When The Golden Girls debuted on NBC in September 1985, the now-familiar group of 4 gals had company: in fact, live-in company in the person of Coco, a gay houseboy played by Charles Levin in the pilot. Amazingly, the character was suggested by the network despite NBC's own controversy over the "yeah, he is, but we ain't gonna call him that" Sidney Shorr played by Tony Randall on Love, Sidney just 4 years prior.
You hear different things about why the producers got rid of the character, but the essence is that while Coco was a popular (and, in 1985, rather novel) presence who was popular with the pilot audience, Dorothy's mom Sophia was a real breakout star. Hence the decision to go with a group of 4 and get rid of Coco. Another consideration was that the dynamic was just better with all gals, the girls might not have much to do besides just sit around if an actual domestic was there, and plus it may have looked like an extravagance for these working ladies to have an actual houseboy. In 2017, I can only say, who actually has a houseboy anymore except for the fabled 1%?
Producers considered comedians Dom Irerra and Paul Provenza (who recalls auditioning in drag), plus future Ferris Bueller stooge heel Jeffrey Jones, for the role, but NBC exec Brandon Tartikoff suggested Levin. The actor had a recurring role on Hill Street Blues as a rather over-the-top gay character, but he reports that pilot director Jay Sandrich told him to tone down all the flamboyant stuff.
As Levin recalls, the role as written was much more "swishy," and he found it hard to reconcile Sandrich's advice with the way show co-creator Susan Harris put Coco on the page. Nevertheless, he played it straight (sorry) in the first reading and thought he blew it. He felt the vibe of disappointment from those who expected him to be Eddie Gregg from Blues.
The night of that audition, an NBC exec called Levin and told him they didn't know what he had been doing, but just show up again and be Eddie Gregg. The actor took this advice the next day in front of an audience and was a hit. Unfortunately for Levin, he wasn't enough of one to survive the pilot, so now Coco remains a lost and largely forgotten character with a cult following.
Levin, who also had a recurring role in Alice, would appear on BTONS season 1 spotlighted program Facts of Life, and also showed up in This Is Spinal Tap, did quite well himself. His biggest post-Girls spot is probably appearing as the Mohel on Seinfeld, though I can't help but recognize him as being part of the 1989 Hulk Hogan vehicle No Holds Barred.
(Note: Thanks to Golden Girls Forever by Jim Colucci for the background info for this post!)