Ultra-Sensitive in Black for Dame Bea

Dear bosom buddy,

This started as a comment on your amazing Bea Arthur clips but it got too long. Hence, a post! The “Bosom Buddies” act nails a kind of friendship much richer than the “frenemy” idea that’s flattened our sense of what girl-girl friendship is. (Much like the “bromance” has flattened the boys’.) And oh, the fantastic dancing. The sketch left me breathless, especially the choreography at the end. What performers! What dresses!

Why did we relegate our fab broads to obscurity and try to convince them they’re “between 40 and dead”?

I’d read about the treatment of abortion on Maude, but man, I couldn’t believe how sensitive and troubled a performance it actually is. I’m interested in the number of times they use the word, gently stripping it of its shock value and guilt-weight.

I’ve been watching hours of Golden Girls lately when I brush my hair, when I get dressed, when I make breakfast, when I take naps. It feels like heavily buttered whole-wheat toast, a saucy balance between the raunchy and prim. It acknowledges that the little old ladies we try to unsex are denizens of disguise. THEY HAVE SEEN IT ALL.

Your thoughts on Dorothy’s dilemma surprised me—to this day it had honestly never occurred to me to think of her as a younger woman. Her reputation as being perennially manless, plus the grayness of her hair, convinced me, in my youth, that she was actually the oldest (barring Sophia). Ashamed of this now, but I like that we skewed her age opposite ways.  Also, it never occurred to me to think that these four women didn’t all belong together as a unit.

It seems like one of the main driving forces of the show, plotwise, was the miracle of that late-in-life found togetherness, and the threat of it fracturing back into particularity. (Especially when a child or romantic prospect intruded in a serious way.) Funny how death–the obvious separator–rarely felt like a serious narrative menace (though when it did, it did). Even in the midst of heart attack, Sophia did a lot to normalize the mysterious horrors of aging and death.

Bea Arthur. I marvelled (still do) at her face, so hawk-like, strong, angular and commanding. And hilarious. As a kid she represented a kind of power I really wanted–is majesty the right word? And that effortless, even acerbic sarcasm that in no way masked real affection; it was a smart writer who decided to have Sophia call her “pussycat.”

Wish we could eat cheesecake and gab.



And My New Grandma, Bea Arthur

Dear Millicent,

I just heard that Bea Arthur died today.  She was the archetype of “old woman” to me when I was a kid, and Golden Girls seemed to be relentlessly on TV, along with Empty Nest.  And then, in my teens she seemed younger– –a bawdy actress that wore draped clothes and knew how to make fun of men.  I then assumed that she had been in her forties for Golden Girls, which made sense because her mother lived her with in that show…making her the youngest roommate perhaps stuck living with older ladies.  There was one episode where Estelle Getty walks in on her in bed with her ex.  I think it was the first time I saw traditionally unsexy people (older, unvarnished, no satin skivvies) in bed on television.

When I heard of her death a minute ago, I assumed she was perhaps in her sixties, but it turns out that she was an actual old woman now, 86.

She was in her fifties when she started in television.  I like stories where successful people find other successes at a point when life could seem played out.  Julia Child is another beacon of this kind.  They were both tall women…

I will miss Bea Arthur.  She was soothing for all of the ways she did not fit, and for all the ways that she made it not matter at all.  She is the epitome of a handsome woman: full of confidence, presence, and self ease.

Some awesome Bea Arthur in action: