Sunday, 26 April 2009

Bye bye Bea

Genuinely sad news today as the world of comedy loses one of its most dynamic lights. Bea Arthur, star of Maude and Golden Girls, passed away at the age of 86. In a world of instant celebrity and fame for fame's sake, the story of a woman who worked for 30 years before being 'discovered' and became the star of two of the most popular sitcoms of all time, should be an inspiration to anyone who dreams of a career in showbiz.

In the early seventies Bea Arthur gave a (very deep) voice to the growing feminist movement, and addressed the kind of issues that, 30 years later, American TV wouldn't dare touch. Her iconic character Maude Finlay advocated for civil rights, addressed alcoholism, suffered domestic abuse at the hands of her fourth husband and even tackled the menopause single handed. Most significantly, she had an abortion at the age of 47, just months after the landmark Roe vs Wade decision that legalised abortion in the US. During the show's six-year run, Arthur's character had her finger on the pulse of every major issue to hit the headlines.

As if that wasn't enough, she managed to rewrite the rules all over again in the following decade, when she was cast as the appealingly masculine Dorothy Zbornak in The Golden Girls. Indeed, here was a woman who could take feminine deportment lessons from Hulk Hogan.

Fighting against the dictat that woman needed big hair, pert breasts and shoulder pads that could clog a revolving door, The Golden Girls focused on women their sixties (and above), in the process giving them active sex lives and daring to suggest that people don't curl up and die once their hair turns grey. AIDS tests, homosexuality and promiscuity were all tackled by this disarmingly challenging show, but the quality of the performances and the strength of the writing meant that viewers were more than willing to follow the silver-haired saucepots into undiscovered country. During the course of the show, Dorothy was mistakenly identified as a man in drag, an adulteress and a whore. But never an idiot, that simply wouldn't have been believable.

Since the Golden Girls' demise, Bea Arthur made special appearances in Futurama, Malcolm in the Middle and Curb Your Enthusiasm, as well as treading the boards with her one-woman show. Throughout it all, she demonstrated a sharp wit and a self-deprecating world-view that won her fans around the world. Although she lived to a ripe old age, 86 just doesn't seem long enough when you're talking about a genuine legend. Goodnight Ma!

1 comment:

  1. Bea Arthur was the alpha Golden Girl
    She'll be missed