I have very little to add to the reams of praise that have been written this week about the late Beatrice Arthur, star of television’s “Maude” and later “The Golden Girls.” She was that rare actress who found fame and success in mid-life, and it was well deserved.
Perhaps because of her height (5’9”, a rarity in the 1940s) and her strong features, Arthur’s unusual beauty was overlooked by casting directors. However, she met her husband, Gene Saks, in 1950 and worked consistently off-Broadway, including the 1954 original version of The Threepenny Opera.
Between jobs she sang in supper clubs, and appeared on Broadway, particularly the smash hit “Mame” in 1966, directed by her husband. For the part of Vera Charles, Mame's best friend, she received a Tony Award.
She was almost fifty when she first appeared on “All In The Family”, as Edith's liberal, women's libber cousin, one of the few characters who could go toe to toe with Edith's bigot husband Archie Bunker. The character was so well-received it led directly to the spin-off “Maude.” Maude was a dominant, outspoken woman, the likes of which had rarely been seen on television. Usually that type was played as a one-dimensional gorgon (and still is), but Maude had true emotional complexity. Part of that was due to Bea Arthur's brilliant portrayal and also the amazing writing. Most of the content could not get on television today, sadly enough.
The rest is history, as the cliché goes.
Arthur’s authorative comic timing, deep voice, and killer delivery were all her own. Beatrice Arthur, for deep-voiced, tall, imposing women everywhere, I salute you.
Elisa & Bucky the Wonderdog