I was 10 years old when I came up with, what I thought at the time, a brilliant idea! My sister and I had absolutely fallen in love with Lucille Ball, and we decided that if we loved her so much, why not meet her. Running through the kitchen, I startled my mother; and with much excitement, I expressed my desire to meet Lucille Ball. As I rambled on and on, mother simply took her seat and uttered those ill fated words that we all hate to hear,” I’m sorry hun, but Lucy has passed away. She passed away a few years ago!” What else could she do? Those words, being so final, dashed the one desire that I had…to simply say thank you for making my day a little brighter.
The years kept going by, any I began to write T.V. pilots for fun, and I developed a property called “The Good Life”. Oh what a line up I had: Shirley McClain married to Jack Lemmon, Ozzie Davis married to Ruby Dee (not too hard to picture), and Betty White married to Walter Mathau. Three neighbors, who found themselves in many unthinkable situations, the classic “situation comedy” that was mainly character driven. But, as the years went on, we lost Walter…and then Jack…and finally Ozzie. Half the cast gone like that, without even a chance to meet them, learn from them, to express to them how they inspired and touched my life. I simply tucked the pilot away, and soldiered on.
Today as I went up the escalator at Union Station, a Reuter’s message alerted my phone that another great star had gone on to join the many players that had taken their final bows before…Bea Arthur. Immediately, stunned & Jarred, I called friends and family alerting them that Bea had passed away. Several people, who like me had never met Bea in person, stopped in their tracks, displayed their grief, and without much of a choice were forced to face a harsh reality…it’s final, and she’s gone.
Being a little older and more acquainted with death, I found myself earlier thinking of the “Maude” and “Mame”. The out spoken characters she played that poked fun at the traditionalistic society we lived in and empowered women to speak out, appreciating their voices that had been muted and/or ignored for so long. I thought…who else would have shaken the barrel, and displayed a character that contemplated abortion, and equal right for women? Who else would have spoken proudly about divorce, and the insensitivity men of all races shared? Who else but Bea, could embrace her sexuality, and demand we embrace it as well…and we did.
She slipped away from us, ending a battle with cancer Saturday morning. A part of me was upset, because in my mind no disease could lick Bea…no sir; there was no doubt in my mind that she could lick anything that came her way. I was reminded of the strength her character Dorothy portrayed when being diagnosed with Chronic Fatigue Syndrome in “The Golden Girls”. Relentlessly her character went from doctor to doctor, demanding a diagnosis and not settling for less. Lighting the fire under her girlfriends, telling them that sexual harassment would not be tolerated, and that just because of their age, life did not nor would it stop. No, Bea portrayed a character that had strength and spoke up for us in ways we were not yet prepared to articulate. Thank you dear!
I wish I could have thanked her in person for one thing in particular that touched my heart so dearly.
When Lucille Ball was honored by the Kennedy Center, Bea got the opportunity to say thank you and pay tribute in person to Lucy, and she did it well. Although I was too young to understand what was going on, or that it even happened…I like to think, Bea kind of knew that there were many people out there who were speaking, dancing, and singing through her, to say thank you to another great entertainer. Now, as she joins Lucy, I hope Bea can see just what impact she had on America, The World, and even Me.
See, I would have never persevered with my career, until I saw one of her interviews. She spoke of how different and how her voice being low, height being tall did not fit the typical blueprint for women in show business at that time…but she kept going. Having a strong southern accent, a love of more classical styles of music, and playing the piano, left me feeling out of place growing up, but she changed all of that, and for that I want to say thank you.
Thank you Bea, for being a Friend!