The Golden Girls broke boundaries with its main cast of older women, but it originally broke even more with the lost fifth member of the hit sitcom.
The Golden Girls is still known today as one of the most progressive sitcoms ever made. The adventures of Dorothy (Bea Arthur), Blanche (Rue McClanahan), Rose (universally beloved Betty White) and Sophia (Estelle Getty) — four older women who lived in a Miami home together — took audiences by storm and provided representation to a group generally overlooked by television of the time. Before it was just “the Golden Girls,” however, there was a Golden Boy who lived with them.
The Golden Girls‘ pilot episode featured a fifth housemate. Coco was the original fourth main character — with Sophia being recurring instead. But over the course of the original pilot being made and NBC picking up the show to series, the ensemble changed. Coco’s role diminished as the pilot was cut down, resulting in him only appearing in a few scenes with minimal dialogue.
Who Was Coco, The Golden Girls’ Butler?
Coco was the openly gay fifth housemate of the Golden Girls in the show’s original pilot. Charles Levin, who had played a gay character in the drama Hill Street Blues, was picked for the role. He even took part in promotional activities with the rest of the main cast. His character was meant to expand the show’s representation even further.
Executive producer Warren Littlefield stated in a New York Times interview that NBC “…propelled The Golden Girls because we knew there would be nothing like it on the air,” referring to the cast consisting of older women — an age group rarely represented properly on television at the time. He wanted to expand on that idea by putting a gay character in the ensemble as well. That was something Golden Girls creator and writer Susan Harris was happy to do.
However, Coco’s role in the Golden Girls household was more than just “the fifth roommate.” He served as the butler for the home, serving drinks and food throughout the pilot. Littlefield pitched that the women of the house wanted help cleaning and cooking after years of cleaning up after their own kids. Coco’s relationship with his housemates was personal as well — as evidenced by him actively taking part in Blanche’s failed wedding.
Coco also served as another source of wit and humor for the series. Rose said their only collateral was a “gay cook” when she and Dorothy talked about possibly moving out of the house. Coco’s limited dialogue showed him to be sharp-witted like Dorothy, both of them making jokes at Rose’s expense when she talked about her deceased husband. However, only Bea Arthur’s Dorothy made it to Season 7.
Why Coco Didn’t Appear After the Golden Girls Pilot
Unfortunately for Coco, his wit and domestic skills couldn’t save him from network television retooling. The original cut of the pilot was five minutes too long and Coco’s material was first to get the axe as his scenes had little to do with the overall plot. And the dynamic of the main cast, as well as the talent of breakout star Estelle Getty, led NBC to correctly conclude that the four women could carry the show on their own.
Sophia was bumped from recurring character to series regular while Coco left to go serve drinks elsewhere. In the end, The Golden Girls went on to feature guest LGBTQ+ characters, as well as tackle major topics like the AIDS crisis. Although its main gay character didn’t make it past the pilot, the show was still one of the earliest positive representations of LGBTQIA+ people on TV.
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