Sunday, April 26, 2009

Bea Arthur: 1922-2009

When I was a kid, there were two signs of a good babysitter: 1) he or she let me have more than one cookie, even if my parents told them not to and 2) he or she always let stay up late enough to watch "Golden Girls" on a Saturday night.
I don't why I loved that NBC sitcom so much when I was a little kid. Certainly, a 9-year-old probably couldn't have found much common ground with a show about a bunch of women over the age of 60. I didn't know anything about the struggles of caring for an elderly parent, or trying to maintain a social life well into late middle age. Yet I still loved "Golden Girls" for a simple reason: it was funny.
Dorothy, Rose, Blanche and Sophia were the kind of women we all hoped we'd be when we got older -- funny, resourceful, wise, kind and generally satisfied with life. As a little girl, I'm not sure I had a favorite. However, when I became reacquainted with the show later in life through its seemingly inescapable reruns on Lifetime, I most closely identified with Dorothy, the brainy teacher and divorcee brilliantly played by the great Bea Arthur. I had never seen Arthur as the title character on the iconic 1970s sitcom "Maude," so to me, she'll always be Dorothy Petrillo Zbornak.
Dorothy was the kind of woman I know well now; the type to disguise pain with an acid tongue and quick wit. With her deep, smoky voice and flawless timing, Arthur was made for the role. Whether threatening to send her mom, Sophia back to Shady Pines rest home or tartly chiding her roommate Rose for her ditziness or Blanche for her trampiness, Dorothy had many of the show's funniest lines.
But she also had some of its most touching moments. Dorothy, don't forget, got pregnant young, married a man who cheated on her and went through a painful divorce. She also found herself in the difficult position of looking after her mother, and had to move in with two other women to support herself. That's a lot of baggage, and Arthur always let you see the sadness and weariness under Dorothy's witticisms.
Arthur died Saturday in Los Angeles. Though she played numerous other roles (most notably on Broadway, where she won a Tony award for the musical "Mame"), I'll always remember Arthur sitting around a kitchen table, eating cheesecake and making witty observations about life.
She'll be missed.

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