Golden Girls star Bea Arthur enjoyed the good fortune of starring in two sitcoms that featured very strong women.
Arthur was a strong, independent woman, herself. And it was her decision to step away from both series, effectively ending both of them. Before she was Dorothy Zbronak on Golden Girls, Bea Arthur played Maude Findlay in Maude.
In a November 2002 interview with the Globe and Mail, Arthur talked about why she quit Maude, thus canceling the show.
“The last episode of Maude had me winning some political position — I can’t remember what — and Norman and the network wanted to continue and base me in Washington with a whole new cast except for the husband. I didn’t know what we could prove by doing that. She had run her course. It was time to leave,” Arthur said.
In 1978, the writers of Maude had the governor in New York appoint her as a Congresswoman. Maude, in the show, was political. She was a fierce Democrat who was strong for women’s issues. Maude campaigned for the woman who actually won the Congressional election. But the woman died and couldn’t fill the seat. The final three episodes of Maude dealt with her possibly being in Congress.
Maude Featured a Golden Girls Flavor Long Before Show Was Created
Maude, the show, dealt with a variety of subjects not normally seen on network television. There were episodes about mental illness, suicide, abortion, multiple marriages, racism and sexism. Maude originally was a character on All in the Family, another Norman Lear sitcom that used humor to address societal issues. Maude was Edith Bunker’s cousin for two episodes. Then Bea Arthur got her own show. Maude also led to the spinoff series, Good Times.
“In terms of comedy, Maude was a real groundbreaker,” Arthur said as part of her show, Bea Arthur on Broadway, Just Between Friends.
“A real groundbreaker. Meaning, that every week on the third day of rehearsal we would have to read the entire script to the network censor.
“And then, poor Norman (Lear) would say, ‘Look, Bea has to say that word. I will cut that word. I’ll cut that sentence. I’ll cut that whole area, but she has to say that word.’ I remember once I was supposed to say ‘son of a b****.’ They wouldn’t let me do it. I ended up saying ‘son of a witch.’”
There was a strong Golden Girls presence on Maude, although no one knew it yet. Rue McClanahan played Maude’s neighbor and best friend. She was Blanche, Dorothy’s best friend and roommate on the Golden Girls. Plus, Golden Girls creator Susan Harris was a writer for Maude.
Arthur also effectively ended the Golden Girls when she decided not to return for another season in 1992. She announced her intentions to leave the show before the start of season seven. And the Golden Girls had a perfect series finale. Arthur, as Dorothy, married Leslie Nielsen, who played Blanche’s uncle. She was the lone divorcee on the show and she remarried a handsome, rich man.
Bea Arthur died in 2009. She was 86.