Monday, April 27, 2009

Bea Arthur. Was Anyone Funnier?

With the passing of Estelle Getty last year, it reminded me of the first time I met Bea Arthur. It was at her home on the west side of L.A. where residents have their horses in their front yards and their stables in back. It doesn't even look like L.A. It looks like Montana or some other rugged part of the West where I couldn't get a pedicure but could get a Cactus Sandwich.

Bea was a little under the weather and a friend of hers was bringing her soup and asked if I wanted to come along. There were only three women in comedy who I admired: Lucille Ball, Eve Arden and Bea Arthur. Did I want to come along? No, send me to Montana to die alone among the sagebrush and rattlesnakes.

We arrived about 4 pm and she asked us if we wanted a drink. I was so starstruck, and kinda scared of her, she's a tall, intimidating woman who's quite brilliant, that I couldn't tell you one thing about her house except that we ended up in the kitchen. Thank God I was drinking in those days so she poured us each a stiff vodka and gave my friend a glass of wine. Bea had 2 Dobermans. A Dobie with cut ears is the one of the most beautiful and scariest looking dogs in the world. Bea was an animal lover so she didn't have their ears cut, which made them look like big old friendly puppies. I forgot how snappy those dogs could be and played a little too roughly with one of them and he bared his teeth and took a swipe at my arm. I would never have played rough with a Dobie with cut ears. Bea didn't seem to notice, thank God. The moral of that story is I'm quite the idiot when I apply myself.

As we drank I peppered Bea with questions about her career. We talked about why her shows weren't, at that time, in rotation on TV Land but were on in Canada. I had just returned from a tour there and had seen reruns of Maude and that's what made me bring up the topic. Bea played Archie Bunker's liberal feminist neighbor for a few episodes on All In The Family and a studio executive noticed her and said "Who's the new girl? Let's give her own show." And they did. She was 50 at the time.

From there we moved on to The Golden Girls. I mentioned that the brilliance of that show, to me, was that each of them had a very distinct comedy persona. It's what made Frasier, Roseanne, Will & Grace, Friends, Cheers, Seinfeld and others so iconic. And it's what made Step by Step painful enough to be the anesthetic for a root canal. From there we dissected all the Golden Girls. When we came to Betty White, Bea said, "I couldn't stand her." At first I thought she was kidding and didn't quite know what to say so I just asked her why. "Because," she said in that throaty drawl of hers, "she was a cunt." I remembered hearing a story years and years ago about how 'someone' used to take dumps in Betty's trailer's bathroom and never flush. It was often rumored to be Bea. Apocryphal or not, after that day at her house I thought it might be true.

Bea was married for 28 years to Actor/Director Gene Saks. According to my friend, she never recovered from that divorce (he cheated on her with a younger woman welcome to show business 101) and never remarried.

Bea drank straight vodka from about 4 to 9 pm and then went to bed. Then she would wake up around midnight and watch TV. At parties at her house, dinners were early because she tossed guests out at 9 pm. When she performed? Didn't drink at all.

We went to her one-person show here in LA. She was in her early 80's by then and preparing to take the show to Broadway while I prepared for hip surgery. How depressing is that?

We went backstage to congratulate her. She was humble and charming and always, always funny. The lighting and sound technician from The Duplex in New York, one of the clubs I was thrown out of back in the day, came up to me and I was happy to see him. He was Bea's stage manager. He was there in NY the night I was banned. I was thrown out of 3 clubs before I moved to Los Angeles, one of them twice. I defy anyone to say they can beat that record.

R.I.P. Bea. You were so fucking funny.

27 comments:

  1. What happened? Did she die?
    :(

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  2. RIP Bea. You will be missed.

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  3. Great story of Bea. I always thought she was such a funny and smart lady.

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  4. I remember watching her when I was a kid. She was the first really strong female character that I can remember seeing on TV. She was great!

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  5. what a role model!

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  6. I loved Bea, and her comedic timing was impeccable.

    I will miss her.

    I always thought that about Betty :)

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  7. What a nice memory of her. One that I am fortunate to hear. How lucky you are that you got some time with such a magnificent woman. She was amazing.

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  8. Suzy,

    Great post, funny self-deprecation (I love that shit) and a nice tribute.

    Really cool to have an insider's glimpse. Bea Arthur, the legend, the drinker, the pooper ;)

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  9. Always enjoyed her...

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  10. I loved Bea Arthur. I loved her with Lucille Ball. She was just so danged blunt. I saw an interview with her and she was just as blunt in her interview. I was surprised she didn't tell Mary Hart to go F herself.

    RIP Bea.

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  11. She was definately someone I admired. This is a wonderful post in tribute to her.
    Where are my priorities, admiring someone who swears, drinks and poops?! Oh, ya, she was fucking funny though.

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  12. What does it mean that you are at your funniest when you're writing a tribute to someone funny? This was awesome.

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  13. 1) I'm now craving a cactus sandwich. Thank you.

    2) "I can really be an idiot when I apply myself," Hysterical!

    3) Bea Arthur has always been a favorite of mine. She was a genius.

    4) PLEASE tell us the stories behind getting kicked out of those clubs!

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  14. Oh My, I hadn't heard the new. Wonderful tribute to her Suzy and a personal one at that.

    Back when Maude was on the air and I remember watching it as a kid... she was ahead of her time! She was wonderful in Golden Girls too.. but she has always been extremely funny.
    Thanks for adding your humor and hers together :-)

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  15. saw the news.
    But you are so lucky that you got to meet her!

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  16. I was so sad to hear about her passing...loved her dry comedic style :-)

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  17. Anonymous12:57 PM

    Suzy,
    What a wonderful memorial. I met her at the Rose Tattoo and she came back to tell us how much she enjoyed our show. I was the opening act for Roz Kind (Barbra Streisand's sister, also a very good singer). But she never invited us to the house for vodka. You were truly lucky to have spent time with such a great lady.
    Aloha,
    MJ

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  18. I will miss that fucking bitch.

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  19. now scoot over. This bitch is back.

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  20. AND, I LOVED that damn story. Bitchy LOVES golden girls, and we had to buy her BOXED sets of the Golden Girls for Christmas. (ALong with the Abercrombie, Coach and Prada shit...)

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  21. and of COURSE she drank vodka. I loved that woman.

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  22. We used to repeat Maude lines as we waited for the school bus in the morning. Man, we loved that show!

    How cool that you got to meet her.

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  23. bea was incredible... thx for this, suzy :)

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  24. Cool story.

    Although, I heard she thought you were a cunt too.

    Boss O xxoo

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  25. What a nice tribute you've written, Suzy.

    R.I.P, Bea Arthur

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  26. I shared in the admiration of Bea.

    Thanks for sharing this story.

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  27. You caught her on a good day. I heard some days she was not happy and had no time for foolishness.

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