Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Remembering Bea Arthur

For the past couple days, I have been thinking of how to compose a post that would do justice to Bea Arthur, she of the snarky comeback and proof positive that older people are intelligent, funny, and people just like any other.

Then it came to me! I wasn't the one who should be writing about Bea, my good friend Chris, who practically worshiped the ground she walked on, was the perfect choice. So here's a guest post from Chris on Bea:

Anyone who knows me knows I'm a huge Golden Girls fan, like most gay men I know. And I mean huge. I own all seven seasons, still watch it on TV, can quote most of it and, to the annoyance of my family, laugh at most of the punch lines before they're even uttered. This isn't a recent obsession. I watched the Girls when it was originally on the air on NBC. Picture me, just short of my twelfth birthday, sitting in a chair directly in front of the TV, crying at Dorothy leaving Blanche, Rose and Sophia to marry Blanche's Uncle Lucas. If that wasn't my parents' first clue I'm gay, seriously, what would it take?
But I digress. Most people our age know Bea as Dorothy from Golden Girls. Thanks to Lifetime (and now Hallmark Channel), the show's been running perpetually for over a decade. Our parents and grandparents probably know Bea as Maude, a character originally cast as the liberal feminist cousin of Edith Bunker on All in the Family. Maude was so popular a character that CBS spun off an entire series based on her, which ran for six seasons. The show hit some nerves, most notably with Maude deciding to have an abortion. Keep in mind, this episode aired before Roe v. Wade, meaning that in many parts of the country, abortion was still illegal in all circumstances. Bea earned the first of two acting Emmys in 1977 for her role as Maude. By the end, Bea (as she was apt to do), decided it was time to leave the show. This is how Golden Girls ended as well.
What most people probably don't know is that Maude was Bea's first television gig, at age 50. After her appearance on All in the Family, CBS executives famously asked "'Who is that girl? Let's give her her own series.'" Thus, Maude was born.

However, by this time, Bea was already a very successful actress on Broadway. From Wikipedia:

On stage, her roles included Lucy Brown in the 1954 Off-Broadway premiere of Marc Blitzstein's English-language adaptation of Kurt Weill's Threepenny Opera, Yente the Matchmaker in the 1964 premiere of Fiddler on the Roof, and a 1966 portrayal of Vera Charles to Angela Lansbury's Mame, for which she won a Tony Award. She reprised the role in the 1974 film version opposite Lucille Ball. In 1981, she appeared in Woody Allen's The Floating Lightbulb.

But back to why I loved Bea: her witty humor on Golden Girls. I can picture my mom and I having a similar relationship when we get old. A sometimes testy friendship, but in the end willing to move mountains for each other. I mean, come on, who hasn't wanted to call their mom a "furry little gnome"? The chemistry of the show was perfect, and she will be sorely missed. I only wish I could have seen her one woman show when she was on tour.


Maggie Cats said...

Just to add one more thing: I think what made Golden Girls so great to me was that it was a television show that finally depicted older people as, well, people. Sure they were cantankerous at times (Sophia) and maybe not that bright (Rose), but it wasn't because they were older. It was because they were people, and sometimes people are cranky and ditzy. Blanche wasn't punished for being, shall we say, loose, and Dorothy was a strong woman who stood up for what she believed and didn't let anyone push her around. And I have a strong feeling a lot of what made Dorothy such an amazing character came from Bea Arthur herself.

Monkey Sri said...

Wow, Chris - I had no inkling as to Ms. Arthur's stunning career prior to Golden Girls. Thanks for sharing! One of my fondest memories is watching Golden Girls with my college roommate, Crissy, and speculating which one we would grow up to be. She inevitably chose Blanche, and I'll probably be a Rose, but I secretly longed to become a Dorothy. Don't we all?