CHICAGO (AP) — TV shows about science fiction or comic books usually inspire fan conventions — not one sitcom about four middle-aged women living together in Florida.
But sisters Hillary Wasicek, 37, and Melissa Gluck, 43, took to heart this weekend’s inaugural “The Golden Girls” convention at Chicago’s Navy Pier. The two women, who flew in from California, enjoyed elaborate cosplay as the characters of Dorothy and Blanche on Friday. The series has always held a special place for them due to its themes of friends becoming family and inclusivity. Dressing up in wigs and all, which they used to do on a “Golden Girls” cruise, only enhances the convention experience.
“It’s a fun expression to show respect and appreciation for something you admire. It just makes you feel like a part of it,” said Wasicek, who plans to don a different costume every day.” We just met so many people and heard so many stories. It’s like ‘These are my people.’
For Gluck, meeting other “Golden Girls” enthusiasts gives her “a greater appreciation for the show itself. Now I’ve put my son and husband in it.
Golden-Con: Thanks For Being A Fan, which runs through Sunday, gives those who loved the NBC sitcom a chance to reunite. More than 2,000 participants are expected to converge. The show, which ran from 1985 to 1992, featured Bea Arthur, Rue McClanahan, Estelle Getty and Betty White – the last ‘Golden Girl’ who died aged 99 in December. He was revered for showing their characters, who shared a house in Miami, dealing with later-life issues like ageism, gender, and LGBTQ rights.
Like any “scammer,” there are panels and Q&As with people who have played or worked behind the scenes. There’s a vendor’s market with stalls carrying candles, masks, t-shirts, and other “Golden Girls”-themed merchandise. Fans can take pictures in a recreation of the kitchen where the “girls” were still eating cheesecake as well as a giant replica of Sophia’s designer handbag. There are also two separate drag queen groups scheduled to pay tribute.
Guests include actress Bonnie Bartlett, known for her roles in “St. Elsewhere” and “Boy Meets World” (both alongside her husband, actor William Daniels). She is known for playing a new Dorothy’s uptight friend in an episode of Season 3. The two-time Emmy winner, 92, however, didn’t shy away from the idea of a fan convention.
“I was running around after Betty Grable and people like that,” Bartlett said. “I was a huge fan as a kid. So I understand that. My husband doesn’t understand that, but I do.
Stan Zimmerman, a television producer whose second writing job was on the first season, could never have imagined mingling with fans nearly 40 years later. Being in an industry where popularity is unstable, he doesn’t take it for granted.
“So I’ve seen the trajectory of popularity, but nothing like what’s happening now,” Zimmerman said. “It’s so cool to see young people who weren’t even born when we wrote it know every line of it.”
This “Golden Girls” extravaganza was originally supposed to be a trivia night at a bar. Zack Hudson, who works in social services for the elderly and is an “inveterate fan”, approached Brad Balof, his friend and fellow fan, to organize an event in November. They ended up planning to book a community center, but interest from outside the state and even the United States intensified.
“All we did was make an announcement on social media,” Hudson said. “It kind of escalated from there. So we pivoted a bit to accommodate as many people as possible. And we are here now.
Hudson, Balof, a nightclub manager, and Balof’s brother, Brendan, who lives in Phoenix and has experience planning events, organized a small army of volunteers and staff. The whole group has been juggling their regular jobs and convention planning over the past few months. Hudson found all the talent for the panels. Although they have secured sponsorships, most of Golden-Con’s funding comes from ticket sales.
They believe interest was also heightened because “the Golden Girls faithful were looking for an outlet to continue to mourn White. So there’s a stand with hundreds of notecards for fans to write down their favorite memories involving the show or what it did for them.
“It’s a chance to pay so much (respect) to a show they loved and the actresses who made it shine,” said Brad Balof. “One thing that helps the show stay timeless is that there’s enough humor that doesn’t depend on a specific situation, political or geographic… It’s just funny.”
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