I will be the first to admit that my gay sensibilities are ostensibly heightened and terrifically off-the-charts much of the time when it comes to…well, almost anything. Go ahead and point it out. I will shrug at you. I will shrug quite loudly at you, in fact. I have recognized that there is a very large possibility that I was a gay man in my last life. But that is neither here nor there, really. Because while Bea Arthur was arguably a much-loved and cherished icon in the gay male community due to her participation in one of THE MOST beloved shows in all gaydom, Golden Girls, Bea Arthur was a woman that spanned far beyond that, and boy howdy did she know it!
Bea Arthur was a woman who, through her deadpan vocal stylings, sly grin and animated eyebrows exuded a confidence that any woman would be lucky to have on her good day. Or any man for that matter! She had an enviable career to be sure. From her beginnings in Kraft Television Theater in 1951, to the roles she made famous: Vera Charles in Mame or the roles she created like Dorothy in Golden Girls or Maude in Maude, Bea Arthur was nothing if not the consummate professional and always, always, always Funny As Hell.
Being 5’9″ and broad shouldered in an industry constructed for the petite of frame couldn’t have been easy, but she seemed to have risen to the challenge and worked it with all she had, and truly cut her own place for herself. To be honest, that may have been the reason that she made out as well as she did. There are a thousand and one sweet’n'petite blonds that can sing and dance up a storm, I suppose, but how many of them can turn a line of dialogue into something so dynamic, so alive, so pulsating with energy that when it drops from their lips (even when said in the most deadpan-esque manner) you want to scream and howl with laughter?
Not many. And you know what it was? Bea Arthur was born with a watch in her blood stream. She was born with a sense of timing that even many of the very BEST comedians have to train for years to achieve. But for some reason, and I think her consistent work in Golden Girls is the best proof of this, Bea Arthur had it. She knew exactly when it was “right.” And the most wonderful part is that you could see the confidence in her face, at all times.
When I woke up today, and I found out about her passing, I spent a great deal of time looking for Bea Arthur Awesomeness to post on my Facebook. To share with my friends, to share with my little cousins who may not know who the hell she was, or just to basically remind folks how wonderfully talented Bea was and how multidimensionally talented. Let me tell you- one of the best Saturday afternoons I have had in a long time was today, eating lunch, and watching a bunch of fan-clips of “favorite moments” from the Golden Girls. In pajamas, and then getting to write. Really lovely. But aside from that, there were 2 pretty extraordinary YouTube videos that I found, and I will post them here:
Rock & Bea discuss the “good old days”
Angela & Bea…Bosom Buddies forever.
As someone who studies/works with fan culture quite frequently, I have to say that one of the things that I found interesting was the evolution of the comments over today on these videos. The response from people showing the impact that Bea Arthur has had on their lives is simply remarkable. A few examples:
I dreaded this day too. When I was diagnosed with an uncommon illness i had nothing to cheer me up for day until i turned on the television and it just so happen that the Golden Girls was on tv and my mood changed and till this day I pop in a GG Dvd and i laught with Dorothy yelling at her mom and Rose – from Atitoinnyc, from the “Sniff Swig Puff” video
One of the most talented and classiest actresses ever to grace the stage or air waves. She brought so many years of happiness to so many; my parents adored watching her in everything, and they were tough to please. A tremendous loss! –from Frymet, from the “Bosom Buddies” video
I would encourage you to go and look at more of the comments on more of the videos, as they are fascinating and they show a real sense of the power that Arthur’s career has had over so many people’s lives over the years, not to mention a real intriguing look at the fan community as well. But that is bordering on my own interests and so feel free to disregard. However, I do feel it to be an important part of someone’s final passing to see how the community as a whole grieves and how they take it together; the fan community being one of the most strong and creative in certain media respects. For example, in the next 2-3 weeks, there will be no less than 100-200 new fan videos based on Bea Arthur and her career in the Golden Girls. That is a bet I am totally willing to make. Tribute videos, mixes, everything. It’s one of the greatest parts about fan culture. Their creative impulse is so strong. Sure, half of ‘em may live in mom’s basement, but does that really matter at the end of the day?
At any rate, at this point I would like to raise a glass to the woman she started out as, the woman she grew up to be, the woman she became, and the woman she was. I would like to raise a glass to Vera Charles, to Maude Findlay, to Dorothy Petrillo Zbornak, to Amanda Cartwright, and just, plain and simple, to Bea Arthur- what a woman! Here’s to you, and thank you for being MY friend and gracing me with the opportunity to be so thoroughly entertained for most of my lifetime!
May you and Estelle be up there sharing laughs together as we speak…..The earth is lonely for you both, but the heavens are made more glorious with laughter upon your arrival!