Bea Arthur is gone, and that seems impossible: she’s always been here, and we just automatically assumed she always would be.
Since you’re familiar with The Golden Girls and you’ve probably heard of Maude, I decided to go back to her very first TV credit — she’d done theatre before that — in the spring of 1951, a little thing called Once Upon a Tune, which did a quickie sixty-minute musical every Tuesday night on the forgotten Du Mont network, generally written by Reginald Deane and Coleman Dowell. Only about a dozen episodes were ever made, and most of them are long gone. Charlotte Rae, Alice Ghostley and Elaine Stritch also made appearances on Once Upon a Tune, suggesting that the producers had an eye for no-nonsense women with razor-sharp comedic timing.
Maude Findlay, it was explained to us one day on All in the Family, was Edith Bunker’s cousin, and she proved to be a worthy foil for Carroll O’Connor’s Archie, which explains how she got spun off into her own series, which lasted six seasons. It was a difficult character, one which probably couldn’t be played today without all manner of outcry from all sides. Among the plot complications: domestic violence; attempted suicide; an abortion, several months before Roe v. Wade. For a Seventies sitcom, this was a seriously heavy topic load, which may or may not explain why Arthur decided she didn’t want to go on with it any further.
Still, everyone’s going to remember “Golden Girl” Dorothy Zbornak, a very Maude-like character really, which Arthur readily acknowledged: “Look — I’m 5-feet-9, I have a deep voice and I have a way with a line,” she told an interviewer. “What can I do about it? I can’t stay home waiting for something different. I think it’s a total waste of energy worrying about typecasting.”
One does not sustain an acting career for five decades and more without being eminently sensible about such things.