MENU

Golden Girls Star Bea Arthur Dies at 86

The Associated Press

Hang on for a minute...we're trying to find some more stories you might like.


Email This Story






LOS ANGELES– Beatrice Arthur, the tall, deep-voiced actress who considered herself lucky to be discovered by television executives after a long stage career that included a Tony award for the musical Mame, died Saturday at age 86.

The star of the TV shows Maude and The Golden Girls died peacefully at her Los Angeles home with her family at her side, family spokesman Dan Watt said. She had cancer, he said, but declined to give details.

“She was a brilliant and witty woman,” said Watt, who was Arthur’s personal assistant for six years. “Bea will always have a special place in my heart.”

Arthur first appeared in the landmark comedy series All in the Family as Edith Bunker’s outspoken, liberal cousin, Maude Finley. She proved a perfect foil for blue-collar bigot Archie Bunker (Carroll O’Connor), and their blistering exchanges were so entertaining that producer Norman Lear fashioned Arthur’s own series.

In a 2008 interview with The Associated Press, Arthur recalled with bemusement being discovered by CBS executives asking about the new “girl.”

“I was already 50 years old. I had done so much off-Broadway, on Broadway, but they said, ‘Who is that girl? Let’s give her her own series,'” Arthur said.

Maude scored with television viewers immediately on its CBS debut in September 1972, and Arthur won an Emmy Award for the role in 1977.

The comedy flowed from Maude’s efforts to cast off the traditional restraints that women faced, but the series often had a serious base. Her husband Walter (Bill Macy) became an alcoholic, and she underwent an abortion, which drew a torrent of viewer protests. Maude became a standard bearer for the growing feminist movement in America.

“She was an incredible actress and a woman I will miss, and I think everyone else will,” said Bud Yorkin, producer of Maude with partner Lear.

The ratings of Maude in the early years approached those of its parent, All in the Family, but by 1977 the audience started to dwindle. A major format change was planned, but in early 1978 Arthur announced she was quitting the show.

“It’s been absolutely glorious; I’ve loved every minute of it,” she said. “But it’s been six years, and I think it’s time to leave.”

Golden Girls (1985-1992) was another groundbreaking comedy, finding surprising success in a television market increasingly skewed toward a younger, product-buying audience.

The series concerned three retirees — Arthur, Betty White and Rue McClanahan — and the mother of Arthur’s character, Estelle Getty, who lived together in a Miami house. In contrast to the violent Miami Vice, the comedy was nicknamed Miami Nice.

McClanahan said Arthur felt constrained by the show during its later years and in 1992 she announced she was leaving Golden Girls.

“Bea liked to be the star of the show, she didn’t really like to do that ensemble playing,” McClanahan said.

McClanahan first worked with Arthur on Maude, playing her best friend, Vivian. The women quickly became close friends in real life. McClanahan recalled Arthur as a kind and caring person with a no-nonsense edge.

The three other stars returned in The Golden Palace, but it lasted only one season.

Bernice — she hated the name and adopted her mother’s nickname of Bea — overcame shyness about her size by winning over her classmates with wisecracks. She was elected the wittiest girl in her class. After two years at a junior college in Virginia, she earned a degree as a medical lab technician, but she “loathed” doing lab work at a hospital.

Acting held more appeal, and she enrolled in a drama course at the New School of Social Research in New York City. To support herself, she sang in a night spot that required her to push drinks on customers.

After a few years in off-Broadway and stock company plays and television dramas, Arthur’s career gathered momentum with her role as Lucy Brown in the 1955 production of The Threepenny Opera.

In 2008, when Arthur was inducted in the TV Academy Hall of Fame, she pointed to the role as the highlight of her long career.

“A lot of that had to do with the fact that I felt, ‘Ah, yes, I belong here,'” Arthur said.

Arthur’s biggest Broadway triumph came in 1966 as Vera Charles, Angela Lansbury’s acerbic friend in the musical Mame, directed by Saks. Richard Watts of the New York Post called her performance “a portrait in acid of a savagely witty, cynical and serpent-tongued woman.”

“She was a rare and unique performer and a dear, dear friend,” Lansbury said in a statement.

Leave a Comment

If you want a picture to show with your comment, go get a gravatar.




Hang on for a minute...we're trying to find some more stories you might like.


Email This Story






The Student News Source of the University of New Haven
Golden Girls Star Bea Arthur Dies at 86