The fabulous Bea Arthur passed away this weekend (1922-2009). With her imposing stature, raspy baritone, withering put-downs and impeccably timed "takes," Bea Arthur was comedy gold from start to finish.
Her only connection to the world of Mondo Musicals is her appearance as the singing barkeep of the Mos Eisley Cantina in the ill-fated Star Wars Holiday Special, but she's beloved by the gays (myself included) for her turns as the left-wing harridan Maude Findlay on Maude (1972-78) and as the relatively-sane Dorothy Zbornak on The Golden Girls (1985-92).
As a kid, I was a huge fan of Maude (my parents should have known right then) and I've discovered to my delight that it's still one of the funniest and most daring shows ever aired on network TV. Everybody knows about the abortion episode, or the pro-pot episode. But who remembers episodes like the Emmy-nominated "The Analyst," an episode-length monologue delivered by Bea Arthur to an unseen therapist? Or "Vivian's First Funeral," where Maude is forced to steal jewelry off a corpse (with hilarious consequences)? Stuff like that just doesn't get made anymore.
Bea Arthur's Broadway triumphs include playing Lucy Brown in the seminal 1956 New York production of The Threepenny Opera with Lotte Lenya*; portraying the original Yenta in Fiddler on the Roof in 1964; and starring opposite Angela Lansbury in Mame in 1966. She was also the only saving grace of the Mame film starring Lucille Ball in 1974. She headlined a one-woman Broadway show in 2002.
Her last performance was on a Comedy Central Roast for Pamela Anderson, reading "erotic" passages from Anderson's book in her trademark deadpan style.
Here's Bea with Angela Lansbury singing the bitch-fest "Bosom Buddies" from Mame.
* Also starring future TV luminaries Jerry Stiller, Ed Asner, Charlotte Rae, John Astin and Jerry Orbach!