Bea Arthur, born Bernice Frankel in New York City on this date in 1922, would become an American icon from the 1960′s through the 21st Century. She would have been 91 today.
My first introduction to Arthur was in the early 1970′s when she was starring as Maude, the loud mouthed, opinionated, liberal taking on topics like race, gender, power, sexual orientation, and even abortion. I loved this show. Who knew I would grow up to become Maude. Maude was a true pioneer in addressing equity and the disparities in how we treat other people. I loved her voice of social justice, even when she would get it wrong.
When we first moved to Oregon, I was horribly depressed and hated living in Salem. My first job here, I was accosted by a Mormon woman who came into my office and said with great sincerity: “Michael, I just want you to know I pray for your sin.” I would like to say I handled this with grace and dignity, but I didn’t. My reply was: “Tammy, I pray that you will stop wearing brown double knit polyester everyday.” Not a shining moment for as a social worker.
The only highlight in moving to Salem was that my husband bought us tickets to see Bea Arthur live at the Elsinore in Salem. She made me forget my miseries, my woes, and my temporary misanthropy. She was authentic, kind, generous, and had a mouth like a sailor — I know I had to clutch my pearls many a time during her show.
Arthur had the power to transform us all and make us laugh at our selves, laugh at the world, but yet charged us each with the obligation to make the world a better place for all marginalized and targeted people after we left the theatre. As a true feminist/social worker should, she acknowledged that everything is political: “”I’ve been a Democrat my whole life. That’s what makes Maude and Dorothy so believable, we have the same viewpoints on how our country should be handled.” Seeing her live is one of my top 10 memories, for which I will be forever grateful.
She channelled her phenomenol energy into so many worthy causes. She was an animal rights activist and an active advocate for civil rights for the elderly and the LGBT community. Three days after her death, all the marquees on Broadway were dimmed at 8pm. What a fitting tribute to a woman whose passing left the world a little less bright.