Florida's Daughter

Good-bye Ms. Bea – Thank You!

Posted on: April 26, 2009

Bea ArthurYesterday, April 25, feminist television pioneer Bea Arthur, 86, died in her Los Angeles home. The actress was most well-known for her roles in two major television sitcoms: Maude (1972-1978) and The Golden Girls (1985-1992). Originally an occasional character on All in the Family, Maude Findlay premiered on the show in December 1971 as Edith’s cousin and soon established herself as Archie’s feminist nemesis, mirroring on the show actor Sherman Hemsley’s oppositional characterization of George Jefferson.

I was a 12-year-old Black preadolescent growing up on the Southside of Chicago when Bea Arthur first entered my life – 5-feet-9 and deep-throated when I was being socialized to squeaky-speak. I don’t recall making the racial distinction, after all, this was during the era when positive Black television characters, female or male remained rarities. I recall now that Maude Finlay had a maid, Florida Evans, a take-no-shit Black woman with challenges and troubles of her own that were later portrayed in the sitcom Good Times (which left me with an entirely different perception of Blacks, women and men).

Nonetheless, much of whom I am – an independent minded Black woman free to say and do as she pleases unrestricted most of the time by cultural and family dictates – is rooted in what I observed, and did not see on television. Maude – outspoken, politically liberal, three times divorced, an advocate of civil rights, and a woman’s right to choose – was my hero. By the time the show left the air in 1978, I had been married two years and was expecting my second child, but not before submitting to two abortions; mirroring in my own life Maude’s revolutionary decision to have an abortion in her late ‘40s.

Seven years later, Bea Arthur re-entered my life as Dorothy Zbornak, the middle-aged, divorced retiree sharing a home in Florida with her mother and two women of similar age in the television sitcom The Golden Girls. Rue McClanahan’s character Blanche was the epitome of middle-age sexual freedom and femininity, while Betty White’s character Rose Nylund was just plain funny to laugh with. Now 50 years old, I still dream of spending my last days in the intimate company of close platonic “girlfriends” comfortable enough with one another to candidly discuss politics, feminist theories, civil rights, sex and ex-lovers over cheesecake and coffee.

As is the case each time I hear of another of my heroes passing on, I am reminded of my own mortality and how little time each of us really has available to make a big difference in the life another woman, or a little girl. I have read with interest the long, drawn out discussion on the Women’s Studies list about what feminists should now call ourselves, and I am left with a “so-what, who-cares” sort of feeling. Because in the end what really matters – the real legacy – is what we leave in the hearts and minds of the people we leave behind.

Thank you Ms. Bea … I’ll never forget you.

Florida’s Daughter


2 Responses to "Good-bye Ms. Bea – Thank You!"

Golden Girls is still one of the best shows on TV. I can remember sitting on my grandma’s lap and watching way past my bedtime. I was 8 then and I am 27 now, my grandmother is 92. It still brings great memories. Bea will be missed!

Beautiful post. I wish I knew much about the series Maude. I’ll have to see if I can rent it somewhere but I’ve always been a fan of Bea Arthur since I can remember. Unapologetic and outspoken, I love women who don’t apologize for who or what they are.

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