And Then There’s Maude

When it came to TV, you could say I was an odd kid. I skipped homespun fare like “The Waltons” and “Little House on the Prairie”. “The Brady Bunch” was only mildly entertaining. I couldn’t stand the incredibly popular “Happy Days”, which ushered in the ubiquitous, homogenized, highly commercial version of 50s nostalgia that remains with us to this day.

I was drawn to characters and situations that seemed urban or sophisticated, people who did interesting things. The newsroom gang on “The Mary Tyler Moore Show.” “The Partridge Family”s perpetually put-upon manager, Reuben Kincaid. Even the wink-wink hijinks on the mid-70s versions of “The Match Game”.

I actually cried when I learned “The Odd Couple” had been canceled. I was 14.

It would come as no surprise, then, that I adored Norman Lear’s collection of early sitcoms — “All in the Family” and the shows it begat. “Sanford and Son”, “Good Times”, “The Jeffersons”, and, of course, “Maude”.

maude1

Bea Arthur was Maude. There was no separating actress and character. With her deep voice, commanding presence, knowing camera takes, and long, flowing vests, she completely owned the character and the times. She was Women’s Lib incarnate, and roar she did — always with humor and always as a confidante. I believed her and Walter’s relationship. (I can hear him whining, “Mau-aude” and I can hear her deadpanning, “God’ll get you for that.”) I followed them when they made the difficult decision to terminate a mid-life pregnancy. No “deciding to keep the baby” and raising it alongside grandkids, like some kind of Palin, as would likely happen on TV today.

Let’s face it, a character like Maude is not likely to come along today.

Born Bernice Frankel in 1922, Bea Arthur (Arthur is a modified version of her first husband’s name) was a theater actress, winning a Tony for her role in “Mame”. When “Maude” debuted, Arthur was close to 50. (Take that, Desperate Housewives.) She continued her TV acting streak with “Golden Girls”, and we at home got to enjoy more of her funny, dry, basso-profondo talent.

Since learning of Arthur’s death Saturday, I have had the theme song to “Maude” in my head, to varying degrees and with utmost appreciation for its creators and the envelopes they pushed. In high school I wrote a paper on Lear and his groundbreaking television. My English teacher had wanted me to write about someone more mainstream — or maybe just more fusty — and I fought to write my paper. Perhaps it was these immortal words that inspired me:

Lady Godiva was a freedom rider,
she didn’t care of the whole world looked.
Joan of Arc, with the lord to guide her,
she was a sister who really cooked.
Isadora was a first bra burner
Aint’ ya glad she showed up?
And when the country was falling apart
Betsy Ross got it all sewed up
And then there’s Maude
And then there’s Maude
And then there’s Maude
And then there’s Maude
And then there’s Maude
And then there’s Maude
And then there’s that old compromisin’, enterprisin’ anything but traqulizin’ Right on Maude!!!

“And Then There’s Maude” was written by Marilyn and Alan Bergman and Dave Grusin, and sung by Donny Hathaway. (Yes, the same Donny Hathaway who sang “Where is the Love” with Roberta Flack.)

Photo Courtesy of Sony Pictures Home Entertainment

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9 responses to “And Then There’s Maude

  1. The “Maude” theme song:

    http://tinyurl.com/d67gqn

  2. Wow. Thank you for these.

    Leah, I got chills when I watched that.

    And, Lippy, that sounds better than I remembered. Really great.

    I guess we’ll have to rent “Maude” on DVD and have a viewing party. (Vests optional.) I have a feeling a lot of people thought about doing that these last couple of days. I think Bea Arthur, Maude, and their times have hit some sort of collective nerve.

  3. This came from Jim Lorick, via e-mail:

    So glad you mentioned the vest – without the vest, would Maude have had her super powers – the crippling comeback and the withering stare?

  4. Thank you for creating this eloquent tribute to a TV icon. I laughed out loud recalling her “God’ll get you for that.” Great to read the Maude theme lyrics, and the Rosie clip is excellent – thank you Leah. I remember her first time on All In The Family, one of of my all-time favorites, along with MTM and the Odd Couple. We also had the Mame Broadway album with Bea – perfect for that role also!

  5. Hi David. Great to see you here. I’m glad we brought back some memories. I just saw a clip of Maude’s debut as a character on “All in the Family”. She and Archie instantly clashed. She also completely owned the episode — The spin-off potential was there from the start. It sounds like we share other T.V. and theater tastes, too. Are there any T.V. shows you like now?

  6. Barbara Tannenbaum sent this wonderful and timely reminiscence by e-mail:

    Thank you so much for sending me this link! And especially for reminding me of the theme song from Maude. For me, that whole Norman Lear/feminist sitcom era was just a few years before I could drive or my friends could drive. I could participate (sort of, as it turned out) in the early 70s radicalism of the era just by watching those shows. (Add to the list The Carol Burnett Comedy Show and that was my life.)

    Only later when I read nonfiction works about women going to live in communes or all-female separatists back to the land farmsteads, did I realize that watching Maude and All in the Family was, well, tepid.

    But at the time–whoa whoa oh! is how it seemed. That and reading books about The Making of the President, Art Buchwald, and how we got started in Vietnam.

    Maude could have been one of the loud, true-to-herself damn-the-consequences women in my family, albeit with a husband ever-so-slightly more supportive of her then the men in my family.

    And the daughter/actress Adrienne Barbour!! Va-va-va-voom!! So what if I was a pre-teen? All my prayers that I knew how to phrase were answered with that show. And Mary Tyler Moore and Rhoda Morgenstern, if we’re going to be technical. I loved her, too.

  7. Well, you are on it girl. All my favorites too. Carol Bernette was my favorite. I can’t tell you how many sundays all 9 of us would sit on the floor in the living room enjoying these her. We would have a Hennessey special and laugh out of control. Love you

  8. Thank you, Molly! Yes, Carol Burnett’s was another great show featuring strong women and hearty laughs. In honor of Carol and Vicki Lawrence, who sometimes played mother and daughter, Happy Mother’s Day!

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