Thank You for Being a Friend

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It’s taken me a few days to feel ready to post about the passing of Bea Arthur. If you know me personally, or you’re a regular reader, it’s probably clear how much I love Bea (DorothyZbornak is my internet pen name, after all). So, her passing on Saturday at age 86 after a bout with cancer was both shocking and devastating to me. It also marked the end of a dream since I really wanted to meet her or see her live before she died.

Anyway, in memory of Bea and her amazing life and career, let’s take a look back at the woman who brought so much joy and entertainment to so many lives.

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Bea was born Bernice Frankel in New York City but raised in Maryland, where her parents ran a women’s clothing store. She debuted on the Off Broadway stage in New York in the 1940s, finding success in the 1960s with her roles in Fiddler on the Roof and Mame.

Married and divorced twice, Arthur took her stage name (in part) from her first husband, the screenwriter, director and producer Robert Alan Aurthur. With second husband, Mame director Gene Saks, she adopted two sons, Matthew, 47, and Daniel, 44, who survive her.

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During the 1970s, she broke new ground in television as the title character on Maude. In the role, Arthur addressed social issues such as abortion and civil rights with an air of strength and feminism.

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During the 1980s, Arthur took on what’s arguably her most beloved role—the sharp-tongued substitute teacher, Dorothy Zbornak. On The Golden Girls, Arthur was the linchpin of a group of friends living together in Miami. Her dry delivery and snappy one-liners helped make the show one of the most hilarious and enduring (i.e. THE BEST EVER!!) comedies of all time.

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Bea was nominated for four Emmys on The Golden Girls, and won in 1989. She also won an Emmy for her role on Maude, and was nominated for eight Golden Globes, four for The Golden Girls and four for Maude.

In recent years, Bea traveled the country performing a one-woman show, appeared on several other television shows (such as Malcolm in the Middle, for which she was nominated for an Emmy in 2000) and made appearances on countless award and tribute shows. For a woman in what many consider to be the “twilight years” of her life, she continued to live fully and work hard spreading her gift of performance to as many audiences as possible.

For me, her loss is great and one that I won’t be over for a long time. It almost feels like losing a sassy grandmother, you know? As I sort through my sadness though, I know I’ll have Bea’s help, laughing through the pain at The Golden Girls, as well as her other performances through the years. I invite you to do the same with the following clips. R.I.P., Bea Arthur.

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15 responses to “Thank You for Being a Friend

  1. I logged on to Yahoo News Saturday and saw this. I said, “No!” Then I thought of you. I didn’t know she had cancer. I guess I was hoping the three surviving Girls would be OK for a while, as Estelle Getty died just last year.

    Reading obits and tributes, it seems like she was a real smartass. And I am always sad when a smartass dies, especially one as accomplished as Bea who was part of such an awesome TV show.

    I want to call Rue and Betty and demand they give me a full health report now.

    • @lalaland13: She just sounded like such a hoot, you know? Like someone you’d like to get drunk and talk shit with. But she was also a really big-hearted person. In Rue McClanahan’s memoir, she talks about when her mother died, Bea called her and told her to come over. This was before GG, but they’d worked together on Maude. Anyway, Rue goes to her house and Bea totally takes care of her, soothing her and telling her to stay over so she won’t be alone. And they weren’t even super-close at that point. She was apparently just as good of a friend in real life as she was on TV.

  2. Aw, I thought about you Saturday when I heard 😦

  3. Did you see Betty and Rue on the Today Show today? They both called in to talk about Bea, and it was very clear – even just over their phone call – how much love and respect they all had for each other.

    Bea was a kick-ass class act, and this is a fitting tribute to her, dottyz.

    • @seascaper: No, I didn’t see that! I’ll have to look for it online. I think that group truly loved one another as friends off-camera. Even though they were (and are) all excellent actors, t’s hard to fake the kind of chemistry they had on that show.

  4. Oh btw, apparently I was logged in under my other account. It’s badenbaden here!

  5. I’ve been waiting for your tribute. I knew it would be lovely.

    I used to have to sneak around to watch Golden Girls when I was wee because my parents thought it was too grown-up for me. My step-granny used to lecture my mom about letting me watch it because it was about S-E-X. (Like I didn’t know what that spelled in 4th grade.) But it’s like I don’t remember a time when Bea Arthur wasn’t a part of my life. And Betty, and Rue, and Estelle. They are all such special ladies, and I use them as examples of what I want to be when I get older. Vibrant and hilarious and awesome.

    I’ve also aspired since I was a little kid to have a deep and sexy voice like Bea Arthur. She will be greatly missed.

  6. Jen,

    It’s kinda crazy that we all think of you as Bea’s daughter or something.

    Anyway, it’s sad that she’s gone, but 86 gave her a lot of time to do great things. And she did!

    • @adrienne: Ha, I know! Everyone’s been calling and emailing me offering condolences like she was an actual member of my family. And though she wasn’t, she was one of my heroes, so it’s still pretty tough. But you’re right, she lived a long, full life, and her legacy lives on today. And thank goodness, cause I could use a good laugh!

  7. This is a lovely and fitting tribute. Bea was such a wonderful actress and all-around smart woman- she’ll be deeply missed by those that worked with her and those that only knew her through her characters.

    Sniff. Thank you for being a friend, DZ.

  8. Very touching tribute. I have to say, I thought of you when I heard this news Saturday. You’re the biggest Golden Girls fan I know!

    A sad happening, but these clips are great for putting a smile on your face.

    And here I didn’t even know you had a blog. Very cool!

  9. AGreenEyeDevil

    Her comedic timing was the best! And I so admire her late-in-life work ethic. She is truly a woman that only improved with age.

    You were my first thought upon reading of her passing this weekend. I think she would have appreciated that her character inspired your on-line pen name. She really has influenced multiple generations of women. Thanks for a sweet post Dotty Z.

  10. So sad…I mourned by watched endless episodes of Maude on YouTube yesterday during work. Shhhh, don’t tell my boss.

  11. Pingback: More Bea « Bubblegum Culture

  12. Pingback: More Bea

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