CHICAGO ( Associated Press) — TV shows about sci-fi or comic book fare usually inspire fan conventions — not a sitcom about four women of a certain age living together in Florida.
But sisters Hilary Wasicek, 37, and Melissa Gluck, 43, took this weekend’s inaugural “The Golden Girls” convention to heart at Chicago’s Navy Pier. The two women, who flew in from California, spent Friday in elaborate cosplay as the characters of Dorothy and Blanche. The series has always held a special place for him as it has themes of being friends, family and being inclusive. Dressing in wigs and all, which she did on the first “Golden Girls” cruise, just elevates the feel of the convention.
“It’s a fun expression of showing respect and appreciation for something you admire. It makes you feel more a part of it,” said Wasik, who plans to wear a different outfit 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” buffs makes her “appreciate the show more. Now, I’ve added my son and husband.”
Golden-Con: Thank You for Being a Fan, which runs until Sunday, is giving fans of the NBC sitcom a chance to come together. More than 2,000 attendees are expected to gather. The show, which ran from 1985–1992, starred Bea Arthur, Rue McClanahan, Estelle Getty and Betty White—the last remaining “Golden Girl”—who died in December at the age of 99. It was honored to feature his characters, who shared a home in Miami, who later dealt with issues such as ageism, gender, and LGBTQ rights.
Like any “con,” panels and Q&As are people who guest-star or work behind the scenes. There is a vendor market with booths carrying “Golden Girls” themed candles, masks, T-shirts and other merchants. Fans can snap photos in the kitchen entertainment where the “girls” always eat cheesecake as well as a giant replica of Sofia’s trademark purse. There are also two separate drag queen groups set to pay tribute.
Among the guests is actress Bonnie Bartlett, best known for roles on “St. Somewhere” and “Boy Meets World” (both with her husband, actor William Daniels). She is notable for playing a stuck-up new friend of Dorothy in the third season episode. Two-time Emmy winner, 92, However, a fan didn’t turn up his nose at the idea of a convention.
“I was running chasing Betty Grable and people like that,” Bartlett said. “I was a big fan when I was a kid. So I get it. My husband doesn’t understand it, but I do.”
Stan Zimmerman, a TV producer whose second writing assignment was on the first season, never imagined mingling with fans nearly 40 years later. Being in an industry where popularity is fickle, he is not taking it lightly.
“So I’ve seen the trajectory of popularity, but nothing like what is happening now,” Zimmerman said. “It’s so nice to see young people who apparently weren’t even born when we wrote this, know every line.”
This “Golden Girls” extravaganza was originally supposed to be just one-time trivia night. Jack Hudson, who works in social services for senior citizens and is a “hard-core fan,” approached his friend and fellow fan Brad Balof about organizing an event in November. He planned to book a community center, but then interest grew out of state and even in the US.
“We only made an announcement on social media,” Hudson said. “It just escalated from there. So we pivoted a little bit to welcome as many people as possible. And here we are now.”
Hudson, Baloff, a nightclub manager, and Baloff’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 planning for their regular job and conference for the past several months. Hudson tracked down all the talent for the panel. While they did receive some sponsorships, the majority of Golden-Con’s funding comes from ticket sales.
She believes that interest was also heightened because “devotees of the Golden Girls were looking for an outlet to grieve White. So it was time for fans to write about their favorite memories associated with the show or it.” There’s a booth with hundreds of notecards to write about what they did.
Brad Baloff said, “This is an opportunity to give so much (respect) to a show they loved and the actresses who made it shine.” “One thing that helps the show remain timeless is that there’s enough humor that doesn’t depend on any specific situation, political or geographic… it’s just funny.”