekeeper just didn't make sense. The show was built around a group of older women sharing a home and facing money issues that many viewers could identify with from their own lives. It wouldn't have been believable, or relatable, for them to employ a domestic servant - even if he did dish up gay zingers along with dinner.

Meantime, the character of Sophia - played by Estelle Getty, who made the role immortal - was originally intended to be recurring, not part of the core cast. But Getty did such an effective job she was promptly elevated to core cast member, and that may also have been a factor in losing Coco, who, as a younger male character, could have become a fifth wheel in a show that was now even more securely centered around four older women.

As it happened, "The Golden Girls" became an enduring favorite of gay audiences during its seven-season run, and beyond. The show arguably paved the way for subsequent gay faves like "Sex and the City"... which, incidentally, is now slated to return to HBO Max in the form of a sequel series that reintroduces the iconic Manhattanite group of friends, played by Sarah Jessica Parker, Cynthia Nixon, and Kristin Davis, for new adventures as they move into their own "Golden" years. Kim Cattrall, alas, is reportedly not going to be part of the new series - but who's to say, at this point, that Coco (or someone like him) might not appear in order to take up any slack?

Kilian Melloy serves as EDGE Media Network's Associate Arts Editor and Staff Contributor. His professional memberships include the National Lesbian & Gay Journalists Association, the Boston Online Film Critics Association, The Gay and Lesbian Entertainment Critics Association, and the Boston Theater Critics Association's Elliot Norton Awards Committee.