Monday, April 27, 2009

Farewell, Bea Arthur

Litchick says goodbye to a childhood icon....

Growing up in the 1970s, I remember religiously watching anything and everything Norman Lear: All in the Family, Good Times, The Jeffersons. Sure, I didn't always quite get the jokes, but the people who populated his sitcoms always made me laugh anyway. They were people I knew, people who lived in my neighborhood, who owned the stores I went to, or even people I was related to. (For a long time, I was convinced that Archie Bunker was actually my grandfather and he just wouldn't tell me because it was supposed to be a secret.)

And then there was Maude.

Maude was one of the few television shows that I was not supposed to watch because "it's not for kids and you wouldn't get it anyway." Fortunately, my babysitters weren't aware of this rule, and I remember watching Maude for the first time when I was roughly 6. I can't remember the episode or who was in it, but I do remember a very tall woman who scared and delighted me at the same time: Bea Arthur.

Maude was unlike anyone I had ever met. At 5'9", she was certainly taller than most of the women I knew, but that wasn't important to me. What really captivated me was her voice, the kind of deep, raspy tone one would assume comes with a diet solely of bourbon and cigarettes. Coupled with a withering glare, Arthur perfected a comedic delivery of lines matched by no one: fierce, biting, and dripping with sarcasm. Maude was also an independent woman, the kind who took crap from no one, male or female. In the early 70s, this was also a relative rarity and I soaked up every second I could.

Of course, Arthur did much more than the show Maude in her long and interesting career, both on screen and on stage. But it is her incarnation of Maude, and later Dorothy Zbornak on Golden Girls (who was really just an older Maude), that really drew me to Arthur. In many ways, I carry a mini-Maude inside of me, ready to unleash in times where a strong offense and a good defense is needed. Sure, we can thank Gloria Steinem and other feminist leaders for fighting for the rights we as women have today. But for those of us who grew up in the 1970s, I suspect it was Maude who showed us how to be the women we were finally allowed to be.

Thank you, Bea Arthur, for being much more than a friend....

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