Legendary actress Bea Arthur, star of the hit shows The Golden Girls and Maude died on Saturday. She was 86.
The tall, deep-voiced actress died peacefully at her Los Angeles home with her family at her side. She died of cancer.
Arthur was born Bernice Frankel in New York City in 1922. When she was 11, her family moved to Cambridge, Md., where her father opened a clothing store. At 12 she had grown to full height, and she dreamed of being a petite blond movie star like June Allyson. There was one advantage of being tall and deep-voiced: She was chosen for the male roles in school plays. It led to a long stage career on Broadway.
In a 2008 interview with The Associated Press, Arthur said she was lucky to be discovered by TV after a long stage career, recalling with bemusement CBS executives asking about the new “girl.” Her first television role was in the landmark comedy series All in the Family as Edith Bunker’s outspoken, liberal cousin, Maude Finley.
“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.
In The Golden Girls (1985-1992) she played the daughter of Estelle Getty’s character, who ‘lived together’ in a Miami apartment with Betty White and Rue McClanahan.
As Dorothy Zbornak, Arthur seemed as caustic and domineering as Maude. She was unconcerned about the similarity of the two roles. “Look — I’m 5-feet-9, I have a deep voice and I have a way with a line,” she told an interviewer. “What can I do about it? I can’t stay home waiting for something different. I think it’s a total waste of energy worrying about typecasting.”
The interplay among the four women and their relations with men fueled the comedy, and the show amassed a big audience and 10 Emmys, including two as best comedy series and individual awards for each of the stars.
In 2008, when Arthur was inducted in the TV Academy Hall of Fame, Arthur 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 won a Tony Award for the role.
“There was no one else like Bea,” said “Mame” composer Jerry Herman. “She would make us laugh during `Mame’ rehearsals with a look or with a word. She didn’t need dialogue. I don’t know if I can say that about any other person I ever worked with.”
Angela Lansbury said, “Bea Arthur and I first met when we did ‘Mame’ together in 1965. She became and has remained ‘My Bosom Buddy’ ever since. I am deeply saddened by her passing, but also relieved that she is released from the pain. I spoke to Matt, her son, yesterday and I was aware that her time was imminent. She was a rare and unique performer and a dear, dear friend.”
In recent years, Arthur made guest appearances on shows including Curb Your Enthusiasm and Malcolm in the Middle. She also toured Australia appearing at the Melbourne Comedy Festival.
Arthur is survived by her sons and two granddaughters.