Beatrice Arthur, best known as the acerbic Maude Findlay on Norman Lear's sitcom "Maude" and as the strong-willed Dorothy Zbornak on the long-running " The Golden Girls," died today. She was 86.
Arthur, a stage-trained actress who was a success on Broadway long before television audiences got to know her, died of cancer at her Los Angeles home, family spokesman Dan Watt told the Associated Press.
Angela Lansbury's sharp-tongued sidekick, Vera Charles, in the original production of "Mame" on Broadway, which also was named best musical that year.
But Arthur had little experience in either film or TV when Lear spotted her singing a song called "Garbage" in an off-Broadway show, "The Shoestring Revue." In 1971, Lear brought her to Hollywood for a guest role on CBS' "All in the Family." She played Edith Bunker's loud-mouthed cousin, Maude, who tangled with Edith's equally loud-mouthed husband, Archie Bunker, from opposite sides of the political fence.
Within a year, Arthur had her own show, "Maude," which ran for six years on CBS.
In the series, Maude is living in Tuckahoe, N.Y., with her fourth husband Walter Findlay (Bill Macy), daughter Carol (Adrienne Barbeau), a grandson and a black maid named Florida (Esther Rolle), whose sassy repartee with her boss was one of the best parts of "Maude." (Rolle's character spun off into another series, "Good Times.")
"Maude" came at the onset of the feminist movement and addressed serious issues, including infidelity, death, depression and abortion, but there were always laughs. This exchange is typical:
Walter: Maude, did you wreck the car again?
Maude: Did you hear that, everybody? DID YOU HEAR THAT? Not "Maude, are you sick?" Or "Maude, are you unhappy?" Or even, "Maude, are you pregnant?" No, "Maude, did you wreck the car again?"
Walter: You're right, darling. You're absolutely right. I'm sorry. So tell me, are you sick?
Walter: Are you unhappy?
Walter: Are you pregnant?
Maude's most famous line, delivered often and with withering drollery, was: "God will get you for that, Walter."
Playing Maude earned Arthur five Emmy nominations and a statuette in 1977. But, despite the show's enormous success, Arthur did not enjoy being the public face of feminism, a role she said was thrust upon her.
"It put a lot of unnecessary pressure on me," she told the Chicago Sun-Times in 2001.
After Arthur left "Maude," she returned to TV briefly in 1983 for ABC's failed takeoff of the British series "Fawlty Towers," titled "Amanda's." She returned to television in triumph in 1985 as Dorothy, the divorcee on "The Golden Girls," the NBC hit that ran from 1985-92, twice won Emmys for best comedy and enjoyed a long afterlife in syndication.
Bea Arthur, star of 'Golden Girls' and 'Maude,' dies at 86
The Broadway actress and TV star died of cancer in Los Angeles.
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