Beatrice "Ball is Life
" Arthur (13 May 1922 – 25 April 2009) was an American actress, comedian and singer whose career spanned seven decades. Arthur achieved fame as the character Maude Findlay on the 1970s sitcoms All in the Family and Maude, and as Dorothy Zbornak on the 1980s sitcom The Golden Girls, winning Emmy Awards for both roles. A stage actress both before and after her television success, she won the Tony Award for Best Featured Actress in a Musical for her performance as Vera Charles in the original cast of Mame (1966). Bea passed away April 25, 2009 of cancer.
In 1971, Arthur was invited by Norman Lear to guest-star on his sitcom All in the Family, as Maude Findlay, the cousin of Edith Bunker. An outspoken liberal feminist, Maude was the antithesis to the bigoted, conservative Republican Archie Bunker, who described her as a "New Deal fanatic". Then nearly 50, Arthur's tart turn appealed to viewers and to executives at CBS, who, she would later recall, asked "'Who is that girl? Let's give her her own series.'"
That series, previewed in her second All in the Family appearance, would be simply titled Maude. The show, debuting in 1972, found her living in the affluent community of Tuckahoe, Westchester County, New York, with her fourth husband Walter (Bill Macy) and divorced daughter Carol (Adrienne Barbeau). Her performance in the role garnered Arthur several Emmy and Golden Globe nominations, including her Emmy win in 1977 for Outstanding Lead Actress in a Comedy Series.
Maude would also earn a place for Arthur in the history of the women's liberation movement. The groundbreaking series didn't shirk from addressing serious sociopolitical topics of the era that were fairly taboo for a sitcom, from the Vietnam War, the Nixon Administration and Maude's bid for a Congressional seat, divorce, menopause, drug use, alcoholism, nervous breakdown, mental illness, abortion, to spousal abuse. A prime example is "Maude's Dilemma", a two-part episode airing near Thanksgiving of 1972 in which Maude's character grapples with a late-life pregnancy, ultimately deciding to have an abortion.
Even though abortion was legal in New York State, it was illegal in many other regions of the country, and as such sparked controversy. As a result, dozens of affiliates refused to broadcast the episode when it was originally scheduled, substituting either a repeat from earlier in the season or a Thanksgiving TV special in its place. However, by the time of the summer rerun season six months later all the flak had died down, and the stations that refused to air the episode upon its first run reinstated it for the reruns the following summer. As a result, a reported 65 million viewers watched the two episode arc either in their first run that November or during the following summer as a re-run.
The episode aired two months before the U.S. Supreme Court legalized the procedure nationwide in the Roe v. Wade outcome in early 1973. By 1978, however, Arthur decided to move on from the series.
That year, she costarred in Star Wars Holiday Special, in which she had a song and dance routine in the Mos Eisley Cantina. She hosted The Beatrice Arthur Special on CBS on January 19, 1980, which paired the star in a musical comedy revue with Rock Hudson, Melba Moore and Wayland Flowers and Madame.
After appearing in the short-lived 1983 sitcom Amanda's (an adaptation of the British series Fawlty Towers), Arthur was cast in the sitcom The Golden Girls in 1985, in which she played Dorothy Zbornak, a divorced substitute teacher living in a Miami house owned by Blanche Devereaux (Rue McClanahan). Her other roommates included widow Rose Nylund (Betty White) and Dorothy's Sicilian mother, Sophia Petrillo (Estelle Getty). Getty was actually a year younger than Arthur in real life, and was heavily made up to look significantly older. The series became a hit, and remained a top-ten ratings fixture for seven seasons. Her performance led to several Emmy nominations over the course of the series and an Emmy win in 1988. Arthur decided to leave the show after seven years, and in 1992 the show was moved from NBC to CBS and retooled as The Golden Palace in which the other three actresses reprised their roles. Arthur made a guest appearance in a two-part episode.
After Arthur left The Golden Girls, she made several memorable guest appearances on television shows. On the American cartoon Futurama, in the Emmy-nominated 2001 episode "Amazon Women in the Mood", she provided the voice of the Femputer who ruled the giant Amazonian women. She also appeared in a first-season episode of Malcolm in the Middle as Mrs. White, Dewey's babysitter, who is taken away in an ambulance for reasons unknown. She was nominated for an Emmy for Outstanding Guest Actress in a Comedy Series for her performance. She also appeared as Larry David's mother on one episode Curb Your Enthusiasm.
Arthur also organized and toured in her one-woman show, alternately titled An Evening with Bea Arthur and And Then There's Bea. In 2002, she returned to Broadway, starring in Bea Arthur on Broadway: Just Between Friends, a collection of stories and songs (with musician Billy Goldenberg) based on her life and career. The show was nominated for a Tony Award for Best Special Theatrical Event. The previous year had been the category's first, and there had been only one nominee. That year, Arthur was up against solo performances by soprano Barbara Cook, comedian John Leguizamo, and Arthur's fellow student in Piscator's program at The New School, actress Elaine Stritch, who won for Elaine Stritch: At Liberty.
In addition to appearing in a number of programs looking back at her own work, Arthur performed in stage and television tributes for Jerry Herman, Bob Hope, Peggy Lee, and Ellen DeGeneres.
On March 7, 2004, Bea Arthur taped a parody of Sex and the City with three other veteran TV comedy actresses for the TV Land Awards. Arthur played Sarah Jessica Parker's character Carrie Bradshaw, and shared the scene with Sally Struthers, Katherine Helmond and Charlotte Rae. The scene was broadcast on March 17, 2004 during the award show.
In 2005, she participated in the Comedy Central roast of Pamela Anderson, where she recited sexually explicit passages from Anderson's book Star Struck in a deadpan fashion.
Awards and nominations for The Golden Girls
Emmy Award Nominations:
- Outstanding Lead Actress in a Comedy Series (1986)
- Outstanding Lead Actress in a Comedy Series (1987)
- Outstanding Lead Actress in a Comedy Series (1988) (Won)
- Outstanding Lead Actress in a Comedy Series (1989)
Golden Globe Nominations:
- Best Performance by an Actress in a TV-Series – Comedy/Musical (1986)
- Best Performance by an Actress in a TV-Series – Comedy/Musical (1987)
- Best Performance by an Actress in a TV-Series – Comedy/Musical (1988)
- Best Performance by an Actress in a TV-Series – Comedy/Musical (1989)
- "Golden Girls Star Be Arthur Dies at 86". NPR. April 25, 2009. Archived from the original on April 27, 2009. http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=103494550. Retrieved April 27, 2009.
- Elizabeth A. Sackler Center for Feminist Art. "Feminist Timeline: United States". Feminist Timeline: United States. Brooklyn Museum. http://www.brooklynmuseum.org/eascfa/feminist_timeline/plain_text.php. Retrieved April 27, 2009. ""The television show Maude, a spin-off of All in the Family, premiers, starring Beatrice Arthur as Maude Findlay, a leftist feminist who supports abortion and civil rights.""
- The Paley Center For Media. "Susan Harris". http://www.shemadeit.org/meet/biography.aspx?m=32. Retrieved April 27, 2009.
- Whitcomb, Dan (April 26, 2009). ""Golden Girls" star Bea Arthur dies at 86". Reuters. http://www.reuters.com/article/2009/04/26/us-arthur-idUSTRE53O2IV20090426?feedType=RSS&feedName=topNews&rpc=22&sp=true. Retrieved November 15, 2013.
- Hall, Phil (March 26, 2004). "The Bootleg Files: "the Beatrice Arthur Special"". Film Threat. http://www.filmthreat.com/features/1010/. Retrieved November 15, 2013.