And Then There’s Bea.
It’ll be a while before we’re all done reading tributes to her, but before the feeling passes, we’d like to raise our glasses to her not for an impressive theatrical career, not for her scene-stealing turn as Vera Charles in the horrible Mame, and not even for her iconic performance as Dorothy Zbornak in the beloved Golden Girls. No, what we want to remember is Maude.
We were only kids when she burst onto the scene in the ’70s sitcom, but in retrospect, Maude was an incredibly groundbreaking character and sadly, once she broke that ground, no one came along to build on it. Mary Richards is often lauded as the first feminist character on network television and she was, but she was also a very watered-down version of feminism and sadly, too many writers and actresses followed the Mary Richards model in the decades to come while ignoring the far more powerful and subversive Maude Findlay template.
Loud-mouthed, angry, acerbic and much-divorced Maude was a character we’d have a hard time believing ever existed on television at all if we hadn’t seen her with our own eyes. She wasn’t the desperate-to-be-liked Mary Richards; she was more in the I-don’t-give-a-flying-fuck-WHAT-you-think-of me mold and as such, she benefited from the fact that there was really only one actress out there capable of playing her and, in a coming-together of perfect elements that so rarely happens in television, the former Bernice Frankel landed the role. How revolutionary was this part? Just try and imagine a current sitcom starring a just barely pre-menopausal title character who finds out she’s pregnant, admits she doesn’t want to BE pregnant, and then, without telling her husband, exercises her right to terminate the pregnancy. That this story line was televised over 30 years ago is mindblowing and a very sad commentary on the current state of network television. But rather than dwell on that, let’s salute the bravery of the actress who took that risk.
If you’re too young to remember her or have never seen the show, the first season is on DVD and you need to run out right now to get it. Hopefully, with Bea’s death, the subsequent seasons will get released soon. Dorothy Zbornak was a funny, and her own way, ground-breaking character, but Maude Findlay was a fucking revolutionary.
Here’s to ya, Bea.