Style Icons: Female »Bea Arthur

Maude, Dorothy Zbornak

Bea Arthur (born Bernice Frankel) is best known (and loved) for playing outspoken, ground breaking characters. Often described as “acidic”, “flippant” and “worldly, Arthur’s two primary television roles put the kind of women who rarely see the light of network TV (smart, cynical, over 40 and not desperate–sometimes with significant shoulder padding) in the spotlight.

Her extremely long and successful career began on stage with a hit adaptation of Threepenny Opera in 1954, not long after that she understudied the great Tallulah Bankhead in the Ziegfeld Follies. She worked as a night club singer and appeared in bit parts on tons of variety shows; Burgess Meredith directed her in an adaptation of James Joyce’s Ulysses–where she first met Carroll O’Connor; but her biggest Broadway hits came in the mid ’60s: as the matchmaker in Fiddler on the Roof and in Mame.

Norman Lear finally cajoled her onto All in the Family in 1971 as Edith’s cousin Maude. Her character was so well liked that Lear spun off a series (the same way he’d similarly spun-off the Jeffersons) based on her character. The show was wildly popular and extremely topical: in the most infamous two-episode plot arch, Maude decides to have an abortion. Arthur won an Emmy and the show ran for 6 years–Bea decided to call it quits, it was not cancelled.

Not much later she turned up in the notoriously ill-fated, Wookie-centric 1978 Star Wars Christmas Special as a singing canitna manager.

Bea came back to prime time television as Dorothy in the Golden Girls in 1985, a sitcom I’m so sure you’re familiar with, I’m not even going to describe the premise. After seven years of being a friend, Bea chose to leave to the show and since then she’s stayed fairly busy. Her one woman show, “And Then There’s Bea” came through Austin when we were living there in back 2001, both Jim and Mike really wanted to go, but tickets sold out pretty quickly.

More recently, she played Larry David’s mother on Curb Your Enthusiasm–and she starred in this Sex and the City parody.

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Posted on June 16, 2008

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