On Saturday we learned the incredibly sad news that famed actress of the stage and small screen Bea Arthur, prolly most remembered for her role as Dorothy Zbornak on the beloved TV series The Golden Girls but also for her ground-breaking role in the 1970’s as Maude on both All In The Family and her own series Maude, passed away at the age of 86 after losing her battle with cancer. Bea’s surviving co-stars Betty White and Rue McClanahan have since paid tribute to Bea in interviews and official statements. Betty issued a statement, which you can read in full here, and Rue spoke fondly of Bea in an interview with Entertainment Weekly and on The Today Show. Here are a couple photos of Bea, Betty and Rue all together at The TVLand Awards last year where the ladies accepted a pop culture award on behalf of The Golden Girls (Estelle Getty was still alive at this time last year but was too ill to attend the award show):
Here is the full text of Betty White’s statement on Bea’s passing:
“I knew it would hurt, I just didn’t know it would hurt this much.. I’m so happy that she received her Lifetime Achievement Award while she was still with us, so she could appreciate that. She was such a big part of my life.”
Here is a portion of Rue McClanahan’s interview about Bea with Entertainment Weekly:
What did you learn about acting from Bea Arthur?
What I got attached to, as an actress, was her impeccable timing. And I loved playing scenes with her. She taught me, by watching her, even back during Maude, to be outrageously courageous as a comedienne, to go out on a limb, to go farther than I’ve ever dreamed of going. [On The Golden Girls], Blanche had to say and do things that Rue found difficult. And it would always be Bea who said [deepens voice to perfectly imitate Arthur] “Oh say it! It’s funny!”
What was she like off-camera?
As a friend she was giving and loving to me. She was a very close, quiet, rather timid person, very gentle. I saw someone say something once that they didn’t mean to be a cutting remark, but it hit her wrong, and she immediately burst into tears. That was not seen very often, but those emotions were right under the surface.
It’s interesting to hear that, because I think a lot of fans just assumed she was as tough as Maude, as gruff as Dorothy.
Not just the public! When I first worked with her on Maude and came back to New York, actors descended upon me and said “Oooh! What was it like? Was it scary working with Bea Arthur?” I said “Good heavens! Anything but!” That height — she was 5’10” flat-footed — and that deep voice, and that manner she was able to summon up, made people think she would be difficult. But she wasn’t.
Any interesting quirks?
[On Golden Girls], Bea always sat in the same chair at rehearsals. Always. And she always had to have me on her right, and Betty [White] and Estelle [Getty] across the table from her. And we could not change seats from year to year, or even from week to week.
How did Bea feel about her status as a feminist icon?
Of course she was aware of it, but I tell you what meant something to Bea: Acting, performing, playing comedy and doing it well.
What did Bea mean to women of her generation? Maude and The Golden Girls both tackled a lot of issues older women face, and did so with a candor that we don’t always see in Hollywood.
I think, in both of those shows, we really did change the perception of a woman’s role. I don’t think anybody thought that it was okay to be a feminist back when she was doing Maude. And I’m sure that [show] released a lot of inhibitions. I know The Golden Girls certainly did because I’ve got fan mail saying “Thank you for allowing me to act and dress like I feel.” Because in those days, when you were over 50, you were supposed to be wearing certain types of clothes and behaving a certain way. And women were writing saying “Thank you, thank you, thank you for the freedom, for the release, for the permission.” And I’m sure Bea got that same kind of fan mail, too.
What was Bea’s lasting contribution to TV history?
What’s any great star’s lasting contribution? What’s Lucille Ball’s? I don’t know how to put answers like that into words. I suppose perhaps the thing she did the best and the most of was make people laugh.
Bea Arthur was truly an amazing woman. It will forever be one of my great regrets to have never met her in person. I remember when she did her one-woman Broadway show back in 2001 … I was not yet able to travel to NYC whenever I liked so I was not able to see her show live. It just pains me know to think that I missed out on a golden opportunity to see this genius comedic actress live on stage. Thankfully, we have reruns of The Golden Girls to remind us for all time what a truly special woman she was. After the jump, check out video of Rue McClanahan being interviewed on The Today Show …
Speaking over the phone on the Today show about their late friend and professional colleague – Arthur, 86, died early Saturday morning at her home in Los Angeles after a lengthy battle with cancer – both expressed their amazement when Arthur headlined her own, autobiographical one-woman show, 2002’s Bea Arthur on Broadway: Just Between Friends. “Her emotions were just under the skin,” McClanahan, 75, said of Arthur. “You could look at her cross-eyed and she’d burst into tears.” “Golden Girls was such a happy time in our lives. But I will also remember her in her one-woman show,” said White, 87. “To see her get up on that stage and command it as a one-woman show was really mind-boggling.” “That’s because she was in control,” said McClanahan. “When she was performing she was in total control. But in her personal life … she was so sensitive.”
It is so sad to think that we know only have half of the Golden Girls left among us. May Bea Arthur rest in eternal peace.
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