View Full Version : Bea Arthur, Dead at 86

April 29th, 2009, 01:27 AM
Sharp-Tongued Sitcom Roles Symbolized Rise of Feminism


By: Martin Weil | Source: Washington Post | April 26, 2009

Bea Arthur, 86, the actress whose well-timed put-downs, delivered with deep-voiced sarcasm, helped make her a comedy star and social spokeswoman in two major television sitcoms, "Maude" and "The Golden Girls," died April 25 at her home in Los Angeles.
A family spokesman attributed her death to cancer.
Once a wisecracking teenager growing up on Maryland's Eastern Shore, Ms. Arthur went on to an acting career that brought her two of television's Emmy Awards.
One came in 1977 for "Maude," in which she played the title role and was regarded as a symbol of the rise of feminism in American life.
The second came in 1988 for "The Golden Girls," which ran for seven years and, with its focus on older women, was said to stretch the demographic boundaries of the television audience.
In a long stage career, she played in the original Broadway version of "Fiddler on the Roof" and won a Tony Award for her supporting role in "Mame."
A springboard to her TV stardom was provided by the celebrated television comedy series "All in the Family," in which she played the liberal cousin of Edith Bunker, the wife of the bigoted Archie Bunker.
With a physical stature that at 5 feet 9 seemed as imposing as her fearless confidence in her social views, Ms. Arthur's character, Maude Findlay, delighted audiences in her ability to stand up to Archie. She responded to him tit-for-tat, in exchanges that raised the temperature of the cathode ray tube.
Those guest appearances opposite Carroll O'Connor's Archie were said to have so impressed the show's producer, Norman Lear, and the top brass of the CBS network that she was regarded as a hot new discovery.
This turn of events was viewed by Ms. Arthur off screen in a way reminiscent of the acerbity of her on-screen characters.
In a 2008 interview with the Associated Press, she suggested a degree of amused bewilderment at how the CBS executives spoke of her as the new "girl."
"I was already 50 years old," she said. "I had done so much off-Broadway, on Broadway, but they said, 'Who is that girl? Let's give her her own series.' "
That series was "Maude." Maude Findlay, who seemed to represent the image of an East Coast liberal, sought to face in what she viewed as a liberated way the problems of modern family life, including the challenge of being married to an alcoholic husband. Ms. Arthur also recognized the allure of the freedoms promised by the nascent feminist movement. When the character had an abortion, it touched off an avalanche of protest mail.
"Maude" scored with TV viewers immediately on its CBS debut in September 1972, and Ms. Arthur was nominated again and again for an Emmy, finally winning it in 1977.
"The Golden Girls" premiered 13 years after "Maude" began. Ms. Arthur played Dorothy Zbornak, a divorced substitute teacher living in Miami with three women, including her mother.
It was clear that all represented women beyond the age group most valued by television sponsors, and the show's success -- it was rated in the Top 10 -- for half a dozen seasons was credited with opening the industry's eyes to new possibilities. The show received many other Emmys in addition to Ms. Arthur's.
Ms. Arthur recognized the similarities between her role as Maude and her role as Dorothy, both of which called on her to exhibit assured dominance. "Look -- I'm 5-feet-9, I have a deep voice and I have a way with a line," she once said in an interview.
"What can I do about it? I can't stay home waiting for something different. I think it's a total waste of energy worrying about typecasting."
Ms. Arthur was born Bernice Frankel on May 13, 1922, in New York. She moved with her parents to Cambridge, on Maryland's Eastern Shore, where her parents, Philip and Rebecca Frankel, ran a clothing store.
Growing quickly to her full height, she adopted a wisecracking style in part as a means of deflecting attention.
For a time, she attended the old Blackstone College in Blackstone, Va., where she was active in theater. She received a degree as a medical lab technician.
After moving to New York, she studied drama at the New School for Social Research. In the late 1940s, she became a member of an off-Broadway group. When the English-language adaptation of "The Threepenny Opera" had its off-Broadway premier, she played Lucy Brown.
It was a turning point. Of the world of acting, singing and make-believe, she told an interviewer that the role made her feel, "Yes, I belong here."
On Broadway, she played Yente the matchmaker in "Fiddler on the Roof." In "Mame," she was Vera Charles, a role that won her the Tony, for best supporting actress.
Her brief marriage to playwright Robert Alan Aurthur gave the actress her last name (She simplified its spelling.) She changed her first name to Beatrice because, according to the Los Angeles Times, she never liked Bernice.
According to the Associated Press, she toured in 2001 and 2002 with a one-woman show of songs and stories, and in recent years made guest appearances on TV shows.
Ms. Arthur was married to director Gene Saks in 1950; they divorced in the late 1970s.
Two sons, Matthew and Daniel, and two granddaughters, survive.

April 29th, 2009, 01:35 AM

April 29th, 2009, 11:44 AM
They had a nice tribute to her on CBS Sunday morning.

April 29th, 2009, 11:49 AM
I saw that.