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Bea Arthur was a true 'Golden Girl'

April 25, 2009 |  4:18 pm

Bea Arthur, who died Saturday at 86, was the winner of two Emmy Awards for her starring roles on classic sitcoms "Maude" and "The Golden Girls." Before becoming an unexpected TV star in the 1970s, Bea Arthur enjoyed a long and celebrated career in the theater. She won a Tony Award for featured actress in a musical in 1966 for the role of Vera Charles, bosom buddy to "Mame."

Bea Arthur Emmy Awards Tony Awards Maude Golden Girls Mame

Married at the time to theater director Gene Saks, who helmed this tuner adaptation of the play "Auntie Mame," Arthur made no secret of the fact that she would have loved to play the part of the glamourous title character, a part that went to Angela Lansbury. With her basso voice and deadpan delivery, Arthur had to settle for the sidekick role, which turned out to be a natural for her — the man-eating, gin-drinking actress Vera.

When the movie version was made in 1973, Lansbury lost her role to Lucille Ball, who then insisted on Arthur continuing in the part of Mame's best chum, over the likes of two-time Oscar winner Bette Davis. For her efforts, Arthur would contend for the supporting Golden Globe, losing to Karen Black ("The Great Gatsby").

Ball's demand was easier to accept as by then Arthur had become a TV star. As a favor to her longtime pal Norman Lear, Arthur has appeared on a 1971 episode of the smash hit "All in the Family" as Edith's liberated cousin Maude, who dared to contradict the bigoted Archie Bunker. So successful was this guest shot that CBS asked Lear to create a spin-off TV series for the character.

"Maude" premiered in September 1972 and ran for six seasons. As "that old compromisin', enterprisin', anything but tranquilizing" Maude Findlay, Bea Arthur created a memorable persona that earned her a place in the TV pantheon. She was the first lead character in TV history to have an abortion in a powerful two-part episode that aired in November 1972, months before the U.S. Supreme Court ruled on the issue.

Surprisingly, Arthur would have to wait until the fifth season of the show before she won an Emmy for this groundbreaking role. She lost her first three bids (for seasons one, two, and four) to Mary Tyler Moore in her self-titled sitcom. For Arthur, the fourth time would be the charm as she pulled off an upset, defeating sentimental favorite Moore, who was signing off after seven years.

The following year, Arthur lost both her Emmy nods. For the final season of "Maude," Arthur was edged out by her TV cousin, Jean Stapleton, who picked up her third Emmy for "All in the Family." Arthur was also nominated for a guest spot on the return of the variety series "Laugh In," but lost to "Saturday Night Live" regular Gilda Radner.

After a fallow few years, Arthur returned to TV in an unlikely hit -- "The Golden Girls" -- which celebrated women of a certain age living together in Miami. As the tart-tongued Dorothy, Arthur was a natural dueling with on-screen roommates rambling Rose (Betty White) and bawdy Blanche (Rue McClanahan) as well as her diminutive but domineering mother Sophia (Estelle Getty). While Arthur earned Emmy nods in each of the first two seasons, she lost first to White, then to McClanahan.

It would not be until season three that Arthur would win that Emmy bookend. With Getty also winning that night In the supporting slot), the quartet joined "All in the Family" in the Emmy record book as the only sitcoms with an entirely award-winning cast. ("Will & Grace" would become the third such show when Debra Messing finally won her Emmy in 2003.) Like Moore before her, Arthur decided to leave this still red-hot sitcom after seven seasons. In the two-part finale, Dorothy finally found true love and married.


Below, Bea and Angie recreate that classic moment from "Mame" when the dear friends reveal what they truly think of each other as the two Broadway divas belt out "Bosom Buddies" on the 1987 Tonycast. While both Bea and Angie had won Tonys for their performances 21 years earlier, "Mame" lost best musical of 1966 to "Man of La Mancha."

Photo: ATAS

Arthur guested the following year on the short-lived spinoff "The Golden Palace," which had her three co-stars running a small hotel. Beyond that, she seldom appeared on TV. In 2000, she competed in her final Emmy race for a guest spot on "Malcolm in the Middle," but lost to Jean Smart, who won the first of two consecutive Emmys for "Frasier."

In later years, Arthur returned to her first love -- live theater -- and in 2002 came to New York with her one-woman show titled quite simply "Bea Arthur on Broadway." She contended for the Tony Award for special theatrical event, but lost to Elaine Stritch, who was starring in her own solo show "At Liberty." In one of those odd twists of theatrical fate, one of the many stories recounted by Stritch was about her ill-fated audition for a role in "The Golden Girls."


For sale: Estelle Getty's Emmy award and Golden Globe

Bea Arthur: 'Loved her. Was there ever a better deadpan?'

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The comments to this entry are closed.


With all the wonderful things Miss Arthur has done in her life including the Ali Center, wouldn't it be great to see her final interview, in HER OWN WORDS talking about her career etc.

Here is a link to an interview I found that show's her at her best.

I'd hate for an full interview with Bea or the other legendary ladies in the clip to go unseen.



you were my favorite golden girl love you dearly although i have never met you i feel as though i did from waching the repeats on tv you had that dry wit keep it coming dorothy you will always live in my heart always rest in peace keep them laughing up there in heaven as you did on earth god rest your soul

OK, Bea was a great person in SO many ways but some of you seem to be SO UPTIGHT!! Who really cares about spelling and such, as the point is to REMEMBER her. If you are that uptight that you have to critisize things such as spelling and such then you shouldn't be here anyway, and maybe you should try your hand at posting a mini bio on Bea. I seriously doubt that you could do any better, and too, if you did, it would probably be SO dry and uninteresting that no one would read it. Ease up people, this isn't high school Englich where we have to watch every letter we write. Focus on the matter at hand! PLEASE!! I think the very fact that you condem the writer of the article is in VERY poor taste! Thank goodness that you guys weren't at her funeral or you would start critiquing everything and everyone there too! I hate people that think they are better than everyone else! (steps off soapbox)

I will truly miss Beatrice Arthur. She was my favorite Golden Girl, even though I enjoyed all of the actors on the show. I want to cry everytime I think that she is no longer with us anymore. I will always remember your fine work. May you rest in peace until that Great Day.

I feel so sorry for her family. RIP, she was one of the best. I even remember the old movie she did with Lucile Ball, back in 1966 that my grandmother and I watched. It sumed her up in some ways, and she will be missed by her fans of all ages.

Bea Arthur has been a part of my life since I witnessed a taping of her hit show, MAUDE in 1975. I have to watch a rerun of GOLDEN GIRLS every day or so just to laugh. She always made me feel better about being alive. She got me through many hard times. I will always be grateful for her life. Good bye my Golden Girl friend whom I nver met, but love, just the same.

may you sleep in Peace In Jesus arms , You are my favorite golden girl...

Bea will always have a place in our family's heart, I had a sister with downsydrome she always loved to watch the shows that Bea was in specilay the golden girls and even today i have a brother with the same problem. when looking at her programs we would laugh together and recall how much my sister loved to see her in action on the tv. my sister would sway backwards and foreward like her in the goldengirls and we loved to hear her talk. my best go to the family and friends. ms. sharon linda smith

There will be no one like ever in our life again. To her family I send love and support!! It is hard to lose a mother!!

So talented, so special. She will be surely missed and mourned.

Bea Arthur was an absolute original. And when she was on stage, all eyes shifted to her.

There can never another.

She made millions laugh and smile while she was here. May God bless her.

As a gay man Bea Aruther was an inspiring role model!

One of my favorite Bea Arthur roles was as the mother in "Lovers and Other Strangers." So funny..."Don't look for happiness, Richie. It will only make you miserable."

I know you folks at the LA Times have had layoffs, but can't you afford a proofreader? I agree with the author of the previous post. The grammar errors in this are very distracting.

She was fabulous in the movie Lovers and Other Strangers as the Italian mama advising her son not to get divorced.

reginaldsavoieijust the way you handle Archie Bunker he deserved every bit off it. thank you and rest in peace.

Bea was very nice lady . as we known her as Dorthy on the hit series the Golden Girls .Her and her castmates were very funny lets hope she rest in peace.l

I can't believe this article would leave out one of her greatest (and earliest) roles, that of Lucy Brown in the original Threepenny Opera. She was brilliant, as anyone can hear in the original cast recording.

Maude lived in Findlay, was not her last name.

I Loved Bea she was awsome and for Jon's comment about the grammatical errors, get a life, it is a great artical detailing Bea's career and she will be missed.

May rest you in peace...What a loss, but now pain is gone and you will be welcomed by your mother - Sophia?estelle. I am privileged and proud that I havee two mails from you. Thank you for your extraordinary life...You will be missed and never forgotten...Now God also wants to be entertained and He claimed your visit...

God bless her, I didn't know she was ill. I guess 80-something is old enough to die of 'natural causes'. Doesn't seem that long ago - 1972 - when Maude was on TV. How old will you be in 37 years? How about 20 years? It's true, your life is over in no time. Be good. Love people.

I will miss u BEA..Your style, wit and class made u an american icon. Rest in Peace.




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