LOS ANGELES – Beatrice Arthur, the tall, deep-voiced actress whose razor-sharp delivery of comedy lines made her a TV star in the hit shows “Maude” and “The Golden Girls” and who won a Tony Award for the musical “Mame,” died Saturday. She was 86.
Arthur died peacefully at her Los Angeles home with her family at her side, family spokesman Dan Watt said. She had cancer, Watt said, declining to give details.
Arthur first appeared in the landmark comedy series “All in the Family” as Edith Bunker’s outspoken, liberal cousin, Maude Finley. She proved a perfect foil for blue-collar bigot Archie Bunker (Carroll O’Connor), and their blistering exchanges were so entertaining that producer Norman Lear fashioned Arthur’s own series.
In a 2008 interview with the Associated Press, Arthur said she was lucky to be discovered by TV after a long stage career, recalling with bemusement CBS executives asking about the new “girl.”
“I was already 50 years old. I had done so much off-Broadway, on Broadway, but they said, ‘Who is that girl? Let’s give her her own series,’ ” Arthur said.
“Maude” scored with television viewers immediately on its CBS debut in September 1972, and Arthur won an Emmy Award for the role in 1977.
The comedy flowed from Maude’s efforts to cast off the traditional restraints that women faced, but the series often had a serious base. Her husband Walter (Bill Macy) became an alcoholic, and she underwent an abortion, which drew a torrent of viewer protests. Maude became a standard-bearer for the growing feminist movement in America.
“Golden Girls” (1985-1992) was another groundbreaking comedy, finding surprising success in a television market increasingly skewed toward a younger, product-buying audience.
The series concerned three retirees – Arthur, Betty White and Rue McClanahan – and the mother of Arthur’s character, Estelle Getty, who lived together in a Miami apartment.
As Dorothy Zbornak, Arthur seemed as caustic and domineering as Maude. She was unconcerned about the similarity of the two roles. “Look – I’m 5-feet-9, I have a deep voice and I have a way with a line,” she told an interviewer. “What can I do about it? I can’t stay home waiting for something different. I think it’s a total waste of energy worrying about typecasting.”
The interplay among the four women and their relations with men fueled the comedy, and the show amassed a big audience and 10 Emmys, including two as best comedy series and individual awards for each of the stars.