Bea Arthur died today.
God, I loved her. As Maude. As Dorothy. As Vera Charles. As Bea Arthur.
She was, what my grandmother would call, a pistol. She was her own woman, funny as hell, smart as a whip, with a voice that could carve grooves into granite.
But she went peacefully, and that's good; surrounded by her family, and that's good, too.
Carlos and I had the pleasure of seeing her one-woman show in Ft Lauderdale a few years back and she was fantastic. Funny, self-deprecating; singing, laughing, sharing recipes. She was a true gem.
A true Golden Girl.
As Maude she spoke for a generation of women who'd never before has a voice.
I admired her.
As Dorothy she was mother and child, and piss and vinegar and sweetness and light.
I adored her.
As Vera Charles she was the best Bosom Buddie a gal, or gay man, could have.
She was spectacular.
And she's with Sophia now, threatening with Shady Pines.
Bea Arthur was born Bernice Frankel in New York City, and by age 12 she was five-feet-nine, and not quite the petite blond ingenue she dreamed of being. But she took advantage of her height and that voice; she played the male roles in the school plays.
She moved to new York and began working in theatre and that lead to television and Maude and Dorothy and great great memories. She was in the original company of Fiddler On The Roof and, of course, Mame, opposite Angela Lansbury. She took home the Tony for her portrayal of Vera Charles. But she might best be known as Maude and Dorothy, women who said it like it was, took no prisoners and damned the torpedoes. I wanted to be Dorothy and Maude and Vera. I wanted to speak my mind and cut through the crap with a quip and a one-liner.
So, in tribute to Bea, I'd like to tell a story she told in her one-woman show. I'll paraphrase because I don't know it verbatim, but you'll get the gist:
A woman is invited by her son John to visit him in New York and she makes the trip. She finds her handsome son living with an equally handsome man named Michael. She spends a week with them and watches how Michael and John interact and she wonders about their relationship. One day she decides to ask John and he cuts her off, saying Michael is a roommate and nothing more. She leaves it at that and heads home.
A week later she gets a letter from John. He says:
We haven't been able to find the silver gravy ladle that we used when you were here. Now, I'm not saying you took the gravy ladle and I'm not saying you didn't take the gravy ladle. All I'm saying is that we haven't seen it since you left.
A week later John received the following reply.
I'm not saying that you and Michael are lovers, and I'm not saying that you aren't lovers. All I'm saying is that if Michael had been sleeping in his own bed you would have found the gravy ladle by now.
Rest well Bea, and travel in peace. You left us with thoughts and joy and laughter. What a remarkable gift you were, and are, and will forever be.