Chef George Geary shows off a cheesecake made from the original recipe he created for The Golden Girls. | Courtesy of George Geary

An effervescent character, Chef George Geary, had no idea what he was in for when he made a wedding cake for an unnamed television pilot in the 1980s. He was in his 20s and managing the bakery department of a Safeway grocery store in Hollywood. The store’s proximity to Paramount Studios meant staff would often field strange food requests to be used on various sets.

“I got a call to make a wedding cake for a jilted bride on a show about three old ladies with a mother that visited occasionally,” said Geary. “I made the cake, and nothing came of it until a year later.”

Geary received a call that the show had been picked up and production requested he make an exact replica of the cake he had made the year prior. When he watched the VHS tape of the pilot for reference he thought, “this show is really funny; they’ve got something here.”

Despite the fact Geary’s wedding cake was barely seen during the pilot episode, his understanding of studio lighting and how it affected color caught the attention of producers.

“Obviously things have advanced a lot since then, but at the time they were impressed that I understood how white frosting could read yellow on camera and things like that,” said Geary. “When Golden Girls moved production from Paramount to Ren-Mar studios they started incorporating cheesecakes into the scripts and I made every one of them.”

It was Betty White as Rose Nylund who introduced the iconic cakes to the rest of The Golden Girls in a fast exchange during the season one finale episode entitled, “The Way We Met.”

“Wait a minute. What’s that?” asks Blanche blocking Rose as she crosses the kitchen carrying a pink bakery box.

“Oh, I’m sorry. I know it’s awful, but I have this incredible sweet tooth,” responds Rose.

“What is it?” chimes in Dorothy.

“Cheesecake,” answers Rose.

“What kind,” asks Blanche.

“Chocolate,’ says Rose.

“Oh, I think this could be the beginning of a beautiful friendship,” says Dorothy.

And just like that Geary’s cheesecakes became the fifth character at the kitchen table on the Golden Girls’ set. Geary encouraged they use cheesecake because they were easier to produce than layer cakes. He speculates close to 100 episodes of the show featured his cakes. Though he has never officially counted,  TVLand produced a compilation video highlighting the “best cheesecake moments” on The Golden Girls with a run time close to 20 minutes—so his math can’t be far off.

The show taped on Friday nights and Geary would make seven cheesecakes for every show in case they needed them for reshoots. They never went through more than two cakes in a single taping and the leftovers were shared with the cast and crew after taping wrapped up. Only, Bea Arthur never took a bite, on camera or off. According to Geary, she was not fond of cheesecake.

“The refrigerator on set really worked and every Friday night you would find seven identical cheesecakes in there,” said Geary. “We changed up the look from season-to-season and most importantly we always wanted the cakes to look like something one of the girls had picked up from a local bakery.”

Geary styled all the foods on Golden Girls including Rose Nylund’s incredibly sweet “maple syrup honey brown sugar molasses rice krispies log.” He also created foods for Dynasty and Falcon Crest, served as a pastry chef for the Walt Disney Company and grew to be best-selling author of 15 cookbooks.

Looking for a local connection? Geary is an architecture lover and has donated his cooking talents to the Frank Lloyd Wright Trust’s Ultimate Plus Dinners hosted annually in Oak Park.

Geary admits he only watched three Golden Girls tapings over the years because he was young, “wanted to be like Blanche” and go out in Hollywood on Friday nights, but he remembers his time on set fondly.

“When I was on set, we were all working, but Betty was one of the kindest and gentlest and sweetest people on this earth,” said Geary. “I never thought anything of it at the time, but it was special. I guess I really am a part of Golden Girls’ history.”

When Geary learned of White’s death, he expressed shock and rightly suggested we all enjoy a slice of cheesecake in her memory.

Golden Girls Cheesecake

(Recipe courtesy of George Geary)

Makes: One 10-inch Cheesecake

1/3 pound graham crackers, crushed
1/4 cup unsalted butter, melted
1. In a bowl mix the above and press into a cheesecake pan, and freeze.

2 lbs cream cheese, softened (Philly)
3/4 cup granulated sugar
2 large eggs
2 tbsp fresh lemon juice
1/2 tsp pure vanilla extract

1. Adjust the rack to the center, and preheat the oven to 350°F.
2. In the mixer, place cream cheese and sugar, blending until creamy. Add eggs, one at a time, while mixing. Add lemon juice and vanilla, and blend well.
3. Pour batter into frozen cheesecake bottom, smoothing it out to touch sides. Bake it until the top starts to pull away from sides and still look a bit loose in center, about 35-40 minutes. It will look like it is puffed up. Take it out of the oven (do not turn the oven off) and set it on a rack 10 minutes. (This will cause cake to sink slightly, which is normal)

1/2 cup sour cream
1/4 cup granulated sugar
1 tbsp lemon juice
1/2 tsp pure vanilla extract

1. In a small bowl, combine sour cream, sugar, lemon juice and vanilla. Pour it into center of the cheesecake, then place cheesecake back into oven for 5 minutes only; cool for 1 hour prior to serving. Top with fresh berries.

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