The stories passed around about Bea Arthur make her sound like a monster from a kids’ campfire tale. A lot of that likely stemmed from the mean and tough characters she played in her decades of television work. That narrative persisted until her death in 2009.
But Rue McClanahan, who worked with Arthur on Golden Girls, said she was nothing like her on-screen characters. Though that didn’t stop those rumors from spreading amongst fans that she was awful behind the scenes.
“Not just the public!”McClanahan told Entertainment Weekly. “When I first worked with her on Maude and came back to New York, actors descended upon me and said ‘Oooh! What was it like? Was it scary working with Bea Arthur?’ I said ‘Good heavens! Anything but!’ That height — she was 5’10” flat-footed — and that deep voice, and that manner she was able to summon up, made people think she would be difficult. But she wasn’t.”
Arthur had a lot of quirks and was set in the ways she wanted things done. For example, there was a seating arrangement at table reads that the ladies had to adhere to. But she wasn’t a tyrant. Arthur took pride in playing tough characters, but that was just acting with the scene. Off-screen, McClanahan said, Arthur was quite sensitive.
“As a friend, she was giving and loving to me,” her Golden Girls co-star said. “She was a very close, quiet, rather timid person, very gentle. I saw someone say something once that they didn’t mean to be a cutting remark, but it hit her wrong, and she immediately burst into tears. That was not seen very often, but those emotions were right under the surface.”
Bea Arthur Did Have Longtime Feud With 1 ‘Girls’ Castmate
That isn’t to say things were always kind on the set of the beloved show. In fact, Bea Arthur and Betty White had a deep-seated feud that carried on for years. Though, no one is really sure what caused the rift as they had been close friends for years before the spat started.
“She was not that fond of me,” White said of Arthur in a 2011 talk, the Village Voice reported. “She found me a pain in the neck sometimes. It was my positive attitude — and that made Bea mad sometimes. Sometimes if I was happy, she’d be furious!”
Arthur’s son Matthew Saks said his mom found White’s effervescent nature annoying.
“Sometimes Betty would go out and smile and chat with the audience and literally go and make friends with the audience. Which is a nice thing — a lot of them have come from all over the country and are fans,” Matthew Saks told The Hollywood Reporter. “I think my mom didn’t dig that. It’s more about being focused or conserving your energy. It’s just not the right time to talk to fans between takes. Betty was able to do it and it didn’t seem to affect her. But it rubbed my mom the wrong way.”
Despite their off-screen fights, their on-screen chemistry was legendary.