2009/04/27

God got her











God will get you for that!, dizia a Maude quando ficava derrotada e não lhe restava mais nada para dizer. Morreu um ícone da televisão da minha adolescência.


Bea Arthur, Star of Two TV Comedies, Dies at 86
By BRUCE WEBER
Bea Arthur, who used her husky voice, commanding stature and flair for the comic jab to create two of the most endearing battle-axes in television history, Maude Findlay in the groundbreaking situation comedy “Maude” and Dorothy Zbornak in “The Golden Girls,” died Saturday at her home in Los Angeles. She was coy about her age, and sources give various dates for her birth, but a family spokesman, Dan Watt, said in an e-mail message she was 86.

The cause was cancer, Mr. Watt said.

Ms. Arthur received 11 Emmy Award nominations, winning twice — in 1977 for “Maude” and in 1988 for “The Golden Girls.”

She was a seasoned and accomplished theater actress and singer before she became a television star and a celebrity in midcareer, and she won a Tony Award in 1966 for playing Angela Lansbury’s best friend, the drunken actress Vera Charles, in “Mame.”

But while she was successful on stage, on television she made history. “Maude,” which was created by Norman Lear as a spinoff from “All in the Family,” was broadcast on CBS during the most turbulent years of the women’s movement, from 1972-78, and in the person of its central character, it offered feminism less as a cause than as an entertainment.

Maude Findlay was a woman in her 40s living in the suburbs with her fourth husband, Walter (played by Bill Macy), her divorced daughter, Carol (Adrienne Barbeau), and a grandson. An unabashed liberal, a bit of a loudmouth and a tough broad with a soft heart, she was, in the parlance of the time, a liberated woman, who sometimes got herself into trouble with boilerplate biases just the way her cultural opposite number, Archie Bunker, did. She was given a formidable physicality by Ms. Arthur, who was 5 feet 9 ½ inches and spoke in a distinctively brassy contralto.

The show was considered a sitcom, but like “All in the Family,” it used comedy to take on serious personal issues and thorny social ones — alcoholism, drugs, infidelity.

“We tackled everything except hemorrhoids,” Ms. Arthur said, sounding much like Maude, in a 2001 interview with the Archive of American Television, a collection of video oral histories compiled by the Academy of Television Arts and Sciences.

In the show’s first season, Maude, at the age of 47, learned she was pregnant; her distress was evident.

“Mother, what’s wrong? You’ve got to share this with me,” Carol says. Maude’s response is typical, with barbs aimed both inward and outward, delivered by Ms. Arthur with a flash of simultaneous anger, despair and humor: “Honey, I’d give anything to share it with you.”

The two-part episode was broadcast in November 1972, two months before Roe v. Wade, the Supreme Court case that made abortion legal nationwide, was decided. By the episode’s conclusion, Maude, who lived in Westchester County in New York, where abortion was already permitted, had chosen to end the pregnancy. Two CBS affiliates refused to broadcast the program, and Ms. Arthur received a shower of angry mail.

“The reaction really knocked me for a loop,” she recalled in a 1978 interview in The New York Times. “I really hadn’t thought about the abortion issue one way or the other. The only thing we concerned ourselves with was: Was the show good? We thought we did it brilliantly; we were so very proud of not copping out with it.”

“The Golden Girls,” an immensely popular show that was broadcast on NBC from 1985-92 and can still be seen daily in reruns, broke ground in another way. Created by Susan Harris (who wrote the “Maude” abortion episode), it focused on four previously married women sharing a house in Miami, and with its emphasis on decidedly older characters, it ran counter to the conventional wisdom that youthful sex appeal was the key to ratings success.

Which is not to say “The Golden Girls” wasn’t sexy. Like “Maude,” it was a comedy that dealt with serious issues, especially those involved with aging, but also matters like gun control, gay rights and domestic violence. And like “Maude,” it could be bawdy. The women were all active daters and, to different degrees, openly randy. As Dorothy, Ms. Arthur was coiffed and clothed in a softer, more emphatically feminine manner than she had been in “Maude,” but she was no less sharp-tongued, and she and the show’s other stars — Rue McClanahan, Betty White and Estelle Getty (who, though younger than Ms. Arthur, played Dorothy’s mother) — were frequently praised for portraying the lives of older women as lively, uncertain, dramatic and passion-filled as those of college sorority sisters.

Familiarly known as Bea, Ms. Arthur was billed in the theater and on television as Beatrice, but the name was one she made up. She was born Bernice Frankel in New York City on May 13, 1922, according to Mr. Watt. But she preferred to be called B — “I changed the Bernice almost as soon as I heard it,” she said — and later expanded it to Beatrice because, she said, she imagined it would look lovely on a theater marquee. The name Arthur is a modified version of the name of her first husband, the screenwriter and producer Robert Alan Aurthur.

When she was a child, her family moved to Cambridge, Md., on the Eastern Shore, where her parents ran a small women’s clothing store, and she dreamed of being a chanteuse and an actress, and entertained her friends with imitations of Mae West. She attended Blackstone College, a two-year school in Virginia, and later studied to be a medical technician, then eventually moved to New York to study acting with Erwin Piscator at the Dramatic Workshop of the New School for Social Research. Among her classmates were Tony Curtis, Walter Matthau and the actor and director Gene Saks, whom she married in 1950. (He directed her in “Mame.”) They divorced in 1978; their two sons, Matthew and Daniel, survive her. She had two granddaughters.

Ms. Arthur worked regularly Off Broadway and in summer stock, appearing as Lucy Brown in Marc Blitzstein’s adaptation of “The Threepenny Opera” at the Theater de Lys in 1954. And in 1955, in a well-received musical tidbit, “Shoestring Revue,” she was seen for the first time by the man who would become a lifelong friend and professional benefactor, Norman Lear.

She also sang in nightclubs and worked occasionally on television, appearing on “Kraft Television Theater” and other shows featuring live drama. On Broadway, in 1964, she played Yente, the matchmaker in “Fiddler on the Roof.” In the movies, she appeared in the comedy “Lovers and Other Strangers” (1970), and in a reprise of her stage performance as Vera Charles, she appeared in “Mame” (1974), again directed by her husband, this time alongside Lucille Ball.

In 1971, she was living in New York but visiting her husband, who was directing a movie, “The Last of the Red Hot Lovers,” in Los Angeles, when Mr. Lear persuaded her to do a guest spot on “All in the Family.” The role he created for her, Maude Findlay, was a cousin of Edith Bunker, Archie’s wife (Jean Stapleton), who arrives to care for the family when everyone gets sick. Her tart sparring with Archie (Carroll O’Connor, with whom she had worked on stage, in a play called “Ulysses in Nighttown”) was a hit with viewers. Almost immediately CBS ordered up a new series from Mr. Lear, with Ms. Arthur’s Maude at the center of it. It changed her life.

“I think we made television a little more adult,” Ms. Arthur said. “I really do.”