Dorothy Zbornak (née Petrillo), portrayed by Beatrice Arthur, is a fictional character from the TV series The Golden Girls. Dorothy was the strong, sarcastic, sometimes intimidating, and arguably, most grounded of the four women in the house. In the 1,000th issue of Entertainment Weekly, Dorothy Zbornak was selected as the Grandma for "The Perfect TV Family". In flashback sequences in various episodes, a much younger Dorothy is played by actress Lynnie Greene.
Dorothy was born in Brooklyn, New York on a pinochle table at McSoley's bar (as stated by Sophia) to Italian immigrants Sophia Petrillo and Salvadore "Sal" Petrillo. She had two younger siblings: brother Phillip "Phil" Petrillo, a cross-dresser, who died in December 1990 (Ebbtide's Revenge); and a sister, Gloria Petrillo-O'Connor, who married into money, and with whom Dorothy was sometimes estranged.
In the fourth-season episode Foreign Exchange, Dorothy wondered whether she is the biological daughter of the Petrillos, since Dominic Bosco and Philomena Bosco claimed that the hospital switched babies. However, in the third-season episode "Mother's Day," Sophia's mother Eleanor Grisanti is also played by Bea Arthur, so it's implied that Dorothy and Sophia are biologically related. She was the tallest baby in New York and had a rash on her head until she was two.
Dorothy was a "bookworm", and an over-achiever in high school (according to the episode Even Grandmas Get the Blues, Sophia reveals that Dorothy's IQ is 173, which would rank her as possessing a genius level intellect), but was a lie that was revealed in the same episode. Yet, she suffered from low self-esteem because one previous boyfriend was emotionally abusive, while another one supposedly stood her up on the night of her prom. In reality, he did show up, but he was disrespectful toward Sophia, who did not like the way he was dressed or his attitude, so she turned him away without telling Dorothy.
Dejected, she later accepted a date with Stanley "Stan" Zbornak (Herb Edelman) because she "felt she couldn't do any better". She became pregnant while still in high school, resulting in a shotgun wedding to Stan. The marriage produced two children: Kate Zbornak-Griffiths and Michael Zbornak, who both appeared on the show. However, both were presented as being in their 20s during their appearances on the show, making them too young to have been the cause of the shotgun wedding.
At some point during their marriage (1946-1984), Stan and Dorothy moved to Miami, but divorced after 38 years due to Stan's infidelity. In first-season episode The Return of Dorothy's Ex, Stan mentions how they bought property together when honeymooned in Miami.
Dorothy worked as a high school substitute teacher of American History (her college major) and English. She also taught a night-school course for adults wishing to complete their high school equivalency.
Dorothy also had summer and part-time jobs, which included tutoring and working alongside Blanche Elizabeth Marie Devereaux at the Museum (causing jealousy after Dorothy appeared to have become the boss's favorite).
While often mocked as manly and odd by her two housemates due to her height and deep voice, Dorothy is also in possession of many talents. In one episode, she is able to upstage Blanche at the latter's favorite bar, The Rusty Anchor, by singing and thus winning the admiration of Blanche's many suitors. At another point, remembering how funny she could be in high school, Dorothy tries her hand at doing stand-up comedy, in the end winning over her audience by poking fun at her own life and bringing such subjects up as menopause with its hot flashes.
Dorothy can be extremely sarcastic, especially towards her less-sharp housemate, Rose. Her mother Sophia has a tendency to borrow money from her, with or without Dorothy's permission. Despite the ridicule, Dorothy regards the three other women to be family, comforting to them and often giving good advice.
- "I taught a class today. The finest school in Dade County. Two girls had shaved heads and three boys had green hair". (First line)
- "Oh, shut up, Rose." (Dorothy's exasperated, often used reply to one of Rose Nylund's stories or ideas.
- "Shady Pines, Ma." (Often used against her mother Sophia, when the latter gets on her nerves.)
- "She does consider herself the Godfather; I'll just make her an offer she can't remember" (when Dorothy realized and explained to Blanche how she would get Sophia to her and Stan's re-marriage)
After her divorce, Dorothy moved into a home in Miami, Florida, with Blanche Devereaux and Rose Nylund. Shortly thereafter, her mother, Sophia, moved in after her nursing home, Shady Pines, burnt down. Dorothy shared a unique relationship with her housemates, one often laced with her famously sardonic comments; the four shared a home for seven years, and in more than one episode it was pointed out that, despite a lack of blood relation, they were as much a family as any other.
During the course of the show, Dorothy saw both of her children get married: Kate, to a podiatrist named Dennis; and Michael, to a woman named Lorraine, a singer in his band whom he had gotten pregnant. Lorraine was African-American, and almost twice Michael's age, which initially did not sit well with Dorothy because she felt Lorraine was far too old for Michael (ironically, Lorraine's family didn't want her to marry Michael because he was white). Kate's husband, Dennis, cheated on her at one point, but she ultimately forgave him, almost causing Dorothy and Kate to stop speaking, but they also quickly reconciled. Lorraine left Michael later in the series, and there was no specific mention of his child with Lorraine (Dorothy's grandchild) thereafter. Dorothy did have grandchildren, but it was never specified whether they were Michael's or Kate's children.
Like the other women living in the house, the series saw Dorothy progress through her fair share of romances, with her love life often coming into criticism by her mother. Her ex-husband Stanley made regular attempts throughout the series to "win her back", and he nearly remarried Dorothy. In the end she called it off after Stanley and his lawyer presented her with a prenuptial agreement to sign.
Some of Dorothy's suitors turned out to have less-than-virtuous characters. Elliot Clayton, a respected doctor, made a pass at Blanche, and when Blanche told Dorothy about it, Dorothy accused Blanche of making it all up, and wanting Elliot for herself. Blanche, deeply hurt that Dorothy would believe Elliot's word over hers, announced she was kicking Dorothy out of the house, and this would have ended their friendship for good had Rose not exposed Elliot for the liar he was on the day Dorothy was to move out. Another suitor turned out to be a married man, which led Dorothy to end the relationship because she remembered how much it hurt to be cheated on by her ex-husband. She dated him again a few years later when he was divorced, but she broke it off again because she felt that he only wanted to be with her because he didn't like being divorced and alone. Yet another prospect, named Eddie, was the best lover Dorothy ever had, but Dorothy finally had to break up with Eddie as well because their relationship never progressed past the physical stage. Her high school teacher, Mr. Gordon, whom she had a crush on, came back into her life many years later, only to take credit for an article that she had written. Stan's brother, Ted, told her that he had a crush on her since they were young, and then he "spent the night" with her, nearly destroying her friendship with Blanche, who had gone out with Ted earlier that night. Later, Ted asked Dorothy to babysit children belonging to a stewardess that he wants to date, humiliating Dorothy. However, Dorothy got her revenge when she announced to everyone in the nightclub they were meeting at that he was impotent before promptly leaving.
A few other suitors were portrayed by well-known actors, including Dick Van Dyke and Leslie Nielsen, whose character (Lucas Hollingsworth, an uncle of Blanche's) she married in the two-part finalé episode.
In spite of her strength, Dorothy has several phobias including hospitals and flying. She eventually managed to conquer both her fears with the help of her friends.
In keeping with the show's practice of raising social awareness, a two-part episode involved Dorothy suffering from extreme exhaustion, which was ultimately determined to be Chronic Fatigue Syndrome; Susan Harris, the show's co-writer, also suffered from the then-unknown condition. In an earlier episode, Dorothy's friend, Jean, a lesbian, came to Miami for a visit and struck up a close friendship with Rose, with whom Jean soon realized she was in love. Dorothy was also shown to have a recurring gambling problem that eventually caused her to seek help through Gamblers Anonymous. She started smoking cigarettes again after quitting many years earlier, because of stress from her mother's remarriage and work. Presumably, she was able to kick the habit, since she was never seen with a cigarette again. In the episode Stan Takes A Wife, Dorothy states that she is a Leo during a conversation, which would make the January 31st birthday in the character information incorrect.
- According to the episode Mary Has A Little Lamb, Dorothy's childhood nickname was "Moose".
|~The Golden Girls~|
| Blanche Devereaux - Dorothy Zbornak - Rose Nylund - Sophia Petrillo |
- Stanley Zbornak - Miles Webber -