Tuesday, April 28, 2009

A Small Bea Arthur Tribute

Due to my being out of town this weekend, I haven't yet been able to write on Bea Arthur's death. The NY Times has, as usual, a wonderful obit, and my friend Leonard Jacobs has put together a great series of clips of her work (which I have not yet seen in its entirety). But here's my slightly more personal tribute to this exceptional woman:

1) The Golden Girls had a pretty major influence on my life, as it did for many people. I first watched it with my grandmother when it was new, and I had no idea what was going on. I later rediscovered it in Lifetime reruns, and it has been making me laugh since. All four of the stars did wonderful work, but Arthur's Dorothy was the glue that held the show together. It was silly and cliched, sure, but what wit and fun and good acting! I only wish someone had the guts to write a really clever show for some great older character actresses today.

2) "Bosom Buddies" from Mame is priceless, period. Who else could more than hold her own opposite Angela Lansbury?

3) Perhaps my favorite of her roles, though, is as Lucy Brown in the 1954 Off-Broadway The Threepenny Opera. I'd put the disc of Marc Blitzstein's exceptional translation, also starring Lotte Lenya, Jo Sullivan, and Scott Merrill, on my list of ten cast albums to take to a desert island, and Arthur's performance is a major reason why. She sings on only two songs--the "Jealousy Duet" and the "Barbara-Song," and her performance on the latter is particularly gorgeous. Biting wit and heartbroken sincerity at the same time, all in that unforgettable baritone. She does full justice to Brecht's lyrics and intent--we are emotionally affected and aware that we are listening to a performer at the same time--while singing the hell out of Weill's music. It's a treasure--track it down. Hell, I'll even lend you the CD, just ask.

Yep, she was a treasure. We're lucky to have gotten so much exceptional work from her.

By the way, does anyone know if Maude is on in reruns? Or have DVDs of it? It was apparently wonderful, but I've never seen an episode. Can someone help me out?

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