Bea Arthur has passed away and as I read the many articles about her I learn more about the actress's stellar career. I knew her as my friend Matt's Mom. Yes of course I knew who she was, but only the things she had done during my time, I had no history of her. Matt would tell me insider stories of her Maude days and such, but mostly I knew her as a woman who never wore shoes and had the biggest darn dogs roaming her place.
I did go see her, at her invitation, in a play at the Beverly Hills Playhouse and learned a lesson that night about owning the moment, and the crowd. With 4 people on stage Bea reacted to a suggestion made by her costar, the reaction was an aching slow turn to the audience with a scowl. This move took at least 45 seconds and was shockingly potent. The audience's laughter slow rolled into a frenzy until the payoff of "really…" You sit as an audience member laughing but as an actor you wonder how she grabbed all the focus with nothing more than a scowl and a slow turning of her head. It was staggering to me that someone could pull that off without the help of a close up shot from a camera. She helped me understand the term "stage command." Afterward I went back stage to gush over her performance and she looked me right in the eye and said "what did you think" as if we were doing notes. That floored me. I had nothing to offer so she pressed me, "The first act…? Do you think it…" and so we talked. Not for long, but it was wild to think she would ask about the show from me, a youngster!
The thing I remember her most for was the summer my wife was pregnant with our first baby, it was a blistering LA summer. We didn't have a pool, but Bea did, and my wife got great comfort from simply standing in a pool and cooling off while having the weight of the baby carried by the water. It made her days liveable. We had an open invitation to show up at Bea's anytime we needed so my wife could get some relief. Bea would appear at some point with drinks and chat with us for a bit and she was always funny. Everyday Bea would call me and ask what time we'd be by because she was going out and would leave her gate clicker in the mailbox for us to get in. Usually when someone is doing you a favor, you call and make sure it's okay, but this was Bea. She made sure my wife could get her fix because she knew what it meant to us. When you have your first baby, it's a wild west feeling. That summer we were reeling with discomfort and Bea was, in the truest sense of the word, a blessing.
I'm very happy I knew Bea and spent time with her. I'm sad my friend doesn't have his mom anymore but they were very close. Thank you Bea for the things you taught me, your memory will forever be connected to my oldest daughter. I loved when you called me "darling," your grace was unparalleled.