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RIP Beatrice Arthur (updated)

April 25, 2009


When it came to TV and movies, her material was often not nearly as strong as her talents, but Beatrice Arthur, who according to the AP died today of cancer, was the kind of performer who never let anything stand in her way.  Certainly, as Maude she made TV history and brought to the screen the kind of outspoken, and charismatic woman who is beyond strong and very much a fact of daily life, particularly if you belong to any of a number of ethnic groups.

Whether it was delivering the often, at least by modern TV standards, rather contrived sitcom dialogue both on Maude and even more so on her longest running sitcom, Golden Girls,  holding her own, or even emerging triumphant during such notorious musical comedy fiascos as the ill-conceived film version of Mame (which I haven’t had the guts to see in decades) and the really ill-conceived and now legendary Star Wars Christmas Special — in which she is, actually, kind of marvelous — she was as reliable a performer as they ever come. If there was a moment to be found in material, she would find it.

Indeed, artistically she seems to have had better luck on the stage and in early television. It’s not generally known that her “big break” was as Lucy Brown in Marc Blitzstein’s groundbreaking 1954 off-Broadway version of Bertolt Brecht and Kurt Weil’s masterpiece, Threepenny Opera, a production that first brought original Pirate Jenny Lotte Lenya to the United States and also featured Jerry Orbach, Ed Asner, and Jerry Stiller. Clearly, the production had a great impact on Ms. Arthur, and she reportedly said that “Sid Caesar taught me the outrageous; Lee Strasberg taught me what I call reality; and Lotte Lenya, whom I adored, taught me economy.”

Anyhow, the sad news of Ms. Arthur’s  passing has really only just gotten out (I heard about it just before writing this via Pasadena public radio station KPPC), but I don’t think it too early for a sampling of how one woman could be a part of history, turn mediocre (or worse) material into a kind of poetry, and generally just be an entertainment immortal based on, among other things the outrageous, reality, and economy.

We’ll start with a moment where Bea Arthur and Maude Findlay collided with American history.

More videos, including musical highlights, after the flip…

The more things change, etc.

When they talk about performers being “troupers” this is what they mean, I think.

Helping us to forget that “Mame” movie, with the woman who should have starred in it.

Honoring songwriter Jerry Herman with a loving put-down and a lovely performance.

And, improving substantially on her last venture into TV science fiction, taking woman power into the far future….

Futurama Weeknights, 9p/8c
Death by Snoo-Snoo
Joke of the Day Stand-Up Comedy Free Online Games

Update: The House Next Door has a bunch more videos…

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