Sunday, April 26, 2009
The Passing of Bea Arthur
I was at the gym yesterday afternoon when I glanced over at a nearby television and saw images of Bea Arthur with closed captioning announcing she had passed away. The news hit me like a punch to my gut. She was a presence that will never be forgotten. Born in New York City in 1922, she died of cancer in Los Angeles at the age of 86. While I have vague memories of her in the 1970s with her television show Maude, she always will stand out for me as Dorothy Zbornak on The Golden Girls. The image here shows her with her co-stars Rue McClanahan (Blanche Devereaux), Betty White (Rose Nylund), and Estelle Getty (Sophia Petrillo), who passed away last year. (The image comes from the Reel Film Reviews website.) The Golden Girls will go down as a major accomplishment in television history. They made 180 episodes while it aired from 1985 to 1992, and won numerous awards. And to think when the show premiered, no one expected it to be the hit that it was. After all, who would imagine that pairing four older women living together in Miami Beach because of their limited income, but also for companionship, would wind up being a success? But these weren't little old ladies waiting to die. They were vibrant women who dated and had sex, and couldn't wait to sit around the table eating cheesecake to talk about it. It was proto-Sex and the City. They tackled an array of issues at the time, like AIDS and gay marriage, before they were barely discussed on television. Arthur's character on that show was my all-time favorite. I used to watch the show with my family in the early years, and my roommates and I were avid fans by the late '90s. I think at one point I saw every episode so many times that by the first joke I could tell you what episode it was. Lifetime television's website once had a quiz on it called something like "Which Golden Girl Are You?", and it should come as no surprise that I was Dorothy. Her sarcasm and acerbic wit was brutal at times, but she was a leader and warm-hearted at her core. In later years, Arthur performed cabaret shows throughout the country, and came to South Florida more than once. I regret now that I never saw her perform. She apparently loved her gay fans and would hang out at the local gay bars afterwards. To read more about Arthur's life and career, here is the Wikipedia article with a listing of her 50+ year career, and here is her obituary by the Associated Press (via The New York Times). I've embedded below two clips from The Golden Girls (via YouTube) that are hysterical moments from the show. The first one is from an episode where the girls are going on vacation and they decide to buy condoms. The second is Sophia recounting one of her very funny "Picture it...Sicily...1912" stories.