I get back from the beach only to find that one of my favorite actresses, Bea Arthur, died this weekend at the age of 86. It was cancer. In public appearances of recent years, she didn’t look well, but who knew if it was because she was in her mid-80s or because of something worse? It was something worse.
She was a Broadway actress and was even working in the past few years. Having bowed out of two powerhouse sitcoms, Maude (a spin-off of All in the Family) and The Golden Girls before they officially jumped the shark (she was absent in The Golden Girls spinoff, Golden Palace), she always managed to return to the stage. I think it’s McD who tells the story to tell of how she met Bea Arthur when she was working a theater box office one summer. Bea Arthur… the wry baritone. I think I’d be a little intimidated if I had ever met her in person.
I liked Bea Arthur. That kind of no-bullshit spunk she displayed, at least in her Dorothy Zborniak character reminds me a lot of my grandma. (Though grandma might like the attribution, she was critical of Bea Arthur’s fashion choices in the show, even in the 1980s!). More importantly, in regard to a larger contribution to the entertainment world, she was part of something you don’t see anymore: American sitcoms where the main characters are in their fifties and older. Hell… you hardly see supporting characters anymore that qualify in that age bracket. Bea Arthur was already well into her 50s by the time she landed the starring role of Maude (this was where she first started working with Rue McClanahan) and into her 60s during Golden Girls. Though, there’s no need to underscore how controversial those two shows were actually permitted to be. Something else you don’t find much anymore, except when it’s used as self-aware satire on 30 Rock. Plus, The Golden Girls has remarkably withstood time. It’s not that it’s still funny, save those saccharine A Very Special… moments, but that it has managed to find lasting appeal across age and gender groups (see the comments on the IMDB messageboards or YouTube bootlegs). That’s a pretty amazing feat.
I’m posting a quick clip from a Golden Girls episode where Rose and Dorothy enter a contest to write a jingle about Miami. (The video and audio are out of synch).