Bea Arthur died on April 25, 2009. She was probably best known for her roles as an outspoken liberal feminist in Maude and as middle-aged divorcee Dorothy Zbornak whose life was far from over in The Golden Girls.
I’ve never reviewed Maude, mostly because others have done it better years before I came along. Maude was flawed, middle-aged and not someone you’d mistake for a supermodel. Today, I wonder if someone like her could ever be the central character in a sitcom.
Maude’s feminism wasn’t perfect: she was a white woman of means whose privilege sometimes conflicted with the beliefs she espoused – a point the show confronted directly.
Maude got an abortion in the first season, while Roe V. Wade was before the courts. Today, now that abortion is legal, it would be considered too controversial for comedy TV. Go figure.
And Dorothy Zbornak was over the hill by every standard we have for women, yet she had a life. Her recent divorce at the beginning of the show felt like the end of her life, but she struggled and coped and finally made it a beginning. I remember The Golden Girls as very smart in the early seasons and eventually falling into tropes and predictable catch-phrases as the seasons wore on – like so many shows do. But it always viewed its ensemble of four older women as fascinating human beings, and my guess is it will be a while before we see that again on American TV.
Of course, Norman Lear and Susan Harris and any number of writers and producers also deserve the credit for Maude and Dorothy. But Bea Arthur had an amazing presence which she brought to her characters, and without her, they wouldn’t have been so memorable.