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Sunday, April 26
I cannot begin to describe the loss. Bea Arthur – actress, feminist, all-around wonderful human being - has died. She was 86. I felt a kind of connection to Bea, though we never had the opportunity to meet. Two of her most famous co-stars – Angela Lansbury and Adrienne Barbeau were people I’d known. Adrienne and I both got started doing theatre in San Jose, California – working for the same directors (though we never once did a show together). She was quite a bit older than I – a role model to look up to – not to mention one of the most beautiful women I had ever seen. My other connection, Ms. Lansbury, I knew from the time I lived in Ireland. She and I were neighbors (by Irish standards). She lived in Shanagarry, I in Ballycotton – but we both shared being American as a touchstone. I looked on her as a mother. I was 12, she in her early 40’s. Her son Anthony (also much older than I) was the initial connection. I used to follow that boy around like a lost puppy; which in many ways I was. Angela just accepted me ‘as is’ – no questions; the first time anyone hadn’t demanded something in exchange for loyalty or affection. I don’t know if she ever knew how bad my home life was – not that it mattered. She was warm, kind and understanding – and I missed her terribly when my parents decided to move back home to California. She asked me to stay in touch, and I didn’t – a thing I truly regret.
Which brings me to Bea. I’d known she originated the role of Vera in Angela Lansbury’s Broadway production of ‘Mame’ (she re-created it for the film) – but that was about it. But because she’d know Angela - I felt myself drawn to her – and I followed her career somewhat – much as I did with Adrienne. Imagine my surprise when both were cast in a TV show: ‘Maude’! Oh – I had to watch....even though my mother objected (feminism wasn’t allowed in our house, you see). Of course I watched anyway. It was easy to do. Most evenings my father spent drunk out of his skull, and mother slept with Prince Valium every chance she got. So ‘Maude’ was something I made sure to watch (as I struggled to grasp the societal changes raging around me). I loved how Bea shot those lines out like bullets. My excellent comic timing comes from studying her, I think. Later I discovered ‘The Golden Girls’. It was already a big hit when I got back from living in Japan. Bea kinda disappeared after that – appearing on Broadway and in the odd TV show. I had no idea she was ill (cancer) – so her death has been a real shock.
So here’s to ya, my dear. You lit up the world – and taught a lot of us what feminism was all about. Bye, bye, sweetie. I hope god has a sense of humor. :)