A Tribute to Bea and the Gals

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In celebration of Bea Arthur’s recent birthday, the geniuses at VH1’s “Best Week Ever” decided to put together a list of the top ten Bea Arthur clips.

Now I love Bea Arthur for a lot of reasons, but I love her most because of “The Golden Girls.” For those of you who don’t know, “The Golden Girls” was the best fucking show ever to air in the history of television period end of conversation. I first fell in love with the gals around the time I started babysitting. It was the late 1980s, and like most preadolescent sitters, I quickly discovered the many perks that came with being put in charge of the safety of small children. Now I was a good kid, mind you. No beer, no boys, not even any snooping through drawers. But there was still plenty to keep me occupied until the parents came home from their date night, most importantly free food and unrestricted television!!

Now for some people that last bonus might not seem like much of a prize. But coming from a family of five people and one TV set, I reveled in having a night to myself without my brother whining that what I wanted to see was stupid or my mother reminding us that it was time for her weekly “Dallas” fix.

Naturally, as a young, babysitting teen with access to private television time, I decided that my favorite Saturday night program should center on the misadventures of middle-aged divorced and widowed women. But “The Golden Girls” didn’t seem old to me. They seemed kind of funny and bizarre and trapped in outfits made out of enough gauze to perform 35 appendectomies, but they didn’t seem old. (To those vicious people who claim that Bea Arthur’s wardrobe was styled so as to better camouflage her colostomy bag, I can only say I hope you die a wretched death involving fire ants.)

Besides the outfits, I dug the back and forth witty banter, the “Shut up Rose!” the St. Olaff stories, to say nothing of the “picture it, Sicily” moments. Plus, the show was educational: Without “The Golden Girls” I still wouldn’t know the meaning of the word lanai (or menopause, for that matter).

And while my female peers were busy studying exactly how Molly Ringwald managed to lean in over that candle-laden birthday cake to kiss Jake Ryan without catching on fire, I was busy studying the constant hum of activity that my cheesecake-snarfing ladies generated in that wicker-laden ranch house. Yes, “The Golden Girls” allowed time for daydreaming about that magical moment when I would be too old for babysitting and would instead have a real live boyfriend (or, as Blanche put it, “the pleasures of a gentleman caller.”) From these women I learned that diamonds go better with everything, inviting a man in for a nightcap meant you were going to have sex with him, and you should never, ever give your ex-husband your new address. (“It’s me, Stan.”)

Because of Blanche, Dorothy, Rose, and Sophia, I knew I would one day be grown up enough to go out on the town, and while my fellow sixth grade gal pals fantasized about getting felt up by an eighth grader during a party in somebody’s unfinished basement, I visualized a vibrant and complicated social calendar made up of charity balls and fundraising banquets. I pictured my dates arriving in suits with matching handkerchiefs in the pockets. I rehearsed opening the front door a la Blanche and practicing some greeting laced with a double entendre, going so far as to talk to some imaginary suitor in a deep Southern accent.

“Wha Baaaarrrrry, I do declare you might just be sweeeeet on lil’ ol’ Jennifuh,” I would say, earnestly talking about myself in the third person while directing my lovelorn commentary to a framed photograph of my babysitting charges’ dead grandfather. “Suuuuhly you wouldn’t even dream of thinking lil’ ol’ Jennifuh wouldn’t be sweeeeet on yoooooou.”

I practiced talking about sex in thinly veiled metaphors before I even understood what those metaphors were thinly veiling. I sauntered around the living room on my tip toes, pretending my penny loafers were actually strappy pink heels. I pretended to be Blanche, then Rose, and then Dorothy, all in the matter of one evening, forcing my voice to go from Southern-fried belle to dumb blonde to sassy Brooklyn broad. I got in so deep that by the time the opening credits of the much less ambitious “Empty Nest” started rolling, I believed I was a 56-year-old woman engaged to a man named Lucas, and I was vowing to send my mother to a place called Shady Pines.

So in honor of blessed Bea’s birthday, check out those hilarious clips, including more than one from “The Golden Girls.” Happy Birthday, Dorothy Zbornak. – Jennifer Mathieu

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